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POINT OF BREW ---- Michael J. Lewis

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There’s Cool and There’s Smithsonian Cool

When I was a young man only the wealthy went to university to “find themselves.”

Mostly they went from Eton or Harrow or Winchester to Oxford or Cambridge to read Literae Humaniores (Classics) to prepare for work as a leader in government or the diplomatic corps or “something in the city” in banking or insurance or in the legal profession. The rest of us, the intelligentsia of the unwashed, went to red brick universities to learn something that would translate to useful and remunerative work with career potential. As such university places were few and competitive, it was useful to know why going to university was a good idea and what one might study if one gained admission. This was important because changing from one course of study to another was nigh impossible in the mere three years to a degree. As a teenager I thought about that. I tried on various personas. How did I want to answer the question “What do you do for a living?”?

I knew I liked biology and chemistry but physics and math not so much. I was attracted to professions like food scientist or analyst, or microbiologist or plant pathologist and so on. But one evening I saw a BBC talk show in which the interviewer asked a contributor to various programs what he did “in real life.”

New Albion Ale updated Picmonkey

 “I’m a master brewer” he said.

At that moment my career search ended. I recognized myself at once.

“Master brewer” I thought “How cool is that!”

After talking to one of my schoolmasters, Mr. Phillips, I knew what I wanted to study and where to study it. It worked out better than I might have expected. I finally earned a PhD degree in biochemistry with an engineering minor in the department of Applied Biochemistry at the University of Birmingham; in those days this department also encompassed the British School of Malting and Brewing. Perfect. That decision set the scene for my life: it would carry me first to Buffalo NY and, two years later, to the University of California Davis.

In the meantime the Master Brewers Association of America wished to establish a research program at a major university. Since the brewing industry at that time was centered in Milwaukee, the brewers approached the University of Wisconsin at Madison with this opportunity. Fortunately for me they felt the program, which included research funds and a pilot brewery, were inappropriate for a university in the bible belt. They rejected the offer. Fortunately, the President of MBAA at the time, Ruben Schneider (who was president and CEO of Lucky Lager Brewing Co in San Francisco) knew exactly where such money would be welcome and would fit right in: U.C.Davis, alongside its legendary wine program. Prof H.J.Phaff (a yeast man of distinction, in the Department of Food Science & Technology) got some of that research money and, as I had previously applied to work in his lab, he invited me to work with him as a post-doc. 

And so research money from the brewing industry and a young PhD looking to do research and already tuned to brewing science, arrived at UCD in 1962. Moi !

Within two years I was able to join the faculty and was encouraged to establish an instructional program in Brewing Science. I was glad to do that: I just reproduced the program I already knew from the British School of Malting and Brewing. Pretty soon we had graduates joining the major breweries of the time, especially Anheuser-Busch, with whom we established a long and useful and productive relationship.

Some 10 years later Jack McAuliffe showed up at my office. He wished to open a brewery to make British ales that he learned to love during a navy deployment in the UK. Of course, I knew those beers well and understood the ale-making technology to make them. That was my wheelhouse. I was very excited by Jack’s ideas and passion and indeed wondered why I had not thought of building such a brewery myself! I helped in every way we could: we provided an authentic ale yeast and a talented employee (Don Barkley) and such advice as Jack wanted.

Within a year or so I was able to take my brewing class to Jack’s New Albion brewery in Sonoma to inspect a true ale brewery, the very first new brewing company in the USA for many years. We did not realize at the time that New Albion was the first of some 7,500 such craft breweries that were to follow. A photograph of that event (see photograph) is now in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, along with other memorabilia, as part of the permanent collection in a new display called Brewing a Revolution.

Jack and I (with three others) are both featured in that display. Last week we were together at the Smithsonian as part of the celebration to open the new exhibit. Very cool! Indeed, Smithsonian cool!


Michael J Lewis MUG Picmonkey

Michael J. Lewis, Ph.D., is professor emeritus of brewing science at the University of California, Davis, and the academic director and lead instructor of UC Davis Extension’s Professional Brewing Programs. Lewis has been honored with the Master Brewers Association of the Americas’ Award of Merit and the Brewers Association’s Recognition Award. He is an elected fellow of the Institute of Brewing & Distilling. He is also a recipient of the UC Davis Distinguished Teaching Award. 

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