Imagine walking into the first day of class at a new school and the first thing you notice is a bar in the back right corner with two tap handles attached to it. Sounds like a dream right? Not at all. The location of the classroom for the UC- Davis Master Brewers program is actually located about a mile from campus at the Sudwerk Brewery. Now don’t be fooled, your reasons for attending better be more than just a desire to suck down some suds. This was made abundantly clear from the get go by one of our lead instructors, Dr. Michael Lewis. This program is about trying to understand the scientific processes involved in brewing - from the fields that produce the barley kernel, the lifeblood of beer, to the packaging that keeps the beverage safe and fresh for the consumer. Did I mention that we also are going to go over the concepts such as fluid flow, gas laws, heat transfer and a bunch of other scientific sounding stuff that I had never thought of as a homebrewer? I have to admit, day one was a bit intimidating.
So I bet you are wondering what kind of people I am sitting next to. I honestly feel like this class is the United Nations of brewing. We have people from Brazil, Peru, Guyana, Japan, Australia, Canada and the Netherlands. The age range goes from someone who just finished their undergrad all the way to around 50 years old. I would say that probably half of the class are homebrewers and there are employees of A-B InBev, Heineken and people that have worked for smaller outfits looking to move up in the brewhouse. There are 38 students in total, only two women, one of which is a maltster in Brazil. Heck, we even have a Harvard grad! Speaking of that, a good portion of the students have engineering degrees, some of whom have already received their masters.
You wouldn’t believe how much reading material there was waiting for us when we walked in . . . 9 books and 11 binders! The school graciously included those in our tuition which was $14,300 just in case you were wondering. As the week went on, we got an overview of the entire process of brewing and some of the biochemical reactions that are responsible for germination, mashing, fermentation etc. Thursdays are dedicated to Engineering/Packaging. Fridays will consist of sensory evaluation where we get to smell and taste beer to better identify wanted and more importantly “undesirable” qualities. The time commitment for this program looks like it will be 9 am to 3:30 pm Monday through Friday, and of course a couple of hours each day devoted to studying. Basically it’s the same as a full time job, except you are paying them.
At this point, after hearing what they have told us so far, it seems like it is going to be worth every penny. These people know what they are talking about and they are eager to share their knowledge with those thirsty for it. At one point during this first week, Dr. Lewis explained that the top score on the IBD exam IN THE WORLD (more on that later) has come from one of his students two years in a row a handful of times, and this year he was looking for his first 3-peat. I got an idea of how ambitious this class is when he asked who amongst us was going to be the one to do it and 80% of the class raised their hands. This is going to be a fun 18 weeks. And yes, I raised my hand too.