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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.


Greatest Hits

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

Holiday Gift Ideas for The Beer Lover

The gift of beer itself may seem obvious, but it is fraught with pitfalls. Especially if the gift giver is not as knowledgeable, experienced, or perhaps as jaded as the intended recipient. Craft beer lovers tend to have promiscuous taste buds. They crave new and exciting, and occasionally hard to find beers. How can anyone hope to keep track of another person's sense of new. You may have an advantage if you live a few states away and distribution agreements give you unique access to a hot new Nano, or even a New Belgium scale microbrewery. That's a great in if you have a little guidance. A beer lover that's a bit of a hoarder may enjoy an annual gift of Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, or Sierra Nevada Bigfoot for their cellar. However, the safest bet for a beer gift is t he somewhat corny Beer of the Month Club. Has the beer lover on your list has neglected to drop any good hints for gift ideas? Are you looking to surprise? Here are some ideas to consider.

Nostalgia and New Ideas: Craft Beer Luminaries Find Ways To Stay Relevant

I'm not envious of the youngsters starting out in an era when good beer is available on every street corner.   Yes, things have never been more exciting in US Micro brewing but I feel the grip of  nostalgia.  New breweries are opening almost weekly.  New taprooms draw crowds to taste new, photogenic beers.  Novelty, at times, seems to surpass quality in importance to today's promiscuous drinkers.  Which isn't to say that we didn't get around in my day.  It's just that we didn't make such an effort to make an obvious trail, or tally our conquests.  Which were, admittedly, somewhat smaller in number.  Might today's craft drinkers missing some great beers from great breweries, in a quest for the next big thing, and a desire to avoid drinking one of dad's many microbrews?  The good news is that many are doing cool things to stay interesting, and remain in conversation. So many brewing luminaries of my youth are now ancient.  Great Lakes Brewing is 30.