Tag Archives: science

Suspended Animation

As a member of the OBC, I occasionally get to see people in from Wyeast come talk to the group about yeast and how brewers can store, reuse and generally get better results from the yeast that we have. Despite this, the world of microbiology remains full of mysteries to me.

Go figure, right?

So here’s a neat article that uses the building of a new brewery spaceĀ  and the return of an older, specific yeast, as a launchpad to talk a bit about yeast in general and how some places are trying to find and preserve as many strains of yeast as they can. What struck me about this: it didn’t matter if the yeast was something brewers could use or not.

I like that. Saving something that may not have value in order to study it may seem like a hoarder principle but how else are those new strands of yeasts going to be developed? You know the ones: the kind that help us defeat zombies or brew the first stout-lager.

Stout-lager sounds gross though, so concentrate on the zombie defeat.

I Still Did It First (sorta)

CNN has a neat little story on the efforts to make a better beer container. It ends with the writer doing a comparison between a glass designed for IPAs and a regular pint glass.

Ahem.

Teasing aside, while I think it’s neat to have glasses specifically designed for a particular beer, there is one problem. With no less than 30 styles of beer and a minimum of two but usually three or more substyles beneath that, the obvious question comes up: “How would making glasses for each style be practical for anybody?”

If your IPA glass is great at keeping carbonation up throughout the drinking process, then what does that do to a style like a stout, which isn’t supposed to have the same level of carbonation? If the solution is: well, just get a stout glass, then the cost starts to get really absurd, if you like to drink many styles of beer (as I do) and you assume a cost of $10 a glass.

I have better things to do with $300. This is also why I didn’t care about glassware for the longest time: it was the kind of issue that seemed more trouble than it was worth. Even as I do the glass experiment, I have to admit that in most cases the improvement on my beer is notable but not overwhelming. Which brings up the next obvious question: “Why bother? Just give me a clean glass.”

Of course, that doesn’t take away from the functionality of a proper glass or the cool idea. Just because it’s a pain, doesn’t mean that the proper glass doesn’t improve the drinker’s experience. Advances that are too expensive now can be improved on and hopefully made cheaper, so we get better glassware for our across the board style of drinking. That doesn’t suck.

Arsenic in beer?

Yow.

As a homebrewer, I don’t think this affects me very much; I rarely use clarifying agents in beer these days. Instead, I choose to look at this information as a reminder that not everything needs to look ‘pretty’ in order to be good. We make these assertions and there is a reason for it; cloudiness in a liquid frequently IS a bad thing, but that doesn’t mean it always is. And if we can get better beer by accepting a bit of cloudiness? I’m good with that.

That was embarrassing (but not really)

On November 10th, members of the Oregon Brew Crew in conjunction with Breakside brewing, got together to review the results of a yeast experiment! With 50 gallons of a Belgian Pale as the base brewed at Breakside, the beer was then divvied up between ten lucky OBC members, who were given an anonymous yeast to pitch (I hear some were also part of witness protection) and store. The yeasts were generously donated by Wyeast but I don’t recall if anyone from that company was there or not.

Once the brews were ready, members set up shop at the Hollywood Senior Center which, because of our presence, clearly became much more hip than it had been in decades and members of the OBC and Breakside gathered to try the beers and guess which beer had which yeast in it. It was the best kind of test: a multiple choice test. With beer.

If only college had been so good to me.

Picking out yeasts is very, very difficult and I think there are a few reasons for this. First, there are just so many different kinds of yeast. Becoming familiar with each and every one is a task for scientists for a reason: they have equipment and experiments to help them make distinctions to do so.

Second, I don’t think we focus much on yeasts in the Northwest. Hops, water and grain all get attention because we have them in abundance and at a certain quality (usually high) so naturally we celebrate those ingredients.

But after this experiment, I think I may have to get some education on yeasts.

The stunning thing for me was that each beer tasted different. Not just kinda-sorta different but distinctly so. Yes, there were similarities but to any discriminating drinker, it was quite easy to distinguish from one pale to another. Which means yeast has a far greater impact on the flavor of my beverages than I ever realized! I had just been under the impression for so long that yeasts were there to make alcohol and drop out, unless making a Belgian or sour ale, that we had bred yeasts to be as flavorless as we could get them.

This experiment disabused me of that notion very quickly but in such a tasty way, I didn’t feel too bad about that.

What was a little awkward was that out of the ten ales, I didn’t get a single guess right. Completely unable to match a yeast to its appropriate beer.

My girlfriend got four. I later found out that four is the most anyone got. So amongst professionals and serious aficionados, she did as well as anyone!

Which was a little embarrassing. But not really, because that’s awesome.

They’ll make beer from anything

Or at least they used to. Check out this post at Martyn Cornell’s blog. Cornell, of course, is the author of the excellent Amber Gold and Black, a history of British ales. What that means is: you’re reading someone (Cornell, not me) who actually knows what he’s talking about.

I think it’s pretty amazing that people used peas–and are still doing so, apparently, in those crazy craft brewing circles. Once again, there’s something to be learned from ‘how they used to do things’. If you will.

Nothing against the advances of science, though (careful, some unrelated but graphic photos). Better ingredients equals better beer: it’s pretty much that simple.