About a week ago, on a crisp Friday afternoon in March, University of Virginia Darden School of Business student Lang Hoyt found himself grinding Sichuan peppercorns in the back of an open warehouse in Charlottesville.
Beside him, fellow Darden students measured cups of fragrant dark green hops, logged times and quantities in a minute-by-minute spreadsheet or peered at the steaming liquid bubbling away in a large silver vat in the corner.
No, Darden has not suddenly turned into a lab or a culinary school.
The students, including second-year Griffin Dassatti, above, are all members of the Darden School of Brew, a club started about a year ago by Hoyt and classmate Ryan Bottini. The former home brewers wanted to get their classmates interested in the forces behind the craft beer industry that has swept through Charlottesville and put Virginia on the map as a brew-lover’s destination.
In typical Darden fashion (the school is known for its interactive case studies), the students have not just learned about beer – they’ve made their own. In fact, the club has made seven beers to date, all brewed in collaboration with local favorite Three Notch’d Brewing Company.
On this particular day, they were making the seventh and most recent: a Sichuan peppercorn Saison-style pale ale that will premiere at Three Notch’d in early April.
Their past efforts include brews with such pun-derful names as Corporate Em-Basil-Ment, a basil IPA; #PutYourWeizenToWork, a nod to Darden’s “Put Your Why to Work” slogan; and First Coffee Cream Ale, referencing Darden’s daily First Coffee gathering.
Coming up with the names, Hoyt said, is always entertaining.
“We crowdsource those over email,” he said. Club members also brainstorm beer styles and ingredients, like the Sichuan peppercorns in the club’s latest creation.
All of this might sound like a dream job, but it’s also serious business.
Each month, students like Kathryn Fox, shown here with Hoyt, convene in shifts at the Three Notch’d brewing facilities on Preston Avenue to test a new recipe with brewers Dave Warwick and Willey Broaddus. Every beer they’ve brewed has appeared on the menu at Three Notch’d’s downtown taproom, and some are being put in cans or kegs for future sale.
When each brew launches, the club’s members – there are more than 170 of them – gather for a release party featuring speakers from the beer industry.
At one event, Three Notch’d founder and CEO George Kastendike, who also holds an MBA, gave an in-depth presentation on the financial side of the craft beer industry, telling students all that he took into consideration before launching Three Notch’d in 2013. The brewery, which also has locations in Richmond and Harrisonburg, recently opened a new, $2.9 million expansion in downtown Charlottesville.
Other speakers have talked about the technicalities of the brewing process or the marketing campaigns that turn a great beer into a best-selling one. One production manager showed up with detailed spreadsheets, walking students through the decisions he makes when ordering hops, grains and other supplies.
“He took us through the whole supply chain, which was a great way to learn more about the different players in the industry,” Hoyt said.
Though the setting is different, the talks are similar to the case studies Darden students tackle each day in class, analyzing all of the different factors that go into business decisions.
“The beer industry is a cool microcosm that deals with all of the different elements of business – entrepreneurship, operations, product design,” said Bottini, pictured here with Hoyt. “I thought it would be a cool way to expose Darden students to a huge breadth of business challenges, in a very fun environment.”
Bottini is no stranger to the ins and outs of the craft beer industry. He previously worked for a company that manufactured beer tap handles and is currently developing a specially designed pint glass that allows drinkers to infuse their beer with a variety of flavors. He and two classmates are planning to launch a company around the glass, Tailored Pint, later this spring.
Both he and Hoyt said they have been impressed with the number of craft brewers working in Charlottesville and the creativity, collaboration and camaraderie that abounds among them.
Above, Broaddus, one of the brewers at Three Notch’d, adds grain to the Saison mixture.
“A lot of the brewers here are so collaborative, always working together on different projects,” Hoyt said. “They have also been so open and generous to us as students, so willing to let us come learn about what they are doing.”
Dassatti said he has been impressed – though maybe not surprised – by how quickly the club took off among the student body.
“When Ryan and Lang first piloted the club, they were talking about brewing one, maybe two beers per year,” he said. “Now, there are events every month, and I get to try beers that my friends have actually made. It’s been really fun.”
Though both co-founders will graduate in May, they expect and hope the club will continue long after they are gone. Already, they are in the midst of electing the next batch of officers.
Their charge? Giving students the same behind-the-scenes experience and, of course, making great beer.
“It’s been fascinating learning about different aspects of the industry, from brewing the beer and understanding how products are sourced and distributed to getting to know the local craft beer community,” Hoyt said.