Highlights of Beer Science

A few weeks ago, Team BeerSci got the chance to tour one of our favorite breweries: Victory Brewing Company in Downingtown, PA. While there, we spent a fair amount of time in the lab with Victory’s quality control chemists, learning about how a relatively large independent brewery manages to create excellent, consistent product week in and week out. Used for determining the specific gravity of wort during fermentation to track its transformation to beer, hydrometers and test jars are vital homebrewing equipment. Some breweries in Belgium, however, still rely on “spontaneous” fermentation for their beers (see lambic ). The development of hydrometers and thermometers changed brewing by allowing the brewer more control of the process, and greater knowledge of the results. When it comes to brewing beer, a hydrometer is a necessary tool that will show you the degree to which the yeast is converting sugar into ethanol, ultimately, helping you gauge the health and success of the fermentation of your beer.

With sour beers all the rage, breweries—at the behest of their customers and in search of new flavors and new challenges—are intent on producing truly native” beers that use the most hyperlocal of ingredients: namely, yeast harvested by the brewers themselves. The most famous of this new wave of Danish breweries is undoubtedly Mikkeller, founded by a teacher who used his school’s facilities to explore various brewing techniques, and went on to borrow other breweries’ equipment – and their brewers – to produce a vast range of beers. These sessions can be used to test new products, to assess the impact of a new brewing ingredient or method in an existing product, to learn more about a beer’s shelf life and how its flavor evolves over time, and to get an idea of how the brewery’s beers compare to other similar products on the market.

In these categories you will find every testing tool you will ever need for brewing beer like all types of digital and analog thermometers, hydrometers, refractometers and pH water testing. The water used in the brewing process can have a noticeable effect on a beer’s flavor, as various breweries have discovered when expanding into other geographic regions. Oak barrels are not must-have homebrewing equipment, but if you’re looking to play around with new tools and new ways to add flavor, barrel fermentation or aging is an interesting option.

One of the factors that can affect the quality and flavor profile of alcohol is its pH — in other words, how acidic it is. When brewing beer, at every stage, whether it be mash, wort or beer, pH matters. The idea that yeast was a microorganism that worked on wort to produce beer led to the isolation of a single yeast cell by Emil Christian Hansen Pure yeast cultures allow brewers to pick out yeasts for their fermentation characteristics, including flavor profiles and fermentation ability. (Some fundamental scientific tools originated in breweries, too: Scientists at
the Carlsberg brewery in Copenhagen developed the pH scale in 1909, and the statistical staple known as the student’s t-test was devised by a brewer at Guinness around the same time.)