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UC Davis students’ winning brew leads to a keg-filling reward at Sudwerk

UC Davis students Evann Dufort , Abby Kanyer, Brandon Rotondo and Jeff Damilano, from left,   earned more than good grades with their concoction. Their beer, Class is in Session IPA, will be produced at Sudwerk Brewing Co. and will be sold at local venues.
UC Davis students Evann Dufort , Abby Kanyer, Brandon Rotondo and Jeff Damilano, from left, earned more than good grades with their concoction. Their beer, Class is in Session IPA, will be produced at Sudwerk Brewing Co. and will be sold at local venues. hamezcua@sacbee.com

For four students taking a beer-brewing class at UC Davis, success is measured by the keg. Twenty of them to be exact.

That’s the reward the team of beer makers earned after winning this year’s Iron Brew competition, an annual campus event where student-made beers are judged by professional brewmasters.

The foursome’s creation, called Class is in Session IPA, beat out nearly a dozen competitors, earning the team the privilege of having their IPA brewed in a limited 20-keg production at Sudwerk Brewing Co. in Davis. It will be offered at Sudwerk, the Davis Farmers Market and other local venues.

Last week, the team – Jeff Damilano, Evann Dufort, Abby Kanyer and Brandon Rotondo – helped Sudwerk’s professional brewers ready their IPA for its initial fermentation.

It was pretty heady stuff for the champion brew crew. “I feel like a celebrity,” Dufort said.

It’s the second year that Sudwerk is helping UCD students commercially produce their winning Iron Brew concoctions. Last year’s Iron Brew winner, Kölsch, sold out in its first week.

This year’s judging panel included professional brewers from Sudwerk, Anheuser-Busch InBev in Fairfield, Track 7 Brewing Co. in Sacramento, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in Chico and The Rare Barrel in Berkeley. Entries were judged in March.

Sudwerk brewer and judge Thomas Stull said the 2015 competition was intense, with entries having more depth and quality compared with 2014. He called the Session IPA an “overall excellent beer” that he would have assumed was “produced by (the) industry.”

That’s high praise, considering that the winning team was assembled in a decidedly humble fashion.

“We hadn’t worked together at all. We were just kind of standing around in the same place,” said Kanyer, now in UCD’s brewing science masters program.

However, they brought a hefty measure of classroom training to their task. These were not four college beerheads, not by a long shot.

Kanyer, a 23-year-old native of beer-centric Milwaukee, said she holds an undergraduate degree in chemistry from Wellesley College in Massachusetts. Rotondo, 22, of El Dorado Hills, also has a chemistry background, and plans on continuing his post-graduate education in materials science and engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Dufort, a 22-year-old Los Gatos native, is heading to the University of Wisconsin to pursue a post-graduate degree in food science. And Stockton resident Damilano, 25, says his diverse background in microbiology, fermentation and food science might ultimately draw him into the professional brewing industry, but he also envisions a career in a research laboratory.

All four students enrolled in the Practical Malting and Brewing class – in the campus Department of Food Science and Technology – taught by Charles Bamforth, the Anheuser-Busch endowed professor of malting and brewing sciences.

In a statement after the Iron Brew competition, Bamforth calls the course “a capstone class that many students take as their last course at Davis. It brings together all of the basic and applied science and engineering that they have learned, and shows the students just how tough it is to make great beer – but how satisfying it can be.”

For the competition, the team produced a small batch of 5 gallons. To ramp up for a 20-keg batch, the winning team met with Sudwerk lead brewer Mike Hutson, who helped scale up their recipe and select ingredients from the brewery’s stock. Sudwerk brewer Brennan Fleming supervised the brew, which is now in the fermentation process.

The students and Sudwerk said making Session IPA – standing for “India pale ale,” a comparatively hoppy version of a standard pale ale – presented some interesting challenges. Rotondo was playing with a recipe inspired by a pale ale he tasted in the United Kingdom. IPAs typically have 7 percent or more alcohol by volume to balance the hoppy flavor. The golden caramel-colored Session IPA, however, comes in at slightly more than 4 percent.

Kanyer said the team found the right balance by adding some of the hops at the end, a process called dry hopping: “It has those floral and fruity notes, but it’s not going to wipe out your palate.”

In May, the beer will be transferred to kegs, with the finished product to be released to the public at Sudwerk’s taproom, The Dock, the Davis Farmers Market and a handful of select venues.

Sudwerk has long-standing ties to UC Davis and provides classroom space above its brewery for the UC Extension Master Brewer’s Program. Sudwerk said all of its brewing employees have been through UCD programs.

“(The Iron Brew competition) speaks to fostering the relationship between us and UC Davis, not just in brewing but all departments,” said Trenton Yackzan, Sudwerk’s operations manager. “... It also gives (students) an idea of what they can expect in all aspects of the business – brewing, commercial, selling, forming business relationships and costs.”

He said the students don’t get to share in the proceeds from sales of their beer, but a percentage will go back to the UC Davis Food Science Program.

The UC Davis program is considered a pioneer in the college campus brewing segment, but an increasing number of schools are getting into the game.

California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, christened a beer-making program at the close of 2014. Unlike the UCD program, the kegs produced in Pomona’s classroom are sold on campus.

The Boulder, Colo.-based Brewers Association website lists university-affiliated brewing programs across the country, including Appalachian State University in North Carolina; Auburn University in Alabama; Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, Mich.; and Oregon State University in Corvallis.

Tom McCormick, executive director of the Sacramento-based California Craft Brewers Association, called the UC Davis craft brewing program “probably the most respected in the United States.” And, he said, “a growing number of institutions are providing education on the technical side, the business side or both.”

McCormick called the proliferation of college-level instruction in the art of beer making “really helpful to the industry, which is growing.”

In 2014, the Brewers Association said U.S. craft beer sales soared more than 17.6 percent over the prior year to more than 21.7 million barrels. In an overall beer market of $101.5 billion in 2014, craft sales totaled $19.6 billion, up from $14.3 billion in 2013.

California is home to a significant portion of that bounty, according to the CCBA. It said California has 540 craft breweries, more than any other state, and produced a nation-leading 3.4 million barrels of craft beer in 2014.

Call The Bee’s Mark Glover, (916) 321-1184.

CRAFT BEER BY THE NUMBERS

Volume: 21.7 million barrels sold nationwide in 2014, up 17.6 percent over 2013.

Craft’s share: 2014 craft beer sales accounted for $19.6 billion of an overall beer market of $101.5 billion. That was up from $14.3 billion in an overall market of $100 billion in 2013.

Establishments: Currently, there are 3,418 craft breweries nationwide, up from 1,521 in 2008.

Employment: U.S. craft breweries now employ nearly 120,000.

Success ratio: 615 craft breweries opened in 2014; 46 closed.

California’s cut: The Golden State is home to a nation-leading 540 craft breweries; the state produced 3.4 million barrels of craft beer in 2014, also tops in the United States.

Sources: Brewers Association, California Craft Brewers Association

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