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Science of beer evening

beer

The Process and Food Engineering subject groups, along with the London regional group, held a successful evening event on 28 November 2008. Alex Bell, Master Brewer at O’Hanlon’s brewery near Exeter, came to share his secrets for making the perfect pint. Bell is a graduate in chemical engineering from University College London, and gave an excellent overview of the technical challenges in controlling beer quality and flavour.

Laying his technical credentials on the line, Bell discussed the intricacies of yeast metabolism. Yeast cells convert sugars to energy and, fortunately for us, they also produce ethanol as a byproduct. The audience was then treated to Mr Bell’s encyclopedic knowledge of the history of beer making. You might not be surprised to hear that beer goes back a long way – we know that the ancient Egyptians enjoyed it. But you’ll no doubt be fascinated to learn (as we all were) that the recipe for modern beer owes a lot to medieval monks. They had a vested interest since, during periods of fasting, they permitted themselves as much beer as they wanted! The key technological advance that has been attributed to monks is the use of hops as a bitter flavouring to counterbalance the residual sugar in the beer.

After the talk, chairman Steve Wilkinson kept the questions to a minimum as the large audience was impatient to taste the beer. We were guided through three of O’Hanlon’s most popular beers, starting with a light summer ale and ending with a port stout. The beer tasting was going so well that ‘last orders’ had to be called more than once before everyone went happily on their way with heads full of science as well as beer.

Dr Steve Wilkinson

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