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NMSBrew Bakery Beers take first in national brewing competition

WRITER:  Vladimir Avina, 575-646-7234,
CONTACT: Catherine Brewer,


Graduate student Jacob Usrey and Catherine Brewer, Chemical and Materials Engineering professor, hold the awards NMSBrew received at the 2019 AIChE Young Professionals’ Beer Brewing Competition. (Courtesy Photo)

Making beer just got a whole lot sweeter for New Mexico State University’s NMSBrew team members. The Rio Grande local section from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) won both best-in-show and the grand prize at the 2019 AIChE Young Professionals’ Beer Brewing Competition.

This is the third year NMSBrew has participated in the competition. Their Ginger Snaps mild brown ale received best-in-show; the grand prize was awarded for the combination of the Ginger Snaps beer and the “Bakery Beers” themed poster.

Catherine “Catie” Brewer, associate professor in the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering (CHME) at NMSU, and director of NMSBrew said personal favorites inspired the bakery theme.

“When building recipes, we always start with our favorite beers to drink because, if you’re going to make five gallons of it, you’d better like to drink it in the first place,” Brewer said.

Members of the winning team included Brewer; Jacob Usrey, who received his BS in chemical engineering in May and began his MS studies this fall; Juanita Miller, College of Engineering safety officer; and Nancy Garnett, retired chemical engineer and chair of the AIChE Rio Grande section.

The competition requires at least one member of the team be a young professional (BS degree-holder under the age of 35). Jacob Usrey, the team’s young professional, had the idea to brew a blueberry wheat beer.

“That sounded a lot like a blueberry muffin, and that led to ginger snaps and maybe do something with lemon bars,” Brewer said.

NMSBrew submitted three beers. Ginger Snaps, entered under the spiced/fruit/vegetable beer category, was a 3.9 % ABV beer. The base was an all-grain, English mild brown ale recipe into which fresh shaved ginger was added the last 10 minutes of the boil to impart the ginger aroma.

The team’s other two beers were the Big Newton, a 10.1 % ABV Belgian dark strong ale with dark fruit flavors, and the Kolache, an American wheat beer brewed with Lemon Drop hops for a citrus taste.

Beers entered in the competition must follow the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) guidelines.

“There are a large variety of styles to choose from and the competition didn’t specify which style to choose from,” Brewer said. “You have to pick which style and then figure out what you are going to do to make it unique and special, but still within style. That’s a tricky balance.”

It’s a familiar balance for the chemical engineers from the NMSBrew program, which began about four years ago with the help of a chemical engineering alum.

“It started with a gift from one of our alumnus, Frank Seidel,” Brewer said. “The original intent was to add a fermentation experiment to our unit operations laboratory, where chemical engineers get their hands-on training.”

Seidel recognized what chemical engineers can do with the rising craft brewing industry in New Mexico and other places around the country, and worked with David Rockstraw, department head for CHME, to design the program so that chemical engineering students to know how to apply their skills to brewing.

Today, NMSBrew brings beer brewing to NMSU students through the Brewery Engineering academic minor within CHME. The program focuses on teaching and research capabilities in the Frank and Jennifer Seidel Brew Lab, as well as collaborations with the NMSU Agriculture Science Center in Farmington, New Mexico, for hop research. There is also CHME 395V, a Viewing a Wider World courses where students learn brewing history and how to make their own beer.

Brewer said that, aside from the professional responsibility of her job, she enjoys watching students and the community learn what beer is.

“The general public doesn’t put much thought into where beer come from, how is it made, or what different varieties there are,” Brewer said. “A reaction I get all the time is, ‘that’s really cool, I never knew that about beer’…and that reaction never gets old.”