Getting a taste for beer - at the molecular level

Student to spend summer seeing how yeast, malt and hops interact

MICHAEL BERRY
Last updated 05:00 03/12/2012
University of Canterbury biology student Jennifer Crowther will spend the summer researching the chemistry of beer brewing with Three Boys owner Ralph Bungard, right. She will be supported by Industrial Research (IRL) scientist James Strong, left, and her lecturer Grant Pearce.
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CRAFTY PLAN: University of Canterbury biology student Jennifer Crowther will spend the summer researching the chemistry of beer brewing with Three Boys owner Ralph Bungard, right. She will be supported by Industrial Research (IRL) scientist James Strong, left, and her lecturer Grant Pearce.

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A University of Canterbury summer scholarship student has landed the perfect excuse to spend the summer enjoying craft beer.

Jennifer Crowther will explore the subtleties of fermenting yeasts and their effects on taste and quality of beer. However, she will be too busy with calculations to quaff the product.

She will work alongside Woolston craft brewery Three Boys, which is owned and run by former UC plant biochemist Ralph Bungard.

Bungard said he had kept close ties with the university and came up with the idea to get solid data behind what makes different yeasts react the way they do with malt and hops. That information could take much of the guesswork and trial and error out of coming up with new beers, he said.

It could also highlight other yeasts that could be used. There were hundreds of yeasts available to brewers, the result of hundreds of years of brewing. Bungard's brewery used about six different yeasts to make its beer line.

He hoped the study would help develop brewing techniques that would encourage brewers nationwide to manipulate flavours in beer in a predictable and favourable way. It could lead to New Zealand gaining global distinction for innovative yeast strains and fermentation management techniques, he said.

Crowther, who will spend the next 10 weeks on the project, was excited to investigate the science of brewing.

"This is a really exciting time to be studying beer with the rapidly growing craft beer market shifting emphasis towards brewing flavoursome, distinctive beers," she said.

The Kiwi craft beer market has boomed in the past few years.

A Brewers Guild of New Zealand survey showed between January 2008 and December 2011 the number of Kiwi breweries leapt 40 per cent to 68.

That was driven by a doubling of microbreweries producing less than 40,000 litres to 30. Almost nine out of 10 breweries surveyed had expected to increase production in 2012.

Crowther said the popularity was down to the interesting flavours the craft breweries were making and she was interested in how those flavours could be manipulated by different yeasts during fermentation.

"In the past, brewers have been less innovative in terms of the yeast use, sticking with traditional strains that have been used over many decades and even centuries of brewing."

An Industrial Research (IRL) team based at the university will give analysis and testing support to the project. The Crown Research Institute team was set up this year to help boost science in businesses.

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Dr Grant Pearce said this was one of many scholarships that gave top students the chance to do laboratory work over the summer holidays.

Although the brewing project sounded "awfully glamorous" there was a lot of work to get through and taste testing would be done at the molecular level, he said.

The scholarships alongside businesses and IRL were a good experience, he said.

"The students are finding it really good because they're getting to see the commercial side of things as well as the research side of things."

- The Press

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