No joke: Student-brewed Weiz Guy Hefeweizen part of learning the science of fermentation

Rachel McKinney in Fermentation Lab
Rachel McKinney pictured in the New Belgium Fermentation Science and Technology Lab in the Gifford Building.

Rachel McKinney changed her major a couple of times before finding her calling in the Colorado State University Fermentation Science and Technology Program.

“I started out as a graphic design major and then moved to the nutrition field. It seemed that fermentation was a perfect medium between science and art, and I changed my major for the last time after switching to FST,” said McKinney.

McKinney was a student in the Brewing Science and Technology course, which is offered each semester. Jack Avens, professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, is the founder and instructor of the Brewing Science class, which just completed its 21st semester. This past semester, the class brewed up Weiz Guy Hefeweizen at Odell Brewing Co., along with several other craft beers. A couple won silver medals in the U.S. Open College Beer Championship.

Science-based fermentation

In the course, students apply the science they learn in classes to the commercial technology required to actually process ingredients from the farm into drinkable fermented beverages.

The class offered many hands-on opportunities and gave the students critical knowledge about the brewing process. McKinney gathered some valuable lessons: “First and foremost, I learned that safety is a very important aspect of brewing and should be valued above all. In addition, quality is something to strive for, but that cannot always be achieved, and that it’s okay because everything we do in the class is a learning exercise.

Industry collaborations

One of the most exciting things about the class is the opportunity to learn from experts in the industry who help teach the class, such as Jeff Biegert, a brewer at New Belgium Brewing Company and adjunct faculty member at CSU.

“Industry experiences were beyond valuable in giving the class a dose of real-world perspective,” said McKinney. “The collaboration with Odell Brewing helped us understand the flow of brewing on a larger scale, the reiteration of safety, and that even at world-class production facilities, problem-solving skills are still needed.”

“Brewing alongside professional brewers also gave everyone an idea of how a job like that would look,” she continued. “Tours of other facilities like New Belgium and Fort Collins Brewery along with Odell’s showed us the world of possibilities involved in the brewing process as far as job opportunities. You don’t always have to be a brewer to be in the brewing industry.”

Student-brewed ales

Tapping Party Students
Students from the Brewing Science class share a laugh at the tapping party for Weiz Guy Hefeweizen at Odell Brewing Co.

The class has a long tradition of working with Odell Brewing Co. Weiz Guy Hefeweizen was brewed by the class with Odell co-owner/founder Doug Odell and Tony Rau, Odell brewer and 2012 CSU graduate. Weiz Guy was unveiled at a ceremonial tapping party on April 20 at Odell’s Tap Room, which, along with the CSU Ramskeller, features the student-brewed beer each semester until it’s gone.

Additionally, as part of this three-credit course at CSU, students brewed three ales on campus in the New Belgium Fermentation Science and Technology Lab Brewery in the Gifford Building: the aforementioned Hefeweizen, which was then scaled up and brewed at Odell, Pee Wee Herman Heavy Ale, and an American IPA.

The students also brewed Haley’s Comet IPA at Equinox Brewing Co. – which was on tap at the Equinox Tap Room, The Mayor of Old Town and the CSU Ramskeller.

Weiz Guy Hefezweizen collaboration

Named by McKinney, Weiz Guy Hefeweizen was designed by Instructor Jeff Biegert and is a variation on the traditional southern German Weissbier (white beer). The name may refer to the beer’s lighter color, but probably derives from Weizenbier, or “wheat beer.” Hefeweizen or “yeast wheat” refers to the beer in its traditional, unfiltered form. Suspended yeast gives the brew a cloudy appearance.

“Through several different brews across many semesters, this Hefeweizen recipe was developed by different classes with the help of Jeff Biegert,” said McKinney. “Class input about the sensory aspects of the beer was considered for changes, and the recipe, ingredients and process were altered along the way. This beer was brewed on the CSU SABCO half-barrel system prior to the Odell collaboration. While good, we noted that a balance between the banana and clove flavors were needed. Doug Odell and Jeff Biegert considered this and changed the recipe as they saw fit to collaborate with the class.”

Future plans

Motivated by her love for craft beer, McKinney plans to work in some aspect of the brewing industry after she graduates in December – maybe in the quality assurance field. The brewing class offered her a taste of what working in the industry would be like. “I learned that brewing is fun and we should take the time to realize that even through our mistakes, we can still enjoy the collaborative process,” she said.

The Fermentation Science and Technology Program is in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.