Sierra Nevada Gifts $2 Million to UC Davis Brewing Program

Austin Ray

THE GIST
UC Davis is set to bolster its brewing science program thanks to a $2 million gift from Sierra Nevada founder Ken Grossman and his wife, Katie Gonser. Specifically, the money will be used to establish an endowment to fund a full-time staff brewing position. Joe Williams, a staff research associate with the school’s food science and technology department, has been named the first Sierra Nevada Endowed Brewer. In the role, he’ll be responsible for mentoring student brewers, maintaining the university’s brewery, and serving as a liaison to the beer industry at large.

“This endowed brewer position will allow us to provide outstanding practical brewing experiences for our students as we continue to align hands-on training with the best theoretical education,” says Charlie Bamforth, the school’s Anheuser-Busch Endowed Professor of Malting and Brewing Sciences, in a statement. “Students don’t get that combination in most other brewing programs.”

WHY IT MATTERS
Sierra Nevada’s connection to UC Davis goes back nearly two decades, to when Bamforth first arrived at the school to lead its brewing science program in 1999. But this is about more than one brewery giving a hefty gift to one school. Long an illicit couple, beer and college have forged a legitimate relationship over the last few years.

Last April, New Belgium gifted $1 million to Colorado State University to renovate the facilities playing host to the school’s fermentation science and technology program. Kim Jordan herself pitched in $500,000. “Craft brewing has afforded opportunity to more than 100,000 people working in our industry,” she said at the time. “It’s important to support the next generation of brewers who will take us into the future.” The updated facility would go on to be called the New Belgium Fermentation Science and Technology Laboratory.

That same month, Carlos Alvarez, CEO and chairman of Gambrinus, donated $1 million to Oregon State University to build a new research brewery there.

There’s more to it, though, than the mere trend of generosity. The sheer volume of educational programs is growing, too. As of a decade ago, there were only five higher education options for students interested in a brewing career, Forbes reported in September. Today there are than three-dozen, at least, by the Brewers Association’s count. And the bulk of those are run not by independent consortiums like Cicerone, but by accredited colleges and universities, Forbes notes.

It stands to reason that more of these programs are bound to pop up as beer further establishes itself as pathway to a stable career. And if brewers want to help along the way with financial gifts, those programs will only have an easier time getting off the ground.

—Dave Eisenberg