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Analytical Chemistry of Beer and Brewing

Even though there are only four ingredients in beer – grain, hops, yeast, and water – the variation in beer styles and flavors is staggering. The key to understanding this variation, and ensuring a beer product that is consistent time after time, is analytical measurement.In the distant past, this was done through taste, smell, flavor, and visual analysis rather than instrumentation. In modern times, however, analytical instrumentation plays an increasingly important role in the brewing process.A lot of chemists are home brewers and the level of the craft has been growing steadily over the past 20 years or so.Pittcon is always open to measurement science and new symposia of emerging interests, so Bruce Hamper and I thought, “Let’s propose a session on beer and brewing to bring this community together and focus on some of the new things that have coming out of this area.”Bruce is a professor at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, and he teaches a course on beer and brewing. We had a very successful symposium on beer at Pittcon 2020 in Chicago, complete with a nice beer tasting event.

We wanted to follow this up with a similar event at Pittcon 2021 in New Orleans, but our virtual attendees will have to use their imagination and join in with us remotely. We will be delving into what is going on in beer and brewing chemistry.I am a co-organizer and, although I am not speaking in that session, I helped to put it together. The focus will be on a lot of interesting analytical chemistry relating to the beer and brewing field.

Bruce is going to start by talking about using LCMS to investigate hops, components, and beers. We also have Glenn Fox from UC Davis, who will be talking about modern omics techniques in beer analysis, for example, proteomics and lipidomics, among others.

Eberhardt Kuhn from Shimadzu is going to talk about using analytical instrumentation to ensure consistent production quality, Matt Bachman from Indiana University will be talking about isolating and characterizing different yeast strains for use in beer making and Merlin Bicking is going to be talking about rapid oligosaccharide analysis.

We have a wealth of exciting topics, including the genomics of yeast.

HPLC and HPLC/MS are the techniques used most in my personal research in this field. There is certainly room for SFC and even TLC to play a role, too, though this has not been my focus to date.One thing we are doing is challenging our attendees to think about taking things to the next level, not in terms of increasing complexity, but in terms of increasing simplicity. For example, making these analytical techniques more suitable for use in small craft brewing operations or for home brewers.Our recent work in the TLC field has focused more on the pharmaceutical discovery and developing high throughput analysis areas.I like both SFC and TLC. SFC has a lot of advantages from a green chemistry perspective, as well as from a performance perspective.TLC is so simple, and yet it is readily adaptable to accommodate multi parallel analysis and high throughput analysis. TLC gets reinvented every few years and still shows a lot of potential.In industrial research we often find ourselves working across different domains, as the big problems are often complex and span multiple fields.  That’s one of the fun and challenging things about practical problem-solving in industrial research, and something that I try to convey to students.  I have found that studying things that are close at hand is a good way to get people interested in analytical chemistry, especially younger people and students just entering the field. With this in mind, we have done things like analyzing soft drinks for caffeine or looking at capsaicin in chili peppers.

Everybody can get on board with these types of studies, and they are a good entry point for learning about analytical instrumentation, how to use it, and the importance of measurement. Beer analysis is a continuation of those themes.

My colleague at The University of Missouri has told me that there are students coming into his course who have not previously done well in science, but before long they are able to use a graduated cylinder, make measurements, use precise timing, employ various analytical instruments and keep rigorous notes.It is an entryway for anybody who has not found it easy to approach science. I think this is very exciting and it is one of the first things that drew me into collaborating with Bruce in some of his beer chemistry work.

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