Beer Brewing and Technology
I often begin my beer brewing presentations with a discussion about the technical aspects of brewing. Beer brewing is a hobby that requires much more technical knowledge compared to making wine, cider, or mead. While wine makers focus on terroir, flavors, and grape varieties, beer brewers delve into scientific topics such as water profiles and mash pH. Wine makers take a more artistic approach.
The reasons for this can be categorized into two main themes: scientific and historical.
The Scientific Reason
One of the primary reasons why beer brewers emphasize science is because beer has a lower alcohol content, typically half that of wine. This means there is less room for error in terms of sanitation and fermentation.
While wine can tolerate a relatively small amount of yeast, beer, especially lagers, require a larger quantity of yeast per unit volume. With less alcohol, there are fewer ways to mask flaws, and the absence of grape tannins also leaves less margin for error.
The complex mashing process greatly influences the flavor of beer, whereas it is not relevant to grapes. The choice of water profile, selection of ingredients, and carefully managed fermentation process all become crucial in beer brewing. Overall, beer allows for less margin of error.
ACE Beer Equipment
Historical Factors Driving Beer Technology
While science plays a significant role, there is an interesting historical reason why home brewing has evolved into a highly technical hobby. This relates to the development of modern home brewing techniques in the early 1990s, coinciding with the rise of the internet.
In 1987, information on good home brewing techniques was scarce. Charlie Papazian released his first edition of “The Joy of Homebrewing,” and a few books from the UK were available, but that was about it. Concepts such as measuring bitterness in IBUs, estimating beer color, and calculating mash infusion temperatures were not widely known.
Everything changed in the early 1990s. Equations like the Morey equation for color and various systems for estimating bitterness were developed and adopted by homebrewers. John Palmer began working on his first edition of “How to Brew,” initially publishing it online and later selling books from his garage.
Much of this knowledge was exchanged through early internet platforms and bulletin board systems that preceded the internet. The individuals who had access to these early systems were predominantly scientists and engineers. Consequently, scientists and engineers played a dominant role in the brewing community as knowledge expanded.
The influence of technical experts in the early home brewing discussions persists to this day. During a typical gathering of homebrewers, conversations rarely revolve around flavors or artistry; instead, they quickly delve into technical discussions about equipment, mash pH, or other detailed topics.
This is not necessarily a negative development, as brewing is both a technical and unforgiving craft. However, we sometimes overlook important aspects such as flavor, balance, and the artistic side of brewing due to our excessive focus on technical matters.