Saturday, 24 August 2013

The microbiology of brewing

As one of Edinburgh's Heriot-Watt microbiologists* I was interested to see a snippet in the newsletter of the Brewery History Society mentioning a freely available 12 page report on brewing microbiology. 

Published by the American Academy of Microbiology and written by the great and the good of brewing science it focuses on the role of yeast in brewing and can be downloaded here.

 * Though more than most as I was from Edinburgh and a microbiologist before I went to Heriot-Watt.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Arrival in Utopia

Utopia, Utopia, Utopia
Planet of your wildest dreams
Where everybody drives a Cadillac car
And the streets are paved with hamburgers
And the rivers run with Watney's draught red barrel

Utopia, where all your needs are catered for
Anticipated, calculated all your wants are monitored
Programmed, computer formulated
We know you will be very happy here
Nobody has complained


Finding a paper from 1924 on The Beer Of The Future reminded me there's a rather more recent article detailing the possibilities of a much more dystopian future. 

Published in 2008 Alternative Paradigms for the Production of Beer uses what some might call blue sky thinking to look at how beer could be made without any of that costly old-fashioned brewing being involved.

Three approaches to making "beer" of are compared and analysed for things like water usage, effluent output, energy usage and cost. The approaches are:

"Conventional approach

This was taken to be beer produced by 'traditional stages' of milling, mashing, wort separation, boiling, wort clarification, fermentation, conditioning, filtration, stabilization and packaging.

Corn syrup-based approach

The corn syrup method utilizes hydrolysed corn syrup, water, hop extract, flavouring syrup and foaming agent to produce beer.

Ethanol-based approach (E100 method)

The E100 method requires pure ethanol (E100), pre-isomerised hop extract, water, flavouring syrup and  a foaming agent to produce beer."

The last approach is the simplest, as it just involves blending and packaging, and as  you might have guessed is by far the cheapest with projected 56.8% savings in costs, as well as having less energy consumption, carbon dioxide production, water usage and effluent production. The Corn syrup approach gives more marginal improvements and is thought to be only 8.4% cheaper than the conventional approach.

The authors do state in the conclusion though that they think it unlikely a new paradigm for making beer will be adopted, as the art of brewing is steeped in tradition and:

"Though the quantitative data supports the novel brewing methods, the production of an indistinguishable product has not been achieved at this time."

However, the beer of the future they based the study on is one of  5% ABV and 10 IBU, which sounds suspiciously like Bud to me, not exactly the most flavoursome of beers. And as ABInbev are probably more like than most to adopt "novel brewing methods" to cut costs, perhaps a new paradigm is a possibility.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

25 years

Twenty five years ago today Robert Calvert, singer, poet, musician and playwright died. Best known for being in Hawkwind at various times it's no coincidence that these times were when some of their greatest albums were produced.

The one and only time I saw him perform live was six days previously with The Starfighters (named after his best known solo album) at the 100 Club. It was a cracking gig as he rattled through the best tracks from his time in Hawkwind and his solo albums. Though the sound quality isn't great you can get some feeling of what the gig was like from this recording made in 1986.

What with me being in post-GBBF recovery I may not be raising a glass to the great man tonight, but the Bob-athon started on my stereo on Sunday and will be continuing for some time.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

A preemptive post

Just to get in before anyone else I would like to make clear that whatever beer is chosen today as Champion Beer of Britain is wrong. It will be too weak, unless it's too strong, and above all will almost certainly not be made by a brewery that's trendy enough. Remember, you heard it here first!

Monday, 12 August 2013

The Beer Of The Future

The trouble with predictions is you have to wait to see if they come true. But fortunately the tedious waiting business can be done away with if you manage to dig out old predictions, which is precisely what I did recently when rummaging round the JIB archives.

H. Lloyd Hind presented a paper in nearly 90 years ago called "The Beer Of The Future", which as well as containing his prediction of how beer will develop contains some fascinating facts about beer at the time. First it's makes clear that Henry Armstrong was not the only person unhappy with the big drop in beer strength due to the First World War, for quality had similarly fallen:

" many complaints that beer is not what it should be are heard"

The obvious solution didn't seem viable though:

"It may, of course, be argued that if beer were made of its pre-war strength all would be well, no right-thinking man would complain of the article, and no brewer need look for any improvement in his method of making it. There can, indeed, be no doubt that a very high degree of quality had been attained in the old strong beers, but , considered quite apart from any economic changes that have been brought about in recent years, there seems a tendency to demand something else from beer than mere strength, body or alcohol content, which are mainly sought after by workers in heavy manual occupations"

Though British brewers are now known for the excellent quality of their modestly strong beers it seems this was not the case when they first became the norm. In words echoed by many beer writers to this day the author bemoans that beer is seldom served with meals, but admits that all too often the beer quality is not up to scratch:

"Beers for the most part fall far below the standard set up. Sometimes they have condition, but the haze or sediment in them makes their appearance impossible on the table of a well-managed restaurant or café, or if brilliant they may lack the sparkle and lasting head demanded."  

Continent brewers however were doing a better job:

"I am afraid we must admit that Continental brewers have been more successful in producing beer with the consistent sparkling, brilliant, and head-retaining condition aimed at, and in certain parts of the Continent the glass of beer regularly appears on the dinner table and reigns supreme in the café. Here it still has the taint of the poor relation, and there seems to be an idea that one is lacking in hospitality if beer if offered instead of wine. This should not be in a country which prides itself that beer is the national drink,and I think the time will come when this reproach will be a thing of the past." 

Again he mentions the quality of the pre-war beers but says there's no going back:

"The old time beers were splendid in their way. The strong ales that came brilliant naturally by long storage, and the pale ales which after a few months were absolutely brilliant and left their sediment firmly on the bottom of the bottle or the cask. In their very excellence, however, lies their defect - if one may put it that way - they are too strong for ordinary meal-time use."

He then at length discusses the different practices used by Continental and American brewers compared to ones in Britain, which to stray briefly into the realm of Ron includes the fascinating revelations that by the end  of WWI 40% of German beer production was top fermented, and in the early 1920s the Reinheitsgebot seems to have been abandoned.   

He eventually comes to the conclusion that improved manufacturing techniques should be able to produce a stable, chilled, filtered product, possibly but not necessarily lager, matured in the brewery and served under CO2 pressure on draught with high class beer having an original gravity  around 1.050 and a larger quantity of weaker beer at about 1.040.

Which is pretty much how things have ended up, and his assertion that there's no going back to the brilliant ales of before the First World War has sadly proved true.

Thankfully though, many of the improvements in processes the author championed and vigorous campaigning means unfiltered cask beer served without added CO2 continues to exist to this day, and the rise of craft beer means beers of pre-WWI strength are becoming increasingly easily available.

I wonder what beer will be like 90 years from now?

Saturday, 10 August 2013

What a load of bollocks

I particularly enjoyed the IBD magazine this month, though one article did make me wince. There's a three page feature on Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout, a beer made with bull's testicles.

You may find it difficult to swallow but apparently it's real and available in twin packs. It seems this seminal beer started out as an April fool but then they decided to make it for real. The article even shows the testicles being sliced up for roasting before they go in the beer. Water, malt, hops, yeast and bollocks: even when he was taking the piss Stuart Howe didn't go that far. Surely this is the ultimate in terms of bizarre things put in beer?