Microbiologist becomes R&D brewer in thriving craft industry
It all started when Cody Reif was crashing on his sister’s couch, and her roommate, a home brewer, made mash for a new batch of beer.
Reif was a junior in microbiology at Colorado State, uncertain about his career path, and that whiff of barley and malt coming to life, with starches aromatically converting into fermentable sugars, was like a persuasive career counselor.
“I smelled that smell, and I knew that’s what I was going to do,” Reif, who earned a bachelor’s degree in 2002, said. From that olfactory prompt, he has become a research and development brewer for New Belgium Brewing Co. in Fort Collins – an innovator who dreams up new ales, lagers, sours, and seasonals for one of the nation’s best-known leaders in craft beer.
In his creations, Reif seeks a blend of innovation, brewing tradition, quality, and appeal. That means understanding beer-making conventions, modern tastes, and the intricacies of chemistry.
“The first thing, the most important thing, is you have to make a good beer,” he said. “The ideal situation is to be the brewery that starts the trend. It is creatively more rewarding to do something innovative, that understands brewing traditions, and that people like. That’s the balance you want.”
He points to Old Aggie Superior Lager, a collaboration with Colorado State, as an example. Old Aggie is a lager with craft-brewing characteristics that offers a flavor uptick on traditional mass-produced beers. Customers bought more than 50,000 cases of Old Aggie in its first year of sales, placing it among the company’s more successful launches. A portion of proceeds supports CSU fermentation science, athletics, and student alcohol awareness.
New Belgium has supported CSU in many other ways. For instance, Kim Jordan, company co-founder, chair of the board, and former chief executive officer, also serves on the Colorado State University System Board of Governors.
Reif’s passion for microbiology began when he was a student at Poudre High School in Fort Collins; he then enrolled in Colorado State’s well-regarded program. After getting that whiff of his future, Reif followed a curriculum that helped him land an internship at New Belgium.
He is impressed by the CSU Fermentation Science and Technology program, which launched in 2013 and is specifically designed to prepare students for careers in food and beverage sectors involving fermentation, including the cheese, yogurt, and beer industries. The interdisciplinary, science-based program recently opened a teaching brewery to help train about 125 undergraduate students enrolled.
“These students are so much further ahead than I was when I started, and they have the opportunity to be so much better brewers,” Reif said. “Why not envision Northern Colorado as the Napa Valley of beer? This program deepens the reality of this as a true brewing center. We’re just at the beginning of something here.”