The Science Of Beer: 3 Facts That Will Change The Way You See Beer

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Wageningen University & Research

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This article was produced in partnership with Wageningen University & Research, a sponsor of IFLSCIENCE

It’s no surprise that beer is celebrated as the most popular alcoholic drink of choice across the globe. In 2016 alone, the world produced 1.96 billion hectoliters of beer - the highest level in recorded history.


From early origins to modern chemistry, beer’s production, its flavor, and importance have continuously evolved over the centuries. The history of beer alone is almost as integral to the formation of society as humans themselves.

But with so many different kinds of beer in the world today, it’s remarkable how much we don’t know about some of our favorite brews. As simple as it may be to finish a pint, beer is actually quite a complicated product with a lot of history, science, and technology behind it.

Fortunately, an appreciation for beer was not lost on the students of Wageningen University who created a free online multidisciplinary course dedicated to ‘The Science of Beer’ for anyone who wants to learn about the origins, agronomy, and industry of beer production.

And, if a cocktail of food science and technology still hasn't got you curious, we have three facts to tickle your tongue into becoming a beer connoisseur - in the name of science, of course:


Mmm, Toasty

The basic ingredients of beer include water, malt, hops, and yeast. Each ingredient contributes its own unique flavor imprint in the production cycle. Yet the color of beer is determined primarily by dried malt kernels that undergo the Maillard reaction.

The Maillard reaction, responsible for the complex flavors found in toasty, malty and robust foods like bread and coffee, creates coloring pigments in the malt which give a beer its color profile.

Controlling the drying temperature of the kernels controls the color of the kernels and hence influences the color of the beer.


The World Of Beer Craft

In the 1970’s, a Dr. Morten Meilgaard invented the ‘beer flavor wheel’ which described 122 different chemical connections behind the aromas, flavors, and compounds of beer. Thanks to advanced chemistry techniques, we can now distinguish over 400.

Interestingly enough, although you might think vegetables don’t belong in beer, this isn’t always the case. Cooked onions, fennel, potato, caramelized vegetables, and turnip are all vegetal flavors that can be found in beer and are desired to complement the flavors present in a brew.

For the Loaf of Bread


Beer production was done primarily by women in early societies and the beer brewing process has been around for over 5,000 years. Used as a way to intake calories and have safe drinking water, early beer was actually a by-product of the bread making process.

The ‘malt’ used in modern beers was originally made from ‘beer bread’. This bread was actually barley or possibly emmer, an ancient grain, that had been allowed to germinate, then dried out and eventually formed into small, lightly baked loaves. When beer needed to be made, these loaves were crumbled into water with cereals and allowed to ferment.

Are you interested in more than just the taste of beer? Discover what's in your beer, how it's made and marketed and the effect it has on your body and health with this free online course Science of Beer