Brewing up a storm for the second time

18 Mar 2019

By Jonathan Chew

Assistant Professor James Kwan (in white) shares his experience as a participant and winner of the first competition last semester during the mingle session. PHOTO: JOEL CHAN

Positive response from students has prompted the School of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering (SCBE) to bring back its beer brewing competition for its second edition this semester, this time featuring stout as the beer of choice.

Last semester, pale ale was used as the category of beer to be made.

This competition sees students and professors working together to create the best-tasting beer.

The competition kicked off with 12 teams in its first mingle session on 23 Jan, when the groups brought their own brews for the others to try. This was also when they shared stories about their beer brewing experiences with the other teams. Four other mingle sessions are scheduled for the rest of the semester, before judging day is held on 24 Apr.

Professor James Kwan, who was a participant in the competition last year and has returned as a judge this year, said: “When we did it the first time, there were a lot more uncertainties. People were unsure of what it took to actually run a competition.

“This time around we have a much better understanding, we are more organised, and it is running more smoothly.”

All competitors will receive an SCBE souvenir, with the winning team walking away with a beer brewing kit that includes a fermenting vessel, carbonation drops that are used to carbonate the beer, and beer bottles, which typically retails for around $100.

Teams will also be reimbursed up to $250 for ingredients and materials, and granted access to the school’s pilot laboratory with equipment for students to experiment on, and its cold room, which is used for the fermentation process.

Judging is done by a panel, and beers go through a blind taste test. This semester, judges in the four-man panel include Professor Kwan, as well as the chair of the SCBE, Professor Xu Rong, and Bryan Picco, a brewer from Brewerkz.

One of the participants is Tan Jian Song, a second-year student in SCBE who is participating in the beer brewing competition for the first time.

Tan was inspired to start brewing beer for the competition, having already been interested in the process of making alcohol. He had only recently heard about the competition from his friends.

“I’m aiming to make a beer that I would prefer and cater to my own tastes. Hopefully it will be a good brew, and others will like it,” said the 23-year-old.

The competition serves not only as a way for students and professors to bond outside of academic work, but also for students to apply concepts learnt in school.

“Beer brewing is actually very hardcore chemical engineering. There’s concepts such as heat transfer and process control that need to be applied,” said Professor Chew Jia Wei, the Associate Chair for students in the SCBE.

“It’s also something everyone can relate with, and you can actually see and taste the results,” she added.

Professor Chew, who was on the organising committee last semester, decided to try her hand at beer brewing this semester as well.

She said: “We are thinking of different flavourings right now. We will probably try conventional ones such as coffee or chocolate, before thinking of other (flavours) to try.

“Someone suggested durian, but we probably won’t go with that.”

On the future of the competition, Professor Chew is hopeful.

She said: “So far, the number of teams is very promising. Last semester, even though the judging day was right before exams, we actually ran out of catered food due to the large turnout. As long as there’s interest, we will continue to hold this competition.”