As an Innovation Science student, you are of course always on the lookout for the newest innovations. Most of our students aim to make the world a better place with their studies and have ambitions that focus on societal and technical advancement. But did you ever think of the joy and love that are brought by a tasty glass of beer (especially a wonderful Pintermate beer), and what innovations within that field can bring? Me neither! That is why I bring to you this amazing article exploring a few of the older, but also most recent evolutions within the brewing industry.
Before we start looking to the future, let’s do a quick recap of the history of beer brewing, to understand where we are coming from. (Feel free to skip to the part ”the future” though, if you are not interested.) The process of brewing has been taking place since the 7000 BC (in China, in the west since 6000 BC). It is suspected that beer used to be produced by from barley via bread. A sort of porridge of bread, herbs and water was created, and its fermenting happened via spontaneous fermentation. This means that the brewer waits for wild yeast in the air to come in contact with the beer-to-be and start a fermentation process.
After a dip in popularity, the process of brewing was much improved when monasteries established breweries to sustain themselves and provide hospitality for visitors. At the same time, monks also learned to work with yeast, its different qualities and how to separate and keep them. However, they did not yet spread the beer outside of the monasteries. With new knowledge on copper smelting however, breweries were able to expand into full-scale breweries. At this point, in multiple locations, brewers started not only using herbs in the beer, but also hops, which defines the flavor of most modern-day beers and allowed for beer to be kept longer.
Once brewing beer became a commercial practice, more quality checks and laws related to the quality were established. Read for example this BorrelCie article to learn more about the Beer Purity Law. Besides that, the technique of lagering was introduced, for which a specific type of yeast is used that is still active in colder temperatures. This allows for the beer to be brewed in colder locations, such as caves, allowing for it to survive the summer heat and having beer be available all year round.
Around the 1700s, when colonial cities grew, variations on beers arose that replaced the barley malt with other sugars from for example wheat, corn, pumpkin, peas, etc. With the industry growing throughout big cities, the need for beers that lasted longer to distribute through these cities increased. This initiated the rise of dark porter beers, which were heavily hopped and matured for months. At this point, the brewing materials were also improved, for example by introducing the use of thermometers, coal-fired steam engines, refrigeration technology, and techniques to kilning the malt (giving it its malty, biscuit-like flavors). The modern-day beer experience was also greatly influenced by the industrialization of glass making, allowing for the beer to be served in appealing glassware, instead of mugs.
It was eventually in the 1970s and 1980s that a time of renewal came, that introduced a lot more experimenting with beer, the appreciation large amounts of variation in craft beer, and, related to that, the spike in number of (micro)breweries. This leads to the large variety of beers you currently see in the Intermate refrigerators.
To investigate the innovations within beer brewing, the first step is to look at the ingredients of the beer, mainly with hops and beers. For hops, the efficiency of flavor extraction is an area that has been worked on. This is not on the side of the hop production, but rather the processing. Hops can be brewed in their original form (referred to as ‘leaf’), as well as in compressed pellets. The upside of these pellets is that you can change the proportions of the green (general leaves) and lupulin (yellow pollen-like stuff). This lupulin enrichment has been happening for a while, bu has been getting increased attention in recent years. With more experimentation in craft beers, the demand for them to use in for example, double, triple or milkshake NEIPA’s which depend on stronger contents. This means that we moved from high lupulin contents of around 10%, to ow versions that go up to 55%. To reach these levels, different techniques are used, but the main version is to freeze the hops, and then sifting out the tiny lupulin parts. Because of this, less hops need to be used, resulting in (slightly) lower costs. However, for large scale brewing the main cost difference comes from the lower amounts of green matter, which soaks up lots of liquid resulting in losing yield. This matters extra in the case of brewing with hops during the boil and fermentation (dry hop).
One of the recent developments of yeast has been the genetic modification of yeast. Yeast is the ingredient that starts of the fermentation process, changing the sugars into alcohols, but also carbon dioxide and fermentation byproducts. The yeast not only influences the alcohol levels, but also decides the sweetness of the beer (by how much of the fermentable sugars are fermented) and flavors such as fruitiness, citrus, nuts, tartness, etc. Not to mention the interaction it has with the flavors, the wort (pre-ferment beer) already has. A simple example for which this genetically modified yeast is currently used, is to prevent unintended byproducts from the yeast to be created. For example a yeast that prevents diacetyl proliferation, which appeared when yeast hadn’t fully fermented some hop compounds giving the beer a buttery flavor. However, it does not stop here. A lot of experimenting is done with yeasts that add specific flavors to beers. By modifying yeast, it produces enzymes that can inject flavors such as guava, passionfruit, pineapple, but also hoppy flavors, making the use of hops for flavor unnecessary. Especially the hop flavors are very interesting, as the hops are by far the most expensive ingredient of most beers. In general, being able to use less natural resources also means that this type of yeast can be a big leap in making brewing more sustainable. However, there is also critique on using these yeasts, as they are said to end the farming tradition of hops and ‘hollow out the soul of brewing’.
Besides modifying the traditional beer ingredients, there are also some newly arisen ingredients that can greatly add to the flavors and aroma of a beer. A popular example of this is ‘phantasm’, which is powdered grapes skins (particularly from the Marlborough region (NZ)). These grapes have high levels of thiols, which under the right circumstances can bring out a lot of wonderful and unique aromas. In beers, they can have this same effect, enhancing aromas in the beer. This effect can especially be noticed on the more ‘tropical’ side of the flavor spectrum. It is also especially interesting for hops that do not have these high thiol precursor molecules themselves, such as Mosaic, Citra, and Galaxy.
Though ingredients bring the basis of beers, a lot of tools make a large difference in the looks, aromas, and flavors of the beer. This is for example very evident when brewing non-alcoholic beers. This currently mainly done by brewing the alcoholic beers and either cook off the alcohol or separate it out through cooling, or by halting the fermentation process (which was done for the low-alcohol Pintermate beer ‘Johannah’). However, all three techniques do affect the flavors of the beer, usually in a negative manner. Therefore, a new technique has arisen, that is based on separating off the alcohol with dealcoholizing machines that work with vacuum separators. As the technology improves, they become increasingly affordable, allowing for more breweries to experiment with this method and brewing beers that suffer non of the flavors that may result from the other methods.
These tools do not only affect the flavors of beers. We can also see this affecting matters related to sustainability. One particular less sustainable is that in brewing, a lot of water is lost in the process. This water cooks off or is dumped after usage. Examples of when are when cooling the warm ‘pre-beer’ or soaked up by ingredients that are tossed away. Especially in this last example, the traditional method of filtering is not quite efficient. Instead of using traditional filters that only drain at the bottom of a cylindrical vessel, the mash is spread out widely over a fine cloth filter and is squeezed out. The models of these systems have been improving, resulting in up to 98% yield from the filtering. Besides the sustainability aspect, these filter work with a wider variety of grains (such as 100% oats, which usually soak up simply too much of the water) opening up lots of opportunities of experimenting with beers.
To conclude, if you want to try these great innovations in your beers you either need to buy a lot of Pintermate beers so we can invest in cool things, or give Quincy a nice look. Thanks for reading!