If you needed more proof that beer is the official drink of nerds, just take a look at the science involved in producing the stuff at scale. Sure, craft breweries are popping up everywhere, but don’t be fooled—this is no push-button industry. Whether it’s a local brewery or a big beer conglomerate, harnessing the power of fermentation requires more than just a hankering for a cold can of suds. Chemistry, here we come!
Brewers start the process off by soaking grains in hot water. The water molecules activate enzymes within the grain that break the bonds holding the grain’s starches together. Starches are just long chains of glucose, so when they break down that’s what you’re left with: a whole bunch of sugar. That same process actually happens when you chew food, because your saliva is full of the same enzymes. In your body, those sugars give you energy. In the beer world, they give you alcohol.
To control the flavor and strength of that alcohol, brewers heat up the resulting mash and concentrate the sugars. They can also add things like hops to boost aroma and flavor before tossing in the yeast, which then eats all those concentrated sugars and turns grain soup into actual beer. Grain mash is rich in nutrients that helps yeast thrive, but while a simple brew process calls for yeast to be added alone, industrial brewers sometimes add extra nutrients like zinc to give the yeast an added boost.
That’s just one way in which breweries control the flavor and consistency of their product, but they also have to control factors like temperature to create the perfect conditions for fermentation. Sure, there’s science involved with that too, but technology takes care of a lot of the grunt work, so brewers can focus on other things. Today, brewers have access to incredibly precise computerized tanks that automatically monitor and adjust the temperature of the beer throughout the entire process, then turn around and clean and sanitize themselves. It’s all about working smarter, not harder.
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