In January, UC Davis students Nayvin Chew, Eva Tran, Calvin Hsu and Caitlin Ellis were strangers and novice brewers. Now their prize-winning beer is being sold in 14 locations in Davis and Santa Rosa.
The undergraduates met in a practical brewing class taught by professor Charlie Bamforth, known on campus as the “pope of foam.”
Over the 10-week quarter, 11 teams tweaked and perfected beer recipes before presenting them to a panel of brewers from well-known institutions such as the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. and Anheuser Busch.
Dubbed the Iron Brew Competition, the winners got to work with Davis’s Sudwerk Brewing Co. to produce and distribute a batch of their recipe on a professional scale. Bamforth said this is the fifth year he’s held the contest.
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“I can usually predict the winner,” Bamforth said. “I didn’t predict this year and I didn’t predict last year’s either.”
The students’ beer, now aptly named Underdog IPA, is a very hoppy pale ale. It’s now sold at four bars and shops in Santa Rosa and 10 in Davis, though Chew said some places had already sold out.
“Seeing the smile on someone’s face after they drink our beer is the best,” Chew, 22, said. “For me, that’s my favorite part.”
The students in the class had a wide array of experiences, but Chew said the group was at “rock bottom” in terms prior knowledge.
“The group we brewed next to, they had people who had been brewing for three, four years,” Tran, 23, said.
Their first attempt at brewing was a porter that no one liked. They decided to try a pale ale instead, but as they refined their recipe, the beer morphed into an India pale ale.
When their beer was announced as the winner, they were speechless.
“No one expected us to win,” Chew said. “No one saw this coming.”
Bamforth said it just proves that they learned and applied everything he taught them.
“There are some students who a really eager and really, really passionate about brewing,” Bamforth said, adding that those are the students who often go on to be professional brewers. “Whereas these ones that won were in the class because they enjoyed it ... But there are always surprises and these guys surprised.”
Walking into Sudwerk to work rather than taking a brewery tour was an eye-opening experience, they said.
“Oh man, it was amazing,” Tran said. “There’s this great feeling, like this is the place where our stuff is going to get made, we’re technically people contributing here.”