Second Annual Chili Brew Off

This May marked the second annual “Bren Brew Off.” Hosted by the Bren School’s Graduate Student Association (GSA) representatives, this year’s event expanded to include a chili cook-off. “If there is one thing I have learned, it is that Brennies like snacking almost as much as they enjoy a high-quality craft beer after a hard week of school. It was a natural addition to this event,” says GSA representative and two-time brewer, Kaia Joye Moyer (MESM 2015).

On the Friday, Oak Park is teeming with Brennies, armed with tasting spoons, cups, and voting ballots. With seven brew teams and seven chili teams, there is no shortage of sampling. Alongside the students and local alumni were the judges: Figueroa Mountain Brewery’s owner and Bren Reunion sponsor, Jaime Dietenhofer (MESM 2002); fellow brewer Nic Bortolin; and certified beer taster Sandy Harrison, from Valley Brewers homebrew store in Solvang. With Brengrass playing in the background, the judges make their way from table to table tasting chilis and beers that have names like “Where Reindeer and the Buffalo Roam” and “Proud to be an A-beer-ican IPA.” They ask brewers about the process, the recipe, the inspiration.

“We really look forward to doing this each year” says Deitenhofer. “We love staying involved with Bren and the students —so many great people and ideas flowing, and I enjoy being a part of that.  Plus, it’s great to do it over a beer!”

Awards are given out as the crowd cheers on fellow classmates who stretch the meaning of an “interdisciplinary” education.

“It turns out people like macaroni in their chili!?” says Heather Dennis (MESM 2015), laughing in disbelief as she and co-chili chef, Hilary Walecka (MESM 2015), walk away from the stage with a giant gift basket from Figueroa Mountain Brewery. These two take the “classic chili” prize, but there are more awards to be given away: Most creative chili. “People’s Choice” brew. “Runner Up” brew. And finally the “First Place” brew, the highest honor awarded by the professional tasters and brewers themselves. This year the win goes to MESM student Talia Ibarguen (2016), who will brew her recipe at Figueroa Mountain’s new Arroyo Grande location in August.

“The event was awesome this year, from the chili to the beer to the music,” says says Deitenhofer at the end of it “All were top notch. Can’t wait to do it again next year!”

Neither can we.

Talia’s beer will go on tap in the fall. So stick around, grab your pint glass, and get ready to raise one for Bren!


First Place: “Oaky the Beer”—Talia Ibarguen

Runner Up: “The Jeffeweizen”—Spencer Middleton and Grace Kao

People’s Choice: “Hopped Amb(e)rosia” –Kaia Joye Moyer, Lila Spring, Jenn Macy, Julia Morton

Creative Chili: “Fuego Verde” – Chris Uraine and Dan Hannigan

Traditional Chili: “Greasy Elbows”—Heather Dennis and Hilary Walecka


Photo credit: Owen Liu (Bren PhD student)


Check out the Interview with Brew Champion, Talia Ibarguen (MESM 2016) below!

How long have you been brewing?   My fiancé (Tom) and I actually started brewing when I first enrolled in Bren and realized there was a home-brew competition!  We had been wanting to start for a while, this was just the catalyst

“Oakey the Beer” was our third brew. The first beer we made got infected (we suspect by a rogue dog hair in the bottling bucket) and when we finally opened it after bottle conditioning it tasted like hot dog burps…though I still maintain that may have paired well with chili. Our second brew was a bourbon vanilla imperial porter, which came out amazing; except that it was not carbonated. We brought it to a homebrew club meeting and they were able to help us analyze the problem (we racked the beer too clean and there wasn’t enough yeast to carbonated in the bottle). Our third beer turned out much better!

And you won! How do you feel?  Shocked! The judges never actually talked to us before the big announcement so I was genuinely very surprised! It’s awesome to have some feedback about our beer from judges and classmates. We are really into craft beer so it’s an honor to get to brew on a commercial scale and learn from the pros. It was also a great opportunity to introduce Tom to my classmates, there is no better way to make new friends than with a winning beer!

What do you plan to do next?   We are going to be brewing a saison in the next week. Tom wants it to be a simple and pure recipe, I want to rack in some lavender and spices to give it a spring feeling…so there will probably be lavender and spices in the beer.

Have you scheduled a time at Fig?  Jaime mentioned August 1st in the new Arroyo Grande taproom.  I’d love to barrel-age and have that beer at graduation next year, but we will see what is actually feasible! Fortunately my summer internship is establishing sustainability initiatives at Fig, so I’ll be bugging Jaime about it.

Do you have any advice for future brewers? 

  • Find a good group of friends who can brew with you. Brewing, especially all grain brewing is a whole day commitment, so it’s nice to have the company.
  • Don’t get discouraged if your beers don’t work out right away. Even the most experienced homebrewers make a bad batch from time to time. Jaime (the owner of Fig Mtn) is not shy about his humble beginning of blowing up a dorm room closet with an exploding homebrew.
  • If you really want to get into it, join a homebrew club! The craft beer community, especially home brewers, is a really nice group of people. Our experiences with our club have been awesome. They have great advice and we learn something new every meeting. Especially if your beer didn’t work out, homebrewers love solving the mystery of “what went wrong”.
  • Seek advice from the experts! If you are at Bren, make the trip to Solvang and go to Valley Brewers (it’s really not that far!) They have an awesome selection of products and ingredients. The owners (Chris and Sandy) are incredibly helpful and will help you put together the best (and cheapest) brew set-up to get you started!


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