While most UC Davis students were filling in small green bubbles with No. 2 pencils, two of their colleagues were filling glasses with ale.
It was finals week of the quarter, but Joe Williams and Mario Vargas weren’t blowing off exams – this was their test.
Williams and Vargas graduated from UC Davis in June with their bachelor’s degrees in food science with an emphasis in brewing science. During their final period for a malting and brewing class, industry experts judged their creation alongside those of their classmates in the program’s Iron Brew competition.
Judges from Sudwerk Brewing Co., Anchor Brewing, American River Brewing and Screaming Eagle chose their idyllic German ale, a Kölsch, as the winner, and their prize was the opportunity to re-create it on a commercial level at the close-to-campus Sudwerk Brewing Co.
This Friday the public will have the first chance to try what Sudwerk has named Ironbrew Kölsch when it’s released at The Dock, Sudwerk’s taproom, and at the Davis Beer Shoppe.
The pair of student brewers reconstructed the winning recipe, overseen by the lead brewer at Sudwerk, and made 13 barrels of their Kölsch – about 20 kegs.
“We got to take it from the classroom to the professional place,” said Vargas. “Now we get bragging rights, but we also get to brew it at Sudwerk.”
The reward is new to the Iron Brew competition, which takes place in professor Charlie Bamforth’s upper division Malting and Brewing Science 102B.
Vargas, 35, and Williams, 33, both transfer students from community college, originally brewed the ale – Williams’ recipe – in Vargas’ garage. Its positive reception at a barbecue lead the pair to choose it for the on-campus brewing competition.
“It is a light beer,” Vargas said. “Like pilsner, but it is a little bit easier on the palate because it’s an ale. It is a super, summer, easy-drinking beer.”
Their ale was the lightest in the competition, and because it is more difficult to mask flavors in a light beer, nothing in the fermentation process could be off, said Vargas, who had seven years of brewing experience before returning to school.
While he and Williams are going separate ways, with Williams beginning a food science master’s program at UC Davis and Vargas now working in quality assurance at Mezzetta, it is possible that their Kölsch will continue to be brewed at Sudwerk if it’s well-received.
“What is actually cool about this process is that Sudwerk has a really close relationship with UC Davis, so if Sudwerk continues providing this opportunity, that means UC Davis students will get the opportunity to actually scale up their recipes and learn what it is like to brew on a large-scale system,” he said. “So this beer is just for giggles for now, but if it ends up fairing well with the public, then they are going to keep producing it.”
Trenton Yackzan and Ryan Fry, who took over Sudwerk as co-owners in 2012, hope to continue to progress their relationship with UC Davis.
“Long-term we really want Davis to become a mecca, not just for enjoying great beer but for learning about beer,” Yackzan said. “So this year we decided to step up and still start building up that partnership, and this seemed like a great way to kick it off.”
Brewing on a commercial level also gives students a chance to learn the business and marketing side firsthand, Yackzan said.
“We can give them a fast track to putting their brewing knowledge into action,” he said. “It gives them an opportunity to get real world feedback rather than just having to dump it down the drain.”