Skip to main content

Dear Science, Where Does This Lead?

Let's face it .  Beer is a commodity.  Throughout the history of brewing, the content and character of beer has been influenced by the costs of ingredients, brewing processes, and direct or indirect costs associated with batch inconsistencies.  Even though 21st century propserity allows the resurection of higher cost/higher flavor brewing.  It's silly to think that the embrace of brewing tradition will always ignore the tradition of embracing sciencentific advance to improve brewing economics or beer character.  

In fact, scientific advance is clearly needed to improve the economics of organic hop growing.  There's a growing market for organic beers as craft drinkers like their occasionally unique character, and this type of farming's sustainability.  However, Hops are a challenging crop.  Just ask any north eastern hop grower.  If you can find one.  Growers have long suffered from blight, and weather which has encouraged farmers to listen to Horace Greely and "Go West, young man". 


Farming hop heaven in the Yakima valley, or Žatec, is no guarantee  As sexed perennials, often grown from root cuttings, humulus lupus plants tend to lack genetic diversity.  They are more inbred than any crazy royal or country bumpkin.  Hop fields are practically armies clones.  If one plant gets sick there's a good chance that its neighbors will be equally susceptible.   Hops are sickly.  However, like any rapid grower, they are hungry and thirsty.  There's a great opportunity for science to improve fertilization techniques and balance the nitrogen replenishment provided by ground cover without competing with the thirsty hop.  Craft beer drinkers can expect to see near term benefits from this research.

Those with a longer view, may start looking at brewers chasing the holy grail of process economics continuous production.  Beer is brewed and it sits in one or more tanks for weeks or months of fermentation and conditioning.   This same stodgy old-fashioned batch process is used today by home brewers and commercial giants, alike.   Just imagine a process where grain goes in, and beer comes out at the same rate.  In brewing there's really two pieces to this puzzle:  continuous fermentation, and continuous wort production.

Continuous fermentation is real.  Its used today Dominion Breweries, and was after a fashion done by Bass in the 50s.  The process can be improved by immobilizing yeast cells on some sort of substrate ginger, wax, whatever.  Since alcohol is lower density than the sugar liquid feed, it self separates.  A fgascinating application of continuous fermentation is to make mead making a viable, low capital, enterprise in sub-Saharan Africa..  The same techniques have been co-opted by Maine Meadworks, and presumably others to generate quite respectable craft mead.    This could even been done with multi-cellular mega-yeasts.  Recent studies of nature's microbrewers have shown that the traits related to flocculation and settling are linked to mutations that promote evolution into multicellular organisms.  The trade-off with continuous systems is that they are great at making one flavor, but can be very challenging to changeover to another.    

The tricky part of continuous brewing is continuous mashing.  There's a of biochemistry in this short step.  Starches are extracted from crushed grain.  The starches are then broken into fermentable sugars by various enzymes.  Different amylase enzymes break the starches in different ways, at different temperatures.  Brewers control their mash to balance the alcohol content, body, and even head retention of their finished beer.   In some nightmarish scenario from a chemical engineering textbook, continuous mashing could use a series of vessels each.  Plug flow through heated tubes, or a similarly temperatures controlled auger/extruder could also work.

Is continuous brewing scary?  Yeah.  But it's probably key to getting brewing in space.  If science promises anything for our future it is beer from space.

Comments

Greatest Hits

Will we ever use this beer bottle designed for space?

Vostok Space Beer Bottle    Is it time for Craft beer to move into the final frontier?  An Australian partnership believes so.  4 Pines Brewing and Saber Astronautics have partnered to design both a bottle for use in space, and a beer to suit the pallet of zero g drinkers.  They call it Vostok Space Beer , honoring the craft that sent Yuri Gregarin into space, and launched a million dollar IndieGoGo campaign earlier this week.  Interest seems low. The striking bottle design by Angelina Kwan is named "Dark Side of the Moon".  It's highly stylized and would fit better on the set of Star Wars than 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Space age design elements are cool.  I love to see increased use of scientific motifs in design, even if it's not hyper realistic.  The PR photos are designed with the commemorative market in mind, and have a nice detachable glass at the bottom. The technological design brief is to find an artful way to move liquid from storage to the drin

Fathers Day Gift Ideas for the Beer Lover

June is a busy month with graduations, the coming of summer, and the wind down of the school year.  Fathers day always seems to come out of no where.  No worries.  Here are some ideas for the last minute father's day shopper. Beer Tour Beer tourism is a real and growing business segment.  Your city probably has one or two operators guiding minibus loads of attendees to typically 3-4 craft beer destinations.   It's a great way to sample a lot of new beers, and meet like minded folks.  Operators are a quick google away.  Consider companies like  Boston City Brew Tours ,  The New Hampshire Beer Bus , Portland OR's  BeerVana ,  The Chicago Beer Experience ,  Indy Brew Bus,  the Evan Rail designed  Eating in Prague Czech Craft Beer Tour , and even a  Napa Valley Hop Train .  Books I read a lot in the summer.  If your dad does too, here are some books he may enjoy. Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out: Goose Island, Anheuser-Busch, and How Craft Beer Became Big Business   b

The Post-Malt Era of American Craft Brewing

Once seen as a key differentiation between better and mass marketed beer, the 2-row barley malt may now be the least important ingredient in a brewery.  Malt has disappeared from our beer conversations.  There are still palettes stacked high with 50 lb bags, and fork lifts. By weight, it's still beer's second largest ingredient, after water of course.  However it's lost our attention, and its contributions intentionally minimized to better showcase on the other players - most typically hops and Yeast (or other microflora). The mighty hop has always been a lead character in American craft beer.  There's something in our soil that makes hops express pungent aromas and aggressive flavors.  European brewers traditionally considered these hops too vulgar to feature prominently in a beer's finish.  They kept quiet about cost savings from the use of american hops to bitter.  American craft brewers found ways to feature these piney, resinous flavors as virtues and birthe