History of Beer
When the word beer is said it either brings back memories of having a terrible hangover or reminds you of a great time. Beer is a wonderful alcoholic beverage with a rich history, additionally, there is a decent amount of science involved when making beer. When someone thinks about beer from a research perspective, three questions can be considered; where did beer originate, what is the science behind beer, and what is it like working in a brewery?
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Ever since mankind has been on this planet, we have been using products found in nature to help fuel our bodies and our curiosity. Marcel Karabin et al. stated, “The first fermented beverage was a beverage called kaš, brewed by the Sumerians over the period from 3000 to 2800 BCE” (Kunze, 1999). Obviously, back then there were no microscopes, so the notion that a microorganism was responsible for creating alcohol was not even conceivable.
However, humans did understand that when they drank this beverage it would make them feel different. Some people enjoyed this feeling while others did not. This stands true to this day. Marcel Karabin et al. said, “Beer is one of the most popular beverages in the world, and almost 2×109 hectoliters [1 hectoliter = 26.4 gallons] are produced per year” (BARTH-HAAS group, 2016). This kind of volume is almost inconceivable to most people; however, when you think that beer is consumed across the planet it becomes understandable.
In addition, most scholars would agree that beer began to take shape during the Neolithic period. According to Marcel Karabin et al., back then, this beverage was used during celebrations and religious ceremonies (Kunze, 1999). On top of that, people would drink it daily since it was cleaner and safer than regular drinking water.
The Science of Making Beer
The next question is what’s the science involved in making beer? Beer is created by combining grains, hops, yeast, and other flavoring agents to create this amazing beverage. Meussdoerffer said, “brewing consists principally of at least three distinct processes (germination/drying = malting; enzymatic hydrolysis of natural polymers = mashing; microbial transformation of amino acids, sugars or oligosaccharides = fermentation” (Meussdoerffer, 2009). There are a lot of microbiological processes going on during the brewing of beer.
Let’s start with the grain. Grains can be found throughout the world and, depending on the region, they can create different unique flavors. Take, for example, when making an ale beer, most of the grain used is a pale ale grain. It is when wheat and other types of grains are added that they give flavor and body to the mash (grains mixed with hot water). This is also why hops are added toward the end of the brewing process. Hops are also responsible for creating the flavor profiles in beer, whether that is creating a stout with accents of coffee and chocolate, or an IPA with a grapefruit finish. All these components work together to make a beer unique in the end.
Another crucial component in beer, and the reason it contains alcohol, is yeast. There are many species of yeast with more still being discovered. Some of those include ones that we use at the brewery, such as US-05 which is used for ale beers, and WB-06, which is used in the making of hefeweizen.
According to researchers, “brewing yeast can be divided into two groups; top strains used for the production of beers such as ales, stout, or porter, and bottom strains used for the production of lagers” (M. Karabin et al, 2018). Fermentation of beer is the process in which Saccharomyces cerevisiae is added to a batch of wort to allow the yeast to convert the glucose into ethanol and carbon dioxide. Because yeast is so good at converting sugars to alcohol, it can be used multiple times and only become dormant when it runs out of a fuel source. Yeasts are the most valuable items used in a brewery.
The other tool that is always in a brewmasters tool belt is the hydrometer. The hydrometer measures the amount of dissolved sugars in a batch of beer. The hydrometer is used after the fermentation process to allow the brewmaster to test the alcohol percentage. The hydrometer is placed into a graduated cylinder of beer and the density is measured. The formula for figuring out a beer’s alcohol content is (OG x 4 – TG/7.25). For example, if a batch of beer in the fermenter has an original gravity of 12.5, then that is multiplied by 4 giving a total of 50. Then after the beer has been transferred to a carbonation tank, the beer is then measured again. The terminal gravity reads 10 so 50-10 = 40/7.25 = 5.51 % alcohol.
Working in a Brewery
First, working in a brewery helped open my mind to the complexity that comes with making a beer. The general public probably thinks that you just combine some grains, malt, and hops, put it into a tank, and add some water and yeast, and boom, you have beer. While in simple terms this is partly true, there is an entire intricate process that needs to take place when making beer.
The first step to making beer comes with very hot water. When I arrive in the morning, the target hot liquor tank water temperature needs to be decided, depending on the temperature outside and the amount of humidity. It is up to the brewmaster, who has years of experience, to determine what the ideal temperature is.
Next, while the temperature is rising, it is time for me to weigh out the grain needed to make the beer for that batch. This is calculated from what was used in previous batches of the same kind of beer. This reminds me of working in the labs at SPC where I would want to make media or solutions needed for the next lab. In the lab, I would be using an SOP for the amounts needed. There are similar documents when working in a brewery. Pale ale grain makes up the bulk of the grain. Then smaller amounts of specialty malts, such as Munich I and II or Vienna, are added. Finally, wheat and rice hulls are measured out. The wheat helps give body to the beer, while the rice hulls assist with clarifying the wort and help keep the grain from clumping together.
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Likewise, the mash tun is a vital step in the process. Think about how tea is brewed; you take the bag of tea leaves and steep it in hot water. The mash tun is where hot water and grains are combined and allowed to blend together. Once that has taken place, it can now be transferred to the kettle, to cook the liquid that is separated from the grain. For example, if the hot water is added to the mash tun at 172 ° F, then by the time it is combined with the grain the temperature begins to lower. We look for a sustaining temperature of 152 to 154 ° F for the mash to cook at.
After that, the liquid in the mash tun is transferred to the kettle. This is accomplished by first using a circulation pump to pull the liquid from the grain and adding it back on the top of the grain over and over. After that, it is time to sparge the grain and transfer the liquid to the kettle to be finished cooking. During the cooking process, the wort [aka the liquid in the kettle] has reached boiling. The wort is cooked for 60 minutes, however, this time varies depending on the beer being brewed. In the beginning, the first bag of hops is added to the kettle. After 30 minutes, the second bag of hops is added, and then at the end, the final bag of hops is added during the kill boil (when the flame is turned off). The hops are added at these times because hops will isomerize becoming bitter if cooked for too long. The first batch is meant to add bitterness while the other two batches are used to add unique flavors and aroma to the wort. There can also be other components, such as dried fruit or spices are added such as grapefruit or coriander that are added in mesh bags at the very end of the cooking process.
To help keep order in the chaos, there are timers at the brewery that consist of either three or four clocks on them. These timers have memory settings that the brewmaster has set for different steps in the brewing process. They go off all day long.
Finally, the beer is run through a heat exchanger, where the temperature of the wort is lowered from around 200 ° F to no higher than 68 ° F, while it is being transferred to a fermentation tank. The reason for this specific temperature is that the yeast ferment best at certain temperatures and will start to die when taken out of that ideal temperature. While the fermentation tank is filling, the selected yeast is added to the top of the liquid because this brewery follows a top fermentation method. Once the yeast has done its job of converting sugars into ethanol and carbon dioxide, it is then transferred into a holding tank, where it is injected with carbon dioxide and put into kegs to be sold.
In conclusion, there is a rich history with beer that spans across the world. With advances in science, scientists and brewmasters work hand in hand on creating new flavors all the time. Also, the work being done at breweries is ever changing for the better. I believe that this experience at the brewery has reminded me of how important it is to work as a team to accomplish a goal. There are many steps in the process that cannot be accomplished alone and, with great communication, we have been able to put out a consistent product after each batch. This has helped infuse in me more of the core values that I will carry on into my next job and has helped prepare me for my future endeavors. I am grateful for the experience I have gained here.
- Karabin, M. & Dostalek, P. (2017, December 22). Enhancing the performance of brewing yeasts. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0734975017301660
- Meussdoerffer, F. G. (2009, August 06). A Comprehensive History of Beer Brewing. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/9783527623488.ch1
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