DAVIS, CA — Four UC Davis students in Charlie Bamforth’s Practical Malting and Brewing class earned more than good grades for their final project. They earned a chance to work with Sudwerk Brewing Co. and produce their winning recipe on a commercial scale.
Each year, students in the Food Science and Technology 102B class compete for the Iron Brew title, where student teams present a beer they formulate, brew and analyze at UC Davis. A panel of nine industry professionals from across Northern California judged the entries on March 13 at UC Davis. Since 2014, Sudwerk has added value to the prize by offering to help the students commercially produce their recipe at the Davis brewery.
Bamforth, the Distinguished Professor of Malting and Brewing Sciences at UC Davis, said, “It truly is a delight to see the students in action designing, brewing and presenting their beers for the honest evaluation of professional brewers. … This practical class is critical to the full education of any student of brewing. It is a student’s ability to apply their skills in the brewing of beer that is of paramount importance. All the teams gave it their best shot and the winners can justifiably be proud of their accomplishment.”
This year’s winning team – Cracked Hops – included Nayvin Chew, 22, Caitlin Ellis, 28, Calvin Hsu, 21, and Eva Tran, 23. They named their beer Underdog IPA because of their inexperience.
“We came in 100 percent not knowing what we were doing,” Tran said. “The TA spat out our first batch. The first day, we were just watching people brew. None of us had ever brewed before.” Of 11 entries, Underdog IPA barely edged out a Belgian tripel, made by students with more hands-on experience. The competition also included two other India pale ales, a pale ale, two blonde ales, an English mild, amber, altbier and saison.
Judges included Dave Gull, founder of New Helvetia Brewing Co. of Sacramento. “The winning team executed a very clean brew, without any noticeable flaws,” he said. “That’s hard to do for some seasoned brewers. … (I told them) ‘This beer is better than some professionally brewed beers I’ve tasted.’”
Fellow judge Trent Yackzan, co-owner of Sudwerk Brewing Co., agreed. “It was a well-rounded beer. Strong aroma, solid middle and solid finish. The whole way through, it maintained its body and lived up to its initial hop-forward aromas.”
Other judges included Scott Ungermann, brewmaster and vice president of production at Anchor Brewers and Distillers in San Francisco; Bryan Donaldson, brewing innovation manager at Lagunitas Brewing Company, Petaluma; Miles Soto, who works in production at 21st Amendment Brewing in San Leandro; Stephen Russell, plant manager for Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico; Lars Larson, master brewer at Trumer Brauerei in Berkeley; Doug Muhleman, retired chief brewmaster of Anheuser-Busch; and Thomas Stull, head brewer of Sudwerk Brewing Co.
Muhleman, Sudwerk’s chairman of the board, said it’s easy to recruit judges for the Iron Brew. “It’s an opportunity to connect these budding brewers at UC Davis with professional from all over Northern California. There is a rich tapestry of brewing companies that did not exist when I was a student a million years ago.”
Team members worked with Stull to scale up the recipe (from 5 gallons to what will become approximately 20 kegs for retail sale) and select ingredients from the brewery’s stock. Brewed on April 6, the beer will be ready to pour at a release party on Friday, May 12, from 4-8 p.m. Iron Brew fans will find it at Sudwerk’s taproom, The Dock, and a handful of local venues.
Team members say they’re honored. “It’s a privilege,” Chew said. “Not many people get the opportunity to have their beer brewed at a large-scale brewery and have it on tap.”
Tran added, “And to have all these judges say our beer is good enough to brew on a commercial scale is icing on the cake.”
The team originally planned a pale ale. Learning from their mistakes, they changed the malt composition, refined brewing techniques and learned the importance of temperature consistency “and being patient,” Ellis said. The fourth and final batch was a fragrant, fruity, citrusy, classic, bitter IPA that showcased the Mosaic hops. It had 5.85% alcohol by volume and 73 International Bittering Units.
Ellis is the one team member who won’t be there to imbibe in the prize. A spring graduate in viticulture and enology, she left March 24 for New Zealand, where she has a two-month job at a winery.
Sudwerk has deep connections to UC Davis, especially considering its commercial brewery space neighbors the Extension Master Brewer’s Program. The affiliation serves both sides. All of Sudwerk’s brewing employees are products of UCD’s brewing programs.
“I delight in our interactions with the Sudwerk Brewing Company,” Bamforth said. “We recognize the immense value of having a tried and trusted brewing company in the city and, in turn, I know that they value the fact that there is an internationally acclaimed brewing teaching and research program on the campus. It really is a great partnership. So many graduates of the UC Davis brewing program have cut their teeth working at Sudwerk.”
Established in 1989, Sudwerk Brewing Co. specializes in artisan brews, specifically West Coast craft lagers. Its taproom, The Dock, at 2001 Second St., Davis, is open from 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, 4 to 9 p.m. Fridays, 2 to 9 p.m. on Saturdays, and 2 to 6 p.m. on Sundays. It offers a rotating menu of experimental and innovative beers, “honest pints” and growler fills, fresh White Labs brewers’ yeast, and good conversation. Learn more at http://sudwerkbrew.com.