Chemistry Professors brew beer, talk science

Lila Miller, A&E Editor

Vats of beer being brewed at the Southbound Brewery.

Last month, Armstrong Chemistry Professors presented another installation of “Science on Tap” featuring the “Hoptimization of the [beer] Brewing Process.” The event was hosted by Drs. Sarah Gray and Sarah Zingales of the chemistry department.

The professors began the lecture asking if anyone had ever brewed beer before explaining their mission. The Chemistry department partnered with Southbound Brewery to do chemical research and optimize the taste of different beers within the company. Gray and Zingales provided a presentation explaining that beer is made from four basic ingredients.

Using Kinect toys to illustrate chemical compounds, the professors explained the nuances of brewing. They passed around jars of hops, flowers and pellets making sure to warn attendees of the pungent smells.

“Don’t sneeze into the hops,” Zingales said.

Gray explained that the hops are necessary as a preservative and suppress the growth of microorganisms. Ales, porters, stouts and wheat beers are fermented from the top. Lager yeast beers include pilsners, bocks and American malt liquor. The last types of beer use wild yeast and produce lambics, sours and saison brews.

The audience sampled two types of beer provided by local microbrewery, Southbound., as the professors discussed how oxidation of flavors minimizes staleness of beer aldehydes and bisulfites, key ingredients within the alcohol.

Another factor to consider when brewing beer is light sensitivity, they explained. The professors compared the tastes of Corona and Heineken as they are packaged in clear and green bottles, respectively.

Light sensitivity plays a key role in the taste of beer. They explained that the beer will “skunk” in wake of excessive sun exposure.

Southbound’s Scattered Sun Wit beer was used to test the International Bittering Units (IBUs) from hops to distinguish changing flavors and how to improve the brew. All of the instruments used to test the beer and extract alpha acids to measure the IBUs were already available on campus.

Local resident Luisa Strada was pleasantly surprised by the effort required to brew beer well. “I didn’t realize how much chemistry was involved, and it’s cool that they’re helping [Southbound] the company,” she said.

Gray and Zingales concluded by offering starter tips and discussing set-ups available for brewers from the novice to the expert. Be sure to check the event calendar for their next “Science on Tap” event involving cyber security. Cheers.