The University of Connecticut unveiled an inaugural, student-created beer on Tuesday, with a celebration that drew more than 350 alumni, friends, and other brewmasters, all eager to sample BrewConn, a double dry hopped hazy IPA.
The event, at Kinsmen Brewing Co. in Southington, capped off a semester of hard work for nine students, mostly chemical engineering majors, who learned the craft of brewing, literally from the ground up.
Jordan Aeschlimann ‘24, of Simsbury, dreams of owning her own brewery. She is studying fermentation science, an individualized major. The Introduction to Brewery Engineering course offered her the chance to expand her perspective.
“My Dad has homebrewed for years and I helped him when I was growing up,’’ says Aeschlimann, who has also interned at a brewery on Cape Cod. “I really enjoyed the opportunity to ask so many questions to experts to help further my knowledge and understanding of brewing and the industry.’’
After trying the new beer on Tuesday night, Aeschlimann was pleased.
“It’s really good! There’s a good amount of hops, but it isn’t too bitter,’’ she says. “I was nervous to try it, but I’m happy with the way it came out. We nailed it, definitely!’’
UConn Brewing Innovation Initiative Begins
While celebrating the success of the students, the event also kicked off a new initiative called UConn Brewing Innovation. The initiative unites the College of Engineering, The College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, and the School of Business in a shared educational and service mission.
The organizers plan to expand academic courses in the brewing process, provide scholarships and mentorship to cultivate talent in the industry, conduct research that will serve local breweries and farms, and provide collaboration and outreach for the 130-member strong Connecticut craft-brewing industry.
“UConn is perfectly positioned to launch an initiative to support the brewing industry with our expertise in agriculture, engineering and business,’’ says Jennifer Mathieu, executive director of the Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation at the School of Business. “This multidisciplinary hub can provide transformative experiences from ‘farm to pint’ serving both students and the community. It is an exciting opportunity.’’
‘They’ve All Learned a New Skill’
For the past three years, engineering professor Jennifer Pascal, the associate department head in chemical and biomolecular engineering, has been offering a brewing course to allow senior chemical engineering students to apply their knowledge. They gained hands-on experience in brewing beer using homebrew scale equipment and kits.
This year, the capstone course expanded, by offering trips to Smokedown Hops Farm in Sharon, Thrall Family Malt in Windsor, and two visits at the Kinsmen Brewing to learn about processing and canning. Pascal says this has been a great experience both for those planning careers in craft brewing, and for those seeking other endeavors, because of the real-world skills they’ve learned.
“Many chemical engineers work in the food and beverage industry,’’ Pascal says. “Chemical engineers are ‘process’ engineers and brewing beer involves optimizing processes and ways to improve them, all relevant skills in an assortment of industries.’’
In 2022, Pascal and Peter Menard, an avid homebrewer and director of technical services at the College of Engineering, submitted a proposal for an expanded program to Greenhouse Studios, a UConn educational think-tank. That’s how they joined forces with Mathieu, who brings expertise in entrepreneurship. Together they began strategizing UConn Brewing Innovation.
College of Engineering Dean Kazem Kazerounian attended Tuesday’s event and says he is delighted for the students.
“What a senior design project; what a way to end your studies,’’ he said, joking that he feels his own capstone project, which involved smashing cans for recycling, didn’t have the same appeal.
“We’re committed to shaping new methodologies for chemical and biomolecular engineering research and curricula,’’ he says. “Under professor Pascal’s leadership, faculty are developing next-generation technologies for a product people have enjoyed for centuries. This engineering discipline proves that innovation is always possible, even for something as tried-and-true as brewing.’’
‘We Rely on and Help Each Other All the Time’
Although Connecticut didn’t invent craft brewing, most of the 130 breweries in the state are Connecticut originals, and the establishments support and encourage each other, says Bob Bartholomew, operations manager at Kinsmen.
“We rely on and help each other all the time,’’ he says. “I’m glad we have a relationship with UConn and can be part of its brewing program and share our knowledge about how to brew great beer.’’
He says he appreciated the students, who asked probing questions about operational efficiency and why ingredients are added at certain stages. “They helped make the process better,’’ he says.
Mathieu says the UConn students and their supporters are deeply appreciative of the team at Kinsmen and hope to partner with them, and other breweries, in the future.
BrewConn is a limited-release beer. Any leftover supply will be canned or available in the Kinsmen tap room. Although UConn has offered signature beer at athletic events, this was the first student-created product to be sold publicly.
BrewConn Well Received by Patrons
Tuesday night’s event, hosted as part of the UConn Foundation’s 1881 Series, was designed to engage alumni, and others in the industry, to generate partnerships and consider next-steps in developing UConn Brewing Innovation.
Alum William Kelsey ’16, ’19 (CANHR) says the beer tasted great, but he was equally impressed by the venture.
“I think it is a cool idea and I like that UConn is innovating and allowing students to brew beer,’’ he says. “I think it is fascinating.’’
He was joined at the event by a table filled with friends and says the UConn Foundation’s 1881 Series changed his tastes. “We weren’t beer snobs until we came to these events!,’’ he says. “I think the beer community will be very welcoming toward these students. UConn is such a strong name. If you say it is UConn-brewed beer, people will be interested in it.’’
Andy Iverson ‘06, an assistant manager in UConn Dining Services, is a member of the UConn Brewing Innovation Advisory Board.
“I knew BrewConn was going to be good, but I didn’t expect it to be that good!,’’ he said after sampling it. “I’ve traveled to many breweries, and I always felt that UConn was the Napa Valley of beer. These students nailed it! I think there’s a huge interest in craft beer in New England and it hasn’t slowed down. Wouldn’t it be great if UConn was known for basketball, ice cream—and beer?’’
CAHNR Dean Indrajeet Chaubey wouldn’t object at all. Merging UConn’s world-class education with agricultural research and innovation is the ultimate accomplishment.
“Initiatives like UConn Brewing Innovation are at the heart of CAHNR’s mission,’’ he says. “As the foundation of UConn’s land grant and thanks to our expertise in plant science, agriculture, food science and health, we are committed to helping students and business grow together in this exciting industry.’’
The initiative also appeals to UConn School of Business Dean John A. Elliott because it touches on entrepreneurship, innovation, and talent development, all touchstones of the business program.
“Connecticut has a proud history of innovation, and this initiative is an opportunity for students to test their ‘real world’ knowledge and participate in the economic growth of our state,’’ he says. “I predict a continuing success that will engage students from across the campus.’’
‘It’s Interesting How Beer… Brings People Together’
Kanisha Desai ‘24 (ENG), of Rocky Hill, took the brewing engineering course because she wanted to learn more about brewing non-alcoholic beer. She wants to be able to help small breweries create non-alcoholic beer, whose popularity is expected to double by 2030.
Desai is applying to master’s degree programs in pharmacy and biotech. She plans to pursue an MBA and eventually work as a process consultant.
“I feel like beer brewing is a great chance to see chemical engineering in a real-life, tangible industry and discover how ideas and production work on a big scale,’’ she says. “How many people can say they worked on a beer-brewing process in college?’’
She particularly enjoyed visiting the hops farm, run by the head of immunology at Yale.
“It’s interesting how beer, of all things, brings people together—doctors, engineers, brew masters,’’ she says. “I think this collaboration is a great way to bring students into chemical engineering and offer them the experience to work in an industry they could pursue.’’
For Aeschlimann the experience has been impactful.
“I was able to learn more about Kinsmen’s brewing process in detail and taste certain unique beers. Having interned at another brewery, it was interesting to see how different breweries run their operation,’’ she says.
“I think the appeal for me is the atmosphere at a craft brewery,’’ Aeschlimann says. “Each one has a unique vibe and atmosphere that makes them, well, them. Trying new brews appeals to many people. There is so much you can create now, using different flavor compounds. It’s a science, but also an art.’’
“I definitely think this program was worthwhile. When I tell people about it, many have said if they’d known about it, they would have joined,’’ she says. “I think the program will draw people to UConn. I think having a UConn beer, particularly a student-brewed beer, will make people say, ‘Wait! This is really cool.’”
“With the UConn name, it’s a great way to get students more interested in the beer scene,’’ she says. “I have friends who said, ‘There’s more beer than just Bud Light?’’’
If you are interested in learning more or donating to this initiative please visit: https://brewing.initiative.uconn.edu. The initiative also includes merchandise, which can be viewed at https://collegethread.com/collections/uconn-brewing-innovation