Tapping Potential Scholarship winner Jae Vanderwerf poses in brewery
Brewer Jae Vanderwerf started out as an avid homebrewer. (Photo courtesy)

UC Davis Tapping Potential Scholarship Spotlight: Jae Vanderwerf

Jae Vanderwerf lives a full life—married with two dogs, three cats and a multitude of hobbies, she is also a cellar woman and assistant brewer at SaltFire Brewing Company in Salt Lake City, Utah. What she loves most about brewing is the marriage between art and science and the many opportunities for creative freedom and growth that the brewing process affords. Vanderwerf wanted to further her brewing education, but she was also facing steep medical and legal expenses for gender transition. As a winner of the 2022 UC Davis Tapping Potential Scholarship for the online Beer Quality Series at UC Davis Continuing and Professional Education, she doesn’t have to give up on continuing her education.

Because of the Tapping Potential Scholarship, I no longer have to choose between living authentically as myself and also getting an education.”

How did your love of brewing begin?

Growing up in the Pacific northwest, the beer culture has always been very much a part of life. Appreciation for craft beer was something I began dabbling in right after college. That said, I actually started out attempting to make wine before beer. I helped out a local winery in the Willamette valley, taking care of some new vines they had planted. I learned to care for the vines, prune them and weed them, and in return, I would get the grapes from them that year. It was an amazing opportunity and I learned so much. This sparked my drive to learn more about fermented sciences from the farm to the glass.

What motivated you to apply for the UC Davis Tapping Potential Scholarship?

I applied for the UC Davis Tapping Potential Scholarship because I love brewing. I'm a BJCP Certified Beer Judge, a Cicerone Certified Beer Server and a long-time homebrewer. I’ve always wanted to know everything there is to know about beer and pursue my education further. But I didn’t know how to make that happen until I found out about the Tapping Potential Scholarship.

I am a transgender woman and a lot of people don’t realize how expensive gender transition can be. There were legal costs to transition, and many medical procedures aren’t covered by insurance. I thought that I would have to sacrifice my professional development and future education in order to fund my gender transition. Because of the Tapping Potential Scholarship, I no longer have to choose between living authentically as myself and also getting an education.

What are your brewing goals and how will this scholarship help you achieve them?

My biggest brewing goal is to elevate the craft brewing scene with knowledge. I love the nuances of drinking a really great craft beer and how creativity, science, history and geography all play a role in creating a great beer. I hope to learn enough from this scholarship opportunity and other educational opportunities to become a respected name in the field and solidify my own beer knowledge. With this I would feel confident to be able to pass my own knowledge along to others and help be a teacher and resource for the beer community.

Jae Vanderwerf working in the brewery, adding malt
Vanderwerf started out as an electrical engineer before pursing her passion for brewing. (Photo courtesy)

How do you help to inspire diversity, leadership and cross-cultural understanding in the brewing industry?

I have helped build up the beer judging scene and thus the quality of beer in the market. I've been a part of homebrew clubs for the past seven years and know how important it is for homebrewers to get feedback to help improve the overall quality of their beer. A couple years into my homebrewing, I took a beer judging course that helped me pass my BJCP tasting exam. When I moved to Utah and learned that no such course was offered here, I started teaching a judging class on a donation basis to help give the local community the same experience I had. Keeping this on a donations basis has made it so no one is left out due to money. Through this class, I have taught everyone from new homebrewers, to head brewers and beer servers. It has also helped create a network of resources between the homebrewing and commercial brewing communities.

How will education and training from UC Davis help you make a bigger impact in the industry?

One thing that I was surprised about when I transitioned was the way that men would talk down to me. It was something I never experienced when I was perceived as a man, and I had the same knowledge that I do now. That’s one of the reasons that I wanted to pursue my education at UC Davis. Gaining extra knowledge can be a way to equalize the playing field and show that I really do have something to offer the beer community. I know that having UC Davis on my résumé can only broaden my career horizons and make it possible for me to be taken seriously as a brewer. I also really look forward to learning more about beer sciences and filling the gaps in my knowledge, especially around quality control and microbiology.

What has motivated you to overcome the challenges of not fitting the “brewing standard”?

One of the biggest challenges of not fitting into the typical mold for a brewer was my own fear. When I first transitioned, I didn’t know many women brewers and I didn’t know any transgender brewers. Because everyone else was different than me, I was afraid I wouldn’t be accepted or welcomed. I stayed away from brewing events for several months at the start of my transition. But I missed brewing so much that I returned to it and luckily, I was welcomed with open arms.

I think that shows the power of visibility, and also of invisibility. Because I couldn’t see anyone like me, I thought people like me weren’t welcome. That’s why I try to be really out and proud, so that the next person who doesn’t fit the brewing standard can see me and say “Jae is different from the typical brewer, and if she can be accepted, so can I.”

What advice would you give to someone who may not see themselves represented in the industry but would like to pursue a career in brewing?

My advice is simple: go for it. When I’m feeling out of place or different from the people that I work with, I remind myself that we don’t just have differences. We also have similarities. And in brewing, you can be guaranteed that everyone in the industry is there because they love the craft and care about good beer. It’s easy to make connections and fit in, to build bridges and find mutual respect, when you have a shared interest.

What are you most looking forward to about starting the online Brewing Quality Series?

I am very excited to learn more about improving the quality of my beers, from foam and head retention to shelf life and longevity. I feel like I have a good understanding of basic practices to improve quality in beer, but I want to go that extra step by diving into more of the sciences and research around quality.

For more information on UC Davis Tapping Potential or how to support the campaign, contact Jonathan Hughes.

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