A lucky few find their passion early in life and are able to follow it their whole lives. Master brewer Michael Lewis, UC Davis professor emeritus of brewing science, is one such person. He was awarded the 2008 Brewers Association Recognition Award at the 25th annual Craft Brewers Conference in mid-May.
“The Brewers Association’s mission is to promote American craft beer and American craft brewers and protect the community of small brewers – and Dr. Lewis has done that,” said director of the Brewers Association Paul Gatza. “We wanted to recognize his work with thousands of brewers in the United States.”
Lewis is no stranger to the brewing community. As one of the most prominent brewing experts in the United States, Lewis has taught brewing at UC Davis for 30 years and substantially built up the brewing industry in Davis.
Charles Bamforth, professor and department chair of food science and technologies, has known Lewis since Bamforth arrived on the brewing scene 30 years ago and currently works with Lewis in the UC Davis Extension brewing department, which Lewis heads.
“Michael was the first person to really run with brewing at UC Davis,” Bamforth said in an e-mail interview. “His main contribution has been furnishing a great many people into the brewing industry and enthusing them about beer and brewing. Many have joined very big brewing companies, but in particular Michael has encouraged large numbers who have dreamt of joining the craft industry.”
The author of over 100 scholarly papers and co-author of several books, Lewis has made a great impact on the brewing industry across the nation.
“One of the brews he helped is the Sierra Nevada Co., now the second largest brewing company in the country,” said Gatza. “Half of the brewing companies in the U.S. have studied with him [through] the UC Davis extension.”
Lewis has been an advocate for the importance of smaller brewers and the large future they hold for brewing. In the 1980s, at a time when the Master Brewers Association of America was not interested in small brewers, Lewis helped convince the association to welcome smaller brewers into the fold, Gatza said.
The only person who has spoken at every Craft Brewers Conference since its inception in 1985, when it was known as the Microbrewers Conference, Lewis constantly challenges the brewing industry with questions to further explore and improve the industry.
“Michael is someone who’s not afraid to challenge the paradigms of brewing out there,” Gatza said. “Even when people may disagree, he backs it up with proof. He points to the questions people should explore on his own.”
Lewis has been active in the brewing industry since he was 18 years old in his native Great Britain. He was inspired by a teacher in high school who encouraged him to apply for a brewer’s scholarship so he could afford college. While Lewis did not win the scholarship, he instead found a passion and interest in brewing.
“I was keen on the idea of brewing; it seemed like a magical thing. Then there was the intrigue in the title – master brewer,” Lewis said.
Lewis taught brewing at UC Davis from 1962 until 1998 and has continued leading the brewing program through the UC Davis Extension. His love for the subject and the beverage has not waned in his 50-plus years of studying, teaching and enjoying it.
Lewis enjoys beer because of “the extraordinary range of flavors, the tremendous history of brewing, the refreshment it can bring and [because] it’s delightful to drink without getting drunk. It is a beverage of moderation, really worthy of study [and] such an interesting product that is still developing.”
Described by Gatza and Bamforth as having a “fatherly image” in the brewing community and as being an “inspirational teacher,” Lewis greatly contributed to the brewing industry.
“He’s a true gentleman,” Gatza said. “The brewing industry in America wouldn’t be nearly where it is today without the contribution of Dr. Lewis.”
WENDY WANG can be reached at email@example.com.