How Science Is Putting The ‘Micro’ Into Microbrewing

Scientists have taken “microbrewing” to a whole new level, developing a method to test brewing techniques using a single grain of barley.

Scientists have taken “microbrewing” to a whole new level, developing a method to test brewing techniques using a single grain of barley in a 1.5-millilitre vial.

UQ PhD student and self-described “beer scientist” Edward Kerr came up with the method out of frustration, after being asked to redo some recent brewing experiments that he was trying to get published as a scientific paper.

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“The people reviewing the paper asked for some extra experiments to clarify some things, but that would take another three months using these big 25-litre brewing vessels,” he said.

“It’s a lot of time and work for what was really a very small change. So I was looking for a way to save some time.”

It had previously been assumed that doing experiments at very small scales wouldn’t produce accurate results, but after running a series of tests with the tiny test vials, Mr Kerr found it worked perfectly.

“We were trying to find what was happening with the proteins and enzymes in the grain we were brewing, which is a really complex biochemical process,” he said.

“The results we got with the micro brews were almost completely consistent with a larger brew in terms of the behaviour of the mixture.”

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Mr Kerr’s supervisor, Associate Professor Benjamin Schulz, said in addition to reducing the amount of lab time required to test different batches, the technique would have an obvious benefit to commercial brewers as well.

“This could encourage breweries to be adventurous with their brewing conditions and may very well lead to new styles of beer,” Dr Schulz said.

“Hopefully it’ll also help ensure we have a supply of high-quality Australian barley into the future, given ongoing stresses of drought and climate change.”

That can happen because, with the micro brews, researchers can check dozens or even hundreds of variables in a single run of experiments, instead of just a few at a time in the much larger vessels.

“Barley breeding focuses on increasing productivity and resistance to stresses such as heat and disease, but doesn’t take into account the quality of the barley until late in the process,” Dr Schulz said.

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“And that’s a pretty challenging thing to test for, simply because of the scale previously required.

Mr Kerr said he’s happy to have developed a quicker and less wasteful method of testing brewing techniques, but says despite what it sounds like, being a “beer scientist” doesn’t mean the bar is always open.

“When we brew beer in the lab we’re not allowed to drink it,” he said.

“We do a bit of work with Newstead Microbrewing Co though, and they’re a bit less strict, so we get to sample some of the product there.”

Originally Published at Brisbane Times 

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