Sudwerk Brewery is pumping new innovation and energy into its beer, thanks to two Davis natives who share a vision — and a link to its legacy.
Nearly 25 years after Dean Unger and Ron Broward founded Davis’ first and only brewery, Unger’s grandson, Trent Yackzan, and Yackzan’s friend Ryan Fry are refining their beers and promoting Sudwerk as California’s finest craft lager brewery.
It’s a story of heritage and determination. After graduating from Cal Poly in 2008, Yackzan and Fry returned to Davis. They put their marketing and business knowledge to work at Sudwerk, auditing the books and exploring opportunities. They treated it like a start-up, watching the emerging trends of small breweries. Convinced there was untapped potential, they developed a plan and gathered 12 private investors to purchase the brewery earlier this year.
“We’re fortunate to have found investors who believe in our passion and long-term vision for the brand,” Yackzan said of the backers, many of whom are UC Davis graduates and industry experts. “We sacrificed a lot to get this deal done, and couldn’t be more excited. Now the real work — and fun — begins.”
With the help of their families and expertise of the investors, the pair is cultivating Sudwerk’s image, and the company’s UC Davis-trained brewers are crafting higher-quality and more innovative beers. They promoted Mike Hutson, a 2004 UCD microbiology graduate and Sudwerk brewer since 2005, to the lead brewer post in May.
A new logo featuring a California bear riding Davis’ iconic bicycle will debut in concert with the first Davis Beer Week, Aug. 18-24. New labels and packaging will hit store shelves early next month. The new logo and labels better represent the locality of the brewery and the West Coast brewing movement.
Craft lager niche
While the new labels are sure to attract first-time customers, the brew inside will keep them loyal.
Sudwerk’s new-age craft lagers are balanced, drinkable beers that showcase ingredients like Munich malts from Germany and Cascade hops from Washington. Compared to ales that age for two or three weeks, craft lagers are conditioned under colder temperatures, taking up to eight weeks. This makes for a smoother and crisper beer.
“It’s a testament to the brewer’s skill,” Yackzan said of brewing craft lagers. “There’s nothing to hide behind when brewing a lager, especially a pilsner.”
Fry and Yackzan, both 27, see a niche in the market for a brew that appeals to both hop lovers and mainstream beer drinkers. To achieve this, Sudwerk created a new style by adding West Coast hops to its Munich Helles Lager, renaming it the California Dry-Hop Lager.
“It has the hop aroma of an IPA mixed with the refreshment of a lager,” Yackzan said. “It’s a hybrid style and a nod to the greater California craft brewing movement.”
Hutson, the brewer, is excited about the change: “It’s like a bridge between ‘hop heads’ and traditional lager drinkers. It will be an awesome tool to link the two crowds.”
The Dock Store
Sudwerk is raising the bar in Davis by brewing small-batch, experimental beers, showcasing them four days a week at its taproom, The Dock Store. “The Dock” is an informal, family-friendly gathering place where draft beer is served fresh by the pint or to take home in 64-ounce glass growlers. The entrance is through a roll-up garage door next to the restaurant, which has been under separate ownership since 2006.
A recent addition to The Dock is the Barrel Room, where wine and bourbon barrels age sour beers, stouts and other specialty ales and lagers. The barrels come from local suppliers, including Turkovich Family Wines.
Its employees — all products of the UCD Extension Master Brewer’s Program, housed above the brewery — are encouraged to innovate and create pilot batches. If the pilot brews are popular, they will scale up the batch size for commercial release. The California Dry-Hop Lager is a product of a series of samplings, testing more than 30 hop styles and combinations over the past three years.
And this commitment to quality and innovation is paying off. Sudwerk was one of the five most decorated breweries at the 2013 California State Fair Craft Beer Competition, announced June 28. It earned five medals, including gold for its Oatmeal Stout.
This community collaboration is part of the atmosphere the new owners want to foster: area residents enjoying fresh, local beer at the source.
In the months to come, Sudwerk will release a variety of new craft lagers and ales, distributing them statewide. First up will be limited-release beers in 22-ounce bottles, slated to reach stores later this year.
“We’re eager to spread the new Sudwerk vision and beers, but we have to start in Davis,” Yackzan said. “We want Davis to have pride in their local brewery. My grandpa Dean and Ron pioneered a craft beer revolution 25 years ago. We’re here to carry on the legacy and make it our own.”
A lot is brewing at Davis’ local craft brewery. Stop by the Dock Store at 2001 Second St., for a taste. Hours are 6 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and 4 to 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. For more information on Davis Beer Week events and the Bike and Brew Fest on Aug. 24, visit www.davisbeerweek.com.
“There is a lot of great history at Sudwerk,” Fry said. “But the best is yet to come.”