“So, Jenna, what’re your plans for the summer?”
“I’m going to work at a brewery in Belgium for six weeks to learn how to brew beer,” I respond. They pause, eyes wide, smiling in disbelief.
“You’re what? Really? Wow, how’d you land that gig?”
Each time I’m confronted with this question, my answer varies. (And, believe me, I’ve been asked more than a few times). I usually end up saying something along the lines of:
“I’m very fortunate to know the people I do and to attend UC Davis, one of the best schools in the country to study beer.”
This is all true, but there’s really more to it. A lot more.
My passion for beer began about two years ago when my boyfriend, Peter, and his roommates at UC Berkeley turned 21 and started to explore craft beer. Each weekend I visited, there would be a new 24-bottle mixed pack and various 6-packs scattered throughout the fridge. While we were studying or just hanging out, we’d all crack open a beer. To be honest, at first, I really didn’t like craft beer. I found Sierra Nevada Pale Ale overly bitter and Firestone DBA reminiscent of eating crusty brown bread.
However, beer quickly became the drink of choice at my boyfriend’s apartment, and, as a dedicated foodie, I wouldn’t pass up at least trying a new beer. After a couple of months, I started to acquire a taste for beer and convinced Peter to explore other beer styles with me, such as Belgian saisons and barrel-aged beers.
Around this time, I was signing up for my classes for Winter Quarter 2015. That quarter I was taking biology, organic chemistry, and calculus to fulfill my Food Science major requirements. To balance out my technical courses, I thought it would be as good of a time as any to take Introduction to Brewing and Beer (FST3) taught by the legendary Charlie Bamforth aka The Pope of Foam. (For those of you who don’t know, Charlie Bamforth is the Anheuser-Busch Endowed Professor of Brewing Science and has taught thousands of brewers at UC Davis over the past 17 years).
I immediately threw myself into FST3 as Professor Bamforth shared his immense passion for beer with me. Although my schedule that quarter proved challenging, and my grades suffered as I tried to balance studying (and drinking) beer with memorizing O-chem mechanisms, I have no regrets pursuing a passion that has evolved into my career path.
Since then, I have explored breweries and tasted beers from all over the world. Though I am most familiar with California brews, I’ve tasted some incredible beers with my dad in Canada and have had the privilege to imbibe in delicious Belgian ales at my favorite brewery, Ommegang, in Cooperstown, New York. My boyfriend, Peter, accompanies me on most of my beer journeys. He’s the ultimate companion and together we have fostered a love for beer.
Over the past couple of years, we’ve visited over fifty breweries and taprooms (yes, we’re dedicated beer connoisseurs). To give you a sense of our dedication, we spent six hours in line on Valentine’s Day this past February to get our three, 10-ounce pours of Pliny the Younger at Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa. And yes, it is worth it.
Some of our other favorite beer stops in Northern California are Fieldwork Brewing Co. (Berkeley, soon to be in Monterey, Napa, and Sacramento), Ruhstaller (Sacramento), Sierra Nevada (Chico—side note: Ken Grossman is my idol), The Trappist (Oakland), Peter B’s (Monterey), and North Coast Brewing Co. (Fort Bragg). Along the way we’ve met some wonderful people, driven some middle-of-nowhere roads to find breweries, spoiled our taste buds countless times, and have fallen in love with the craft beer culture.
Now, these beer adventures are all well and good, but I can only pass them off as “studying” if one day I hope to open my own brewery. Although the craft beer movement continues to rise, countless breweries close their doors everyday because they cannot compete in such a saturated market. Since I still had over a year to graduate, and the future of craft beer is somewhat nebulous, I was pessimistic about involving myself in the development of a new craft brewery, that is, until I met Fabrice Rondia.
This past November, I was driving home one weekend when I got an exciting call from my mom. She informed me that Fabrice, one of her fellow nurses in the ER, was starting a sustainable brewery called Belgian Pacific on Cannery Row in Monterey and was looking for a brewer to brew a beer that he was currently importing from Belgium. My mom mentioned to Fabrice how I was pursuing Brewing Science at UC Davis, and Fabrice expressed an interest in meeting with me. My mom set up a time for me to meet with Fabrice the following day and we immediately hit it off (thank you, Mom).
During this meeting, Fabrice mentioned finding a brewer and sending them to the brewery in Belgium to learn how to brew Leopold 7, the Belgian Amber Ale that he was currently importing. He then pulled out a tulip glass and skillfully poured me a glass of Leopold 7. I watched as the deep-amber hue rose in the glass and a sturdy, soft-caramel-colored head formed above. Fabrice handed me the glass, I took a sip, and immediately fell in love. I knew at that moment that if I was going to learn how to brew a beer, this was the one I wanted to brew.
I struggled to contain my excitement as I volunteered my summer to intern at Brasserie de Marsinne in Belgium. I knew I needed to prove myself as he wouldn’t just sponsor anyone to go, so I asked how I could involve myself in the establishment of Belgian Pacific. Since November, I have conducted research on LEED certifications (United States Green Building Council standards regarding sustainable building development), have represented Leopold 7 and Belgian Pacific at the Hop N’ Barley beer festival in Scotts Valley, and have collaborated with Fabrice on brewery ideas. Fabrice has an incredible vision for Belgian Pacific, and I cannot wait for the brewery to open its doors early next year.
For the past few months, I’ve corresponded with the two brewers at Brasserie de Marsinne, learned some French, and have added several more brewing books to my library. The day has come to depart on my Belgium adventure and experience the internship of a lifetime. I am fortunate to have Peter accompany me on this journey. Most of my beer adventures to date involve him by my side, so it is only fitting that he share this experience working at Brasserie de Marsinne with me.
With two hours of sleep, I embark on a 2 hour drive to San Francisco, an 11 hour flight to London, an hour flight to Brussels, and an hour drive to Couthuin, I can’t seem to settle down and rest. My mind is buzzing with activity as I daydream about Brasserie de Marsinne, Belgium, and the adventures we will experience in Europe. I especially anticipate the first taste of Leopold 7 that I help craft with my own two hands.
If you’ve ever wondered how beer is made, what it's like to work in a brewery, or what Belgium has to offer, subscribe to my blog and join me as I experience the summer of a lifetime.