Spring is on the way, and so is a new UW-Madison student-designed beer that will be sold at the Memorial Union Terrace.

The beer—a red lager that will be called “Inaugural Red”—was selected this past Thursday during a competition held in food science professor Jim Steele’s fermented foods and beverages laboratory class. Six student teams participated in the contest, each presenting a red lager beer of their design to an expert panel of judges.

The top honor went to “team #3,” composed of Andrew Lefeber, Sean Hinds and Elizabeth Wolff. And it’s quite an honor indeed. The team’s beer will now go into full-scale production at the Wisconsin Brewing Company (WBC), which partnered with the UW-Madison food science department to create this unique, hands-on learning experience for students.

“We couldn’t imagine a better way to inspire new generations than combining our brewing experience, expertise and facilities with the exceptional minds and laboratories of the UW,” said WBC president Carl Nolan in a news release about the partnership. “It’s a win-win for students, CALS, WBC—and future generations of Wisconsin beer-drinkers.”

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Kirby Nelson sits with the judging panel and addresses the students before judging begins. From L to R: Rob LoBreglio, Kirby Nelson, David Ryder, Lance Baldus and Rob Gretzlock.

Steele’s students were informed about the competition early in the semester and given a clear charge: to create a red lager with less than 5.5 percent alcohol by volume. How exactly to do that, however, was less straightforward. Students were free to be creative and add different kinds and amounts of malt and hops to make a drinkable, enjoyable beer.

After weeks of experimentation, the teams presented their “final draft” beers last Thursday to an impressive panel of experts, including Kirby Nelson, vice president and brewmaster of WBC; David Ryder, vice president of brewing and research at MillerCoors and adjunct professor in the Department of Food Science; Rob LoBreglio, co-owner and brewmaster at the Great Dane Pub & Brewing Company; Rob Gretzlock, manager of Memorial Union Terrace; and Lance Baldus, associate director of restaurant operations at Memorial Union.

One by one, the beers were introduced by a student brewer and presented to the judges. After smelling, swirling and tasting each one, the judges deliberated and discussed their favorites.

“I want to congratulate all of you because these beers were good,” said Ryder, after tasting all six beers. “You took risks using different types of hops and malts, and we like to see that.”

The judges deliberate after tasting the beers.

At the end of a close competition, team #3 came out on top. Their beer will go into production at WBC starting on March 15, and all of the students in Steele’s class will have the opportunity to see and help with the full-scale production. “Inaugural Red” will be available at the Memorial Union Terrace starting in May and then at other locations after that.

In an unexpected twist, another team—Nate Elliot, Adam Bartling and Katherine Habbel—will have the opportunity to see their beer produced. LoBreglio was so intrigued by the beer made by team #5, his personal runner-up, that he offered to brew the beer at the Great Dane.

The competition is part of an ongoing effort to develop a fermentation sciences program at UW-Madison, which is being moved forward with the support of both on- and off-campus partners.

“The dream is to make UW-Madison the top college when it comes to the fermentation sciences,” said Ryder, who helped facilitate MillerCoors’ donation in 2008 of the pilot-scale brewing system used in Steele’s class.

That key donation has enabled many good things already—the new student-made “Inaugural Red” beer the most recent among them—and there’s more to come.

“This beautiful little brewery is capable of making something great – small batches of beer that you can really learn something from and then scale up,” said Nelson, who will oversee the production of “Inaugural Red” at WBC.