Fourth year University of Waterloo chemical engineering students Krislea, Jen, and Francesca (along with their mechanical engineering counterpart Melissa, who couldn’t make it today) are brewing up a unique Fourth Year Design Project (FYDP). Instead of following the usual path of pursuing projects in green energies or sustainable food production, they’ve decided to turn their attentions to homebrewing and beer education. Today, Rob and I had the pleasure of working with Krislea, Jen and Francesca on the pilot batch of their brUW Brown Ale. Rob guided the team through the brew, while I documented the action and answered questions about beer education programs and the role of women in brewing. During the boil, I also had a chance to ask the group some questions about their FYDP:
Kat: Tell me about the project itself. Generally speaking, what are you hoping to create?
Jen: Technically, we’re making an education center that also happens to be a brewery. We had to focus on the education piece as a school requirement. We have the space on campus, and a plan to brew 40L every 3 weeks. Now we need the equipment. Every month we are planning on having a guest speaker, or doing a brewery tour to teach [students] about the industry. Especially for chemical engineers, it will be about continuous improvement.
Kat: Who will your events be open to? Engineers only, the broader student population, the general public… can we come?
Jen: They will be open to the whole school for sure.
Francesca: We hadn’t really considered the community, but I don’t see why not.
Krislea: If someone wants to come in and help us critique beers, they would be more than welcome.
Kat: Were you actively homebrewing before this project started?
J: I had researched it, and had made wine quite a few times. I had a lot of the equipment already, which was a plus.
F: My family has made wine for a long time, but never beer. I’m Italian. It kind of comes with the territory.
Kat: As non brewers, then, what was your motivation for taking on this project?
J: We got offered the project, but we were really, really excited about the prospect of it.
F: I think the fact that it is something that our classmates can use makes it more relevant.
K: Everyone can use beer. Sure, we could have made oil, but who is going to use that everyday?
J: Plus, we all love beer.
Kat: What was your FYDP plan before this option fell into your lap?
F: We knew we wanted it to be food related. Our original plan was to re-purpose the water and whey from cheese production.
K: We went with whey because I worked at Kraft and had some exposure to that side of it. So we decided that you could take all of this milk - there is a ton of whey byproduct - and do something with it. We wanted to sell the whey for protein, and then find a way to repurpose the water that is left over… but we weren’t totally invested in it.
J: That would have been cool too, but I’m really happy with how this has turned out instead.
F: There is still an opportunity here to think about how to repurpose the water that is used, because there is so much of it.
At this point, I lost the group for a bit as they started brainstorming ideas about reusing the steam, recycling the water for use within the building, etc.
Kat: Brewing is expensive. Where is the funding coming from?
F: There are a couple of different opportunities available to us. There’s an engineering endowment fund that may be able to help us with some of the more technical equipment - the engineering equipment.
J: We also have some funding from one of our faculty advisers. Every faculty member has a research budget, and one of our supervisors is going to dedicate part of his to our project.
F: The four of us are open to dedicating some of our personal funding to the project too, if necessary.
Kat: Tell me about the learning curve you’ve experience with this project so far as a group of people who love beer but who don’t necessarily have brewing experience.
K: Well they definitely don’t tell us how to brew beer in class, so learning all of that has been new.That said, we can apply a lot of things that we’ve learned in class about the technical side, like heat exchangers for example.
J: One of the biggest things that I’ve been impressed by is the number of DIY projects that are associated with homebrewing. There is so much creativity in designing brew systems and refrigeration equipment. It’s awesome, but I would never think of it. We don’t learn that kind of hands on stuff in class. I love that part of [this project].
Kat: What has been your favourite part of the project thus far?
K: Drinking the beer.
F: Living the need. We were encouraged by our course instructor to experience the needs and processes of brewing, and that’s been a lot of fun.
J: I love brewing beer. It’s going to be something that I continue with after this project, whether it is at the professional level or not.
What has been the biggest challenge?
K: How quickly it is moving, and how much time we can work on it while we still have other classes. We want to make it as practical as possible in the timeframe that we have. There is so much that we would love to do with this project, but you have to be realistic about your timeline and your resources.
While it's moving in the right direction (and you’re helping with that), the brewing industry is still quite male-dominated. Has gender played into your discussions with professors, industry professionals, etc?
J: It wasn’t in our minds at first, until people pointed out to us. That has actually been a big bonus. People are so supportive of what we are doing.
F: You don’t really think about it until you look around and realize that you’re the only girls in the room.
K: Or until someone points it out to you. When we came to your awards night, we noticed right way how many guys were there.
J: We were really excited to see you (Kat) standing up on the barrel running it.
Rob: There are a lot of bearded dudes in the beer industry.
J&K: There really are!
Kat: What is your ideal end goal with the project?
J: Ideally, we would like to start a brewing competition between universities. Other groups compete between universities for their designs; concrete toboggan racing, green technologies, you name it. There are no competitions for what we’re doing, and we’d love to be able to compete. We’ve reached out to UBC and Sherbrooke, and we’re waitingto hear back, but otherwise no one else is doing this kind of work.
F: They are doing more homebrew clubs, but we’d like to get our hands dirty. We want to get more practical exposure to the industry.
K: Having a competition will really motivate us to work towards a specific goal for the end of the year.
Kat: Is there anything else that you want people to know about you, about this project, or about what you might need moving forward?
J: We have a website. It’s not live yet, but we have a meeting this week to get approval from the university, and then it should hopefully be up. It will include information about the project, our funding needs, that kind of thing.
Note: As soon as the site is live, I'll be sure to update this post and provide the link.