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Davis, California

Friday, May 24, 2024

University finds funding at the bottom of a pint glass

A golden beverage emblematic of the indescribable Aggie spirit, and, conveniently, a perfect complement to steaks, burgers and pizza, is now available on tap at several local Davis restaurants.

On Aug. 16, UC Davis campus officials announced a new agreement between the athletic department and Sudwerk Brewery, known as the Aggie Lager Project. The contract, a one-year deal between the two parties, allows Sudwerk to utilize the university’s name and athletic trademark in marketing their latest microbrew, Aggie Lager.

In an effort to help recruit and retain student athletes, $25,000 from the proceeds generated by Aggie Lager will be used to provide athletic scholarships, said Scott Brayton, director of marketing and promotions for UC Davis Athletics.

“The agreement will provide the equivalent of one full year’s scholarship for an in-state student athlete at UC Davis,” Brayton said. “The funding will go into the grant-in-aid fund and benefit our student athletes.”

Aggie Lager is already popular at the establishments that pour it, including 3rd & U Café, Hallmark Inn, The Davis Graduate, Woodstock’s Pizza and Original Steve’s Pizza. The brew has been released just in time for the start of football season, meaning fans, parents and alumni can indulge in a cold glass at certain tailgates or sports bars.

“Aggie Lager has been well received on campus and in the community,” Brayton said. “It is becoming a product of choice at many university functions and local establishments.”

The beer is a light lager, with a yellow color that pairs with the trademarked Gunrock logo to be easily recognizable as Aggie blue and gold.

“Aggie Lager is from the helles tradition. Helles means ‘pale,’ so the

product is a lovely gentle yellow color, with a distinct malty character,” said Charles Bamforth, UC Davis professor of malting and brewing sciences. “This beer speaks to the traditions of all that is finest in the university and the world of brewing.”

Both the university and Sudwerk appear to be keenly aware of, and sensitive to, the moral gray area involved in a public university attaching its name to a beer.

“The last thing we want to do is to besmirch the name of the university. If anything, we want to elevate it,” said Sudwerk’s owner and Aggie alumnus Jay Prahl.

According to Bamforth, the beer is being marketed with the highest of values.

“No cheap sales gimmicks, not a ping pong ball in sight,” Bamforth said, who said he is proud of the close association between the university and Sudwerks. “[Beer] is a wonderful thing when consumed in moderation as part of a holistic, well-balanced and responsible lifestyle. The provenance of Aggie Lager very much speaks to that.”

The majority of students do not seem to view the contract as morally questionable.

“It doesn’t bother me. They’re trying to do whatever they can to expand their finances,” said junior economics major Myra Lee.

The introduction of Aggie Lager was reminiscent to Michael J. Lewis, opinion writer for The Davis Enterprise, of his college experiences at the University of Birmingham, where the readily available beer at the university’s student center allowed it to serve as a venue for both academic and social activities. In a recent column for the Enterprise, he contended that Aggie Lager should be sold on campus, to not only help the Aggie athletic department reach their goals but to also help unify two distinct areas of student life.

“I think it is the height of hypocrisy that this does not happen – the campus wants to make money and fame from alcohol, but objects to students drinking it on campus where they learn about it,” Lewis said in an e-mail interview.

The hang up for some students is why the funds are being allocated exclusively to athletic scholarships.

“Any student is as much an Aggie as any athlete,” said senior economics major Levi Cole.

The deal’s focus on athletics is rooted in both history and pragmatism. Since its inception, the Lager has always been marketed toward the athletics department. It was initially released nine years ago for the annual UC Davis athletics auction, and has since been poured to VIPs at major Aggie sporting events.

“The birth of the idea was just another way for us to support Aggie Athletics,” Prahl said. “When a school does well in athletics their donations go up from alumni. A premier athlete who takes UC Davis up a little higher could easily turn that $25,000 into a quarter of a million.”

Controversies aside, the university stands to gain a significant portion of funding from the deal. Additionally, the intangible element in the contract is the message of alumni giving back to their school.

“I think everyone daydreams when they’re in a class, ‘Someday when I get out of this school I’ll be famous in my career and I’ll be able to give back to my university.’ This is like a dream come true to make this beer with our school label on it,” Prahl said.

LANI CHAN and JUSTIN GOSS can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.

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