Eastern Michigan University Fermentation Science Program students earn gold and multiple silver medals in U.S. College Beer Championship; place second overall

Bottles of different types of beer are lined up on a table.

YPSILANTI – Steadily moving up in the ranks over the past three consecutive years, the Eastern Michigan University Fermentation Science Program students have earned a gold medal, multiple silver medals, and second place overall in this year’s U.S. Open College Beer Championship, the only competition for beers exclusively from colleges and universities with brewing and fermentation programs. 

“We are very excited to have come in second overall this year,” said Cory Emal, professor and Fermentation Science coordinator. “It’s a testament to the abilities of our students to quickly learn a fairly complex process that was unfamiliar to many of them before taking courses and be able to produce such high-quality beers.”

A fierce competition, each college or university could submit up to four beers of any style to be judged according to the U.S. Open Style Standards, a set of published guidelines defining a specific beer style, and the student brewers' submitted intentions. Gold, silver, or bronze medals may be awarded among these entries. This year, EMU students achieved a gold medal for their American Black Ale, Appointment with Danger, and a silver medal for their American Stout, Inciting Event.

Colleges and universities can also submit a beer from a specific category each year to be judged head-to-head. The category rotates yearly, and only one gold, silver, and bronze medal are awarded in this special category. This year, the category was Belgian Dubbel – and the EMU fermentation students took the silver medal home in that category for their beer, Dubbel your Fun

An overall Grand Master Champion is also named each year based on overall standings and medals earned. In 2021, EMU’s students ended in seventh place after earning one gold and one bronze medal. In 2022, the competing students placed fourth overall for EMU, earning two gold medals (including a gold in the head-to-head German Kolsch category) and one silver medal. EMU students came in second place this year, just behind the 2023 Grand National Champion Niagara College of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

The beers entered in the competition were designed as a part of advanced courses in EMU’s Fermentation Science program; Fermentation Production Facilities (FERM 441) and Fermented Beverage Production (FERM 425). 

The students who produced the beers entered into this year’s competition included graduate student Taylor Heckaman, seniors Destiny Aldinger, Keith Camac, Alex Crombie, Mason Fretz, Kimgech Kean, and David Wolf and junior Aaron Bokas.

To prepare for the competition, the students identified which beer styles they were interested in making, researched the style, designed the recipe and brewed and fermented the beer. Once the beers were all produced, Emal and his students sat down and compared them against the U.S. Open Style Standards to determine which beers they thought would perform best in the competition. 

The students’ winning American Black Ale and American Stout are closely related beers. Both are dark beers with many flavors derived from roasted malts (e.g. coffee, chocolate, dark toast), and a fair amount of bitterness. The biggest difference is that the American Black Ale is “dry hopped,” meaning many hops were added after fermentation to add more hop aroma (citrus and pine) without increasing the bitterness.

“An interesting aspect of these beers is that the American Stout was brewed as the first iteration of the American Black Ale,” said Emal. “After it was made, we recognized that it was a high-quality beer, but it didn’t have all the usual hallmarks of the style. After much discussion, we decided to enter it as an American Stout, which it much more closely resembled. The students then rebrewed the American Black Ale with a revised recipe based on what they learned from the first iteration – and both versions earned medals.”

The Belgian Dubbel is a beer traditionally brewed by Trappist monks and sold to support their abbey. The Belgian Dubbel beer that EMU’s students created this year had rich malt flavors and aromas characteristic of the style: dried fruit like raisins and prunes, cocoa and a touch of caramel.

“Fermentation can be very complex, but anyone can do it,” said Emal. “Anyone interested in foods and beverages and how they get their flavors and aromas would enjoy the courses – and don’t hesitate to dive in. Most students who participated in this competition had never brewed a beer before, but with our guidance and instruction, you’ll make high-quality products sooner than you’d think possible.”

The Eastern Michigan University Fermentation Science program offers four-year major and minor degrees that focus on the science underlying all forms of fermentation, focusing on food and beverages.

The program’s rigorous curriculum combines an understanding of the science of fermentation with a broad background in chemistry, biology, and physics.

For more information on the Fermentation Science program, visit the program website.

About Eastern Michigan University
Founded in 1849, Eastern is the second oldest public university in Michigan. It currently serves more than 14,000 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, specialist, doctoral and certificate degrees in the arts, sciences and professions. In all, more than 300 majors, minors and concentrations are delivered through the University's Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Engineering and Technology; Health and Human Services; and its graduate school. National publications regularly recognize EMU for its excellence, diversity, and commitment to applied education. Visit the University’s rankings and points of pride websites to learn more. For more information about Eastern Michigan University, visit the University's website. To stay up to date on University news, activities and announcements, visit EMU Today.

September 06, 2023

Written by:
Morgan Mark

Media Contact:
Melissa Thrasher