Cal Poly Pomona ginning up attention with campus-brewed beers

Cal Poly Pomona professor Owen Williams with bottles of Bronco Brown brewed with the help of university students
Cal Poly Pomona professor Owen Williams with bottles of Bronco Brown brewed with the help of university students Tom Zasadzinski

Mix beer and wine and college students, and the result can turn sour. Not at Cal Poly Pomona, where beer and wine are part of the curriculum.

Cal Poly Pomona professor Owen Williams tops off five goblets with a honey-colored ale he calls Bronco Brown.

“Wow!” exclaims Williams, “Was that not perfect?”

He’s pouring it for colleagues at the campus restaurant. “Bronco Brown” is a limited edition beer brewed with help from Cal Poly Pomona agriculture students.

”When the idea of the barley being grown on campus – two-row barley, which is what craft brewers use, you know?” says Williams. “It’s Metcalf, a variety I’m very familiar with, and I’m thinking, 'OK, what can I do with this? I’ve never done any malting, so why don’t you experience that malting process?'"

On a recent afternoon in a crowded Cal Poly Pomona lecture hall, Williams explains to about 80 students the painstaking process of roasting grains in his own home – grains grown with sows, not suds, in mind.

”During this process, this is so cool, it took hours to do this, the whole house smelled like a brewery,” says Wiliams. “It was awesome. Upstairs, downstairs, out front, out back. What’s that smell?! Oh yeah!”

Williams isn’t the only Cal Poly beermeister. But no one’s taken it as far as senior hospitality student Ray Bishop. He’s collaborating with an Inland brewery to create what he hopes will be the school’s first official line of beers called PolyNation.

”I can’t wait to get it out there,” says Bishop. “We’re going to use as much Cal Poly influence as possible whether it be the malt, the hands that are used to make the beer. Yeah, it’s going to be our beer.”

Bishop hopes to sell the first beer in the PolyNation brand, King John lager, for around $5 a bottle at Cal Poly Pomona’s student-run restaurant and market.

Typically, universities shy away from doing anything that could be perceived as promoting student drinking. But that doesn’t mean they avoid beer, wine and spirits in the classroom.

UC Davis offers a PhD in fermentation. The Sierra Nevada Brewing company helps support Chico State’s brewing ventures. Michael Godfrey, the associate dean of Cal Poly Pomona’s hospitality college, says it’s a delicate balance.

”The first lecture we wrote into the course has to do with alcohol management and laws.”

Godfrey says selling a student-made beer is a natural progression. He launched the school’s “Beer and Culture” course 10 years ago. Cal Poly Pomona already had courses on the making and selling of wine.

”Because of that and because we have a restaurant that has a beer and wine license, and our students have some exposure to that once they’re working in the restaurant, we thought it would be a nice compliment to have a beer course.”

Professor Owen Williams says Cal Poly Pomona has a sober attitude about alcohol in the classroom. First of all, you have to be at least 21 to enroll in the “Beer and Culture” class. And while Williams encourages beer tasting in class, students are only allowed to imbibe in small quantities.

”If you’re caught drunk in my class or any level of inebriation or intoxicated, you’re expelled and you get an immediate F with no chance of making it up,” says Williams. “So we’re very cautious with drinking and drinking in class. There is no drinking outside of class at all.”

Back at the campus tasting, Owen Williams sets out a variety of campus-brewed beers alongside a glass of his latest batch of Bronco Brown. His ale is subtle, but almost to the point of being bland. Keep in mind this is the batch brewed with campus grown grains raised for cows, not connoisseurs. Williams isn’t too happy with this batch.

Cal Poly Pomona hospitality college associate dean Michael Godfrey takes a few sips and agrees, but still manages to pour some praise for his colleague’s effort.

”I think that from a look standpoint, it’s got great color. And while maybe just a little bit of cloudiness, a fairly clear beer,” says Godfrey. “Good head on it. Awesome nose. I love the hops and the way the hops come through. Real nice, I almost pick up some citrus.”

It might not be his best batch, but that doesn’t stop Professor Owen Williams and friends from downing a glass or two of Bronco Brown. As for what could be Cal Poly Pomona’s first “official” beer, student Ray Bishop’s King John lager could be available as soon as April. While you wait, uncork a bottle of the university’s award-winning wine – “Horsehill Vineyards” – at Cal Poly Pomona’s Farm Store and Restaurant.

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