Chemical Engineers apply science to spirit during Army-Navy Week
Story and photos by Mike Strasser
There are countless ways cadets support the Army-Navy Game and they all contribute to keeping the "12th Knight" spirit strong at West Point.
Whether they run the official game ball 150 miles to the stadium, compete against their Naval Academy counterparts in a variety of Patriot Games contests or participate in the awe-inspiring March On during pre-game ceremonies, cadets find ways to be significant contributors to the classic confrontation between Army and Navy.
Cadets in the West Point American Institute of Chemical Engineers Club have developed their own unique way to support the home team during Army-Navy Week. Following the Spirit Rally and Bonfire, Dec. 6, at Daly Field, the club's brew crew -- Class of 2013 Cadets Daniel Prior and John Todd and Matthew Letarte -- will toast an Army victory as they debut a limited edition beer at the Firstie Club.
It's called the Burning Boat Brown Ale, named after the sacrificial boat the Corps huddles around at the bonfire. While the boat turns to ashes, attendees are invited to sample the cadet's scientific endeavor.
Yes, cadets make beer but chemistry is the main reason cadets practice the craft of brewing and also making chocolate.
"Chocolate and beer both have large-scale industrial complexes and those are two items chemical engineers do a lot of in the professional world," Letarte, club president, said. "They are also two things that are relatively safe for us to do, compare to distilling off hazardous chemicals. So these are the things we are able to do on a smaller scale and produce tangible results that people can test and really identify with."
The cool factor of cadets making chocolate and beer may be the reason membership has increased this year, which is not mandatory but highly encouraged for chemical engineering majors. There are roughly 50 cadets currently studying this field of science. Letarte and Prior said it's a tough major with a difficult academic workload.
"You have to devote a lot of time and energy to do well in chemical engineering," Prior said. "I guess that goes back to why we chose it, it's a challenge."
Prior is head brew master and cadet-in-charge of the Kicking Mule Brewing Company, which has produced three varieties of beer this semester -- a brown ale, a hefeweizen (white wheat) beer and a pale ale. Prior and Letarte helped produce about a dozen brews with the club overall. Prior is quite passionate about his work and it's evident in the way he talks about flavor profiles and hopping schedules. He said with assistance of faculty they've evolved from kitchen science to more clean and precise chemical engineering.
"It's actually quite a labor-intensive process … I could talk all day about the application of science behind it," Prior said, as he detailed the ingredients required and the chemical process. "There's so much science to it; you could talk about the starches breaking down into sugars, the yeast consuming the sugars and producing CO2 to carbonate the beer, the international bitterness factor … there's a lot of chemistry that goes along with it."
There's no equation for combining chemicals and Army spirit but the Burning Boat Brown Ale is the chemical engineers' best attempt.
"This is our way of making something for this event at West Point but it's also a way we can express our interests and demonstrate that to the Corps," Letarte said. "A lot of our classmates are going to be out there and we're going to be able to provide them with the Burning Boat and I hope they enjoy it. It's awesome to see people enjoy something we made."
Following the Spirit Rally and Bonfire, Dec. 6, at Daly Field, the West Point Chemical Engineering Club's "brew crew," Class of 2013 Cadets Daniel Prior Matthew Letarte (pictured) and John Todd, will toast an Army victory as they debut a limited edition beer at the Firstie Club.
The Kicking Mule Brewing Company was established through the Directorate of Cadet Activities and managed by the Cadet Chemical Engineering Club since 2009. The products they make are availlable at the Firstie Club and sometimes finds its way to a football tailgate every season.