Glory Be To Beer

Boiled flowers, fungi sex, dirty whirlpools and ant colony algorithms.
By Keith B. Hoffman
re you aware that one of your favourite things to drink is a waste product from a sexual orgy of fungi? I thought not. Yes, ethanol, sweet ethanol, is to yeast as you are to your morning constitutional, with, obviously, far more pleasing results. We humans cannot seem to function without yeast’s precious excrement, and we consume it in myriad forms, from pure (vodka), to dilutions in carriers such as the side ingredients which make a Sex on the Beach, Vesper Martini, Fuzzy Navel, and the imposing Kookie from Black Dog. Your GOMmelier has

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already tackled some of our other ingenious delivery systems to enjoy ethanol—scotch, wine, rum, grappa, etc. Today, we investigate one of the most worldly and ancient of all alcoholic drinks—beer. Eight-thousand years ago, a farmer left some barley outside in a shallow container. It rained that night. The next morning the farmer thought his harvest was ruined as it was steeped in rainwater. Over the next days of neglect the barley germinated and wild yeasts in the air wafted onto the sugary liquid leeching from the sprouted

grain. The yeasts had a fine time of exhausting themselves in reproductive bliss. The lucky farmer enjoyed the resultant, low-alcohol and barely flavoured beverage on the next sunny day. He suddenly found his wife more attractive and even hilarious. Beer was born. That liquid bread changed human society forever. Some historians claim it was the most important driving force behind ending our natural nomadic tendencies. In other words, some believe that we need to thank beer for civilization itself.

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Where it all happens. In such unremarkable surrounds a process takes place to create mankind’s favourite tipple: beer. Where would we be without it?

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Should you be drinking wine or beer for better health? For you beer aficionados, the news is good. It turns out the scientific consensus is now leaning toward either one. In other words, the magical “French Paradox”, that leads many to believe that wine is the most healthful way to imbibe, may not be totally accurate, as alcohol itself is now thought to be the cardiovascular protectant. Just to assure you that more serious science is going on, everyday, toward the further development of all that is beer, I point your attention to the following two articles: “Enantioseparation of isoxanthohumol in beer by hydroxypropyl-gammacyclodextrin-modified micellar electrokinetic chromatography”, and, “Preparation of novel solid-phase microextraction fibres by solgel technology for headspace solid-phase microextraction-gas chromatographic analysis of aroma compounds in beer.” Now then, rest easy, as you can see, the nerds are on it! Usually, this produces a good outcome. Also, from the obviously underappreciated Journal of Colloid Interface Science comes an article “Gushing in canned beer: the effect of ultrasonic vibration”. This beauty of a study starts with the memorable line—especially for a peerreviewed scientific publication—of “Everybody has had the experience of a canned carbonated drink overflowing and soiling their clothes.” Often with excellent entertainment value, most fields of scientific inquiry employ someone ready to ask a far too detailed question about a given subject. This often manifests as the forcible ramming of a fresh technological advance down the throat of an old question. While the science and art of brewing are indeed fascinating and complex, perhaps these guys went a bit far in their explorations of fermentation methods: “Ant colony system algorithm for the optimization of beer fermentation control.” However, and much to their credit, they displayed a rare moment of printed scientific humbleness, by concluding that “the satisfactory results obtained did not require much computation effort”. When ants finally take over the world, and learn to read, they will probably get a big kick out of that publication. Finally, from the overstuffed files of the “Why was this study done, and who the hell paid for this?” comes some shocking ‘findings’:

“We observed the beer drinking behaviour of 308 university students in several bar and party settings. The following relationships were found: males drinking beer in bars consumed more than females, and stayed in a bar for a longer time period; patrons drank significantly more beer when drinking in groups and when purchasing beer in pitchers versus cups or bottles; and intervals between party arrival and first drink and between party departure and last drink varied inversely with blood alcohol concentration.” Thank your lucky stars that these researchers made such a set of startling discoveries!

The official rules for brewing beer date back to the 16th century.
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A 15th century bishop takes a delivery of beer.

Water sanitation is something we take for granted now in many parts of the world. Thousands, to just dozens, of years ago this was far from the case. Water-borne diseases were a pestilent reality for all of our ancestors. Beer and distilled spirits, by virtue of containing alcohol, were liquids that drastically quelled bacterial contamination. In the case of beer, since it had lower alcohol content than wine and distilled liquors, even more preservation and decontamination efforts were needed. Until roughly the 12th century, beer was exclusively flavoured and ‘bittered’ with gruit—

a mixture generally made of herbs such as gale, yarrow, heather, rosemary and occasionally, either by mistake or malice, items such as toxic nightshade. The gruit herbs functioned as stimulants, versus the now, totally dominant hops (more on them in a second), which are actually depressant in nature. As more was appreciated about beer spoilage, contamination, etc., gruit was phased out from around 1100 to 1516 when Bavarian brewers dumped it and implemented the Reinheitsgebot in 1516: the first official

the basics of beer brewing

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Homebrewing in Japan. Beer’s international appeal has had a profound effect on civilisation as a whole.

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A pint of beer: a familiar sight the world over.

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Modern brewing is becoming more scientific.

rules for brewing beer, and likely the oldest food purity law still being followed today. So hops, a flower with excellent antiseptic, aromatic and preservative qualities, filled, and disinfected, gruit’s shoes. Hops paved the way for modern beer, by providing purity, aroma, and bitterness. Its antiseptic characteristics also made for a first in the history of beer: the ability to export. Hops contribute a needed bitterness, which balance the sweetness that comes from malt, and also give modern beer a fruity and citrus-laden nose. Along different stages of the brewing process, hops are added to achieve their varied contributions. “Bittering” hops are used in the boil of the wort; “flavouring” hops are used only at the last stages of the boil; and finally, “aroma” hops can be added in the final minutes of the boil. Much like the geographic nomenclature for sparkling wine (versus Champagne), whiskey

(versus Scotch), etc., only select varietals of hops grown near specific towns are known as the “Noble Hops”. Hops come in an almost mystifying number of varieties, from the Nobles to “Columbus”, “Magnum”, “Liberty”, “Nugget”, “Progress”, “Tradition”, “Warrior”, and “Zeus”. Indeed, I think one would be quite challenged to find another species of flower with such testosteroneladen names. Your GOMmelier cannot help but wonder, with the advent of proper refrigeration and sterile filtering, would not the civilized world now be better served by beer with stimulating gruit than mildly depressant hops? Would not late-night revelers be more lasting, physically nimble and cognitively fluent? Are the ancient days-on-end tales of beer parties never to be reclaimed? I submit, here and now, for societal change. We need to bring gruit back.

Get some barley, soak it in water and have it germinate. Stop that germination by roasting. Take that roasted barley, now called “malt”, and crush via mechanical pounding and grinding. Add warm water to activate endogenous enzymes (proteins which break the chemical bonds that keep other proteins, sugars, etc. together) that will fracture the complex starches into individual sugars—the preferred food of yeast. Separate the resultant liquid, ‘wort’, from the used-up barley, hose down the residue with more water to make sure you’ve captured all the free sugars. To this syrupy wort, add hops and boil for about an hour in order to sterilise and also to release off some anti-bacterial (and flavourful aromatic) compounds from the hops. Begin ‘whirlpooling’. The hop remnants, etc. are collected in a giant cone of gunk which is produced via the same spinning effect observed in the toilet. Discard the cone of gunk and cool the liquid. Now add yeast to begin the fermentation of sugar to precious ethanol, which takes from a week to months, depending on your intended end product. Filter out the yeast carcasses and other debris that have settled during the long sit. Possibly ferment again and possibly add hops again. ‘Condition’ the beer by storing for about a week in a pressurised tank, execute a final filtering and package.

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Homebrew ready for eager consumption.

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Tourists visit the Heineken brewery, Amsterdam.