Inexperienced as they were, they called their beer Underdog IPA. And guess what? It came out on top in this year’s Iron Brew competition among students in Charlie Bamforth’s “Practical Malting and Brewing” class.
The winning team, the Cracked Hops, has since brewed a 20-keg batch of their India pale ale at Davis’ Sudwerk Brewing Co., where a release party is scheduled from 4 to 8 p.m. this Friday (May 12). The beer also will be sold at a handful of other local venues.
The retail Underdog is based on the team’s fourth and final lab batch: a fragrant, fruity, citrusy, classic, bitter IPA that showcased the Mosaic hops, with 5.85 percent alcohol by volume and 73 International Bittering Units. Sudwerk co-owner Trent Yackzan, one of the Iron Brew judges, described the team’s entry as “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.”
Not bad for rookies. “We came in 100 percent not knowing what we were doing,” said Eva Tran, who joined Nayvin Chew, Caitlin Ellis and Calvin Hsu on the Cracked Hops.
“The TA spat out our first batch,” Tran added. “The first day, we were just watching people brew.”
A panel of nine industry professionals from around Northern California did the judging. Out of 11 entries, Underdog IPA edged out a Belgian tripel, made by students with more hands-on experience. The other entries: two more IPAs, a pale ale and two blonde ales, plus one each of an English mild, amber, altbier and saison.
“The winning team executed a very clean brew, without any noticeable flaws — that’s hard to do for some seasoned brewers,” said one of the judges, Dave Gull, founder of New Helvetia Brewing Co. of Sacramento. He said he told the team: “This beer is better than some professionally brewed beers I’ve tasted.”
From pale ale to winning IPA
Bamforth, who holds UC Davis’ Anheuser-Busch Professorship in Malting and Brewing Sciences, 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.”
Bamforth runs the competition annually in Food Science and Technology 102B. Sudwerk adds value to the Iron Brew title by working with each year’s winning team to produce its beer on a commercial scale. So, on April 6, the Cracked Hops went to work at Sudwerk — working with its head brewer, Thomas Stull, to scale up their recipe from a 5-gallon lab batch and select ingredients from the brewery’s stock.
“It’s a privilege,” said Chew of the Cracked Hops. “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 of their beer, refined their brewing techniques, and learned the importance of temperature consistency. The team also learned a lesson in patience, said Ellis, who will not be around to imbibe in their prize-winning brew at Sudwerk. A spring graduate in viticulture and enology, she left March 24 for New Zealand, where she has a two-month job at a winery.
Esteemed judging panel
Besides Yackzan and Stull, the judging panel also included a third Sudwerk representative: the brewery's board chair, Doug Muhleman, retired chief brewmaster at Anheuser-Busch.
The other judges: Bryan Donaldson, brewing innovation manager, Lagunitas Brewing Co., Petaluma; Lars Larson, master brewer, Trumer Brauerei, Berkeley; Stephen Russell, plant manager, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Chico; Miles Soto, who works in production at 21st Amendment Brewing, San Leandro; and Scott Ungermann, brewmaster and vice president of production, Anchor Brewers and Distillers, San Francisco.
Sudwerk has deep connections to UC Davis, especially considering its commercial brewery space adjoins the UC Davis Extension Master Brewers Program. The affiliation serves both sides. All of Sudwerk’s brewing employees are products of UC Davis’ 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 specializes in artisan brews, specifically West Coast craft lagers. Its taproom, called The Dock, 2001 Second St., is open from 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 4 to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 to 8 p.m. Sunday.