Cool Story, Brew!

Blessed Oktoberfest is upon us. Traditionally, taking place in the two weeks leading up to the first Sunday in October, Oktoberfest is a German folk festival from the province of Bayern (Bavaria) that has been in existence since 1810. After the harvesting of grain, Bavarians come together in merriment and drink large quantities of pale beers from the region to celebrate.

Of course the celebration of beer is more ubiquitous than the Germans and from Mesopotamia to the humble college student, cultures all over the world hold and have held beer in high regard. Beer is brewed by using water, cereal grains, most commonly barley-malt, and hops. The process of brewing includes the breaking down of the starch sugars in the grain to alcohol, resulting in carbonation of beer.

Most ancient cultures such as the Celts in Europe, Uruk in modern day Iraq, and even the Egyptians are thought to have been fond of the drink. There is evidence suggest that the builders of the Great Pyramids of Giza were paid in beer for both nutrition and refreshment. Many of these paganistic cultures celebrated beer as it often coincided with the reaping of crops. Historically, it was the women in society that were the brewers of beer and it was also linked to fertility. They prayed to their gods to bring a good harvest for the season. Goddesses such as Ninkasi and Siduri in Ancient Sumeria, Mbaba Mwana Waresa in Zulu mythology, Yasigi in Western African cultures, the Accla in the Incan Empire, Nephthys in Ancient Egypt, Nin- Anna of Babylon, and Dea Latis in Roman Celtic times are all associated with brewing processes, alcoholic beverages, and the crops from which they are derived. Beer was clearly quite linked with nature and was fundamental to the lifestyle of these people.

In modern times, beer brewing has become more industrious and a more male-oriented profession. The area integrates fields such as microbiology, mycology, bacteriology, physics, and thermodynamics. Any beer created can range in colour, flavour, strength, ingredients, production method, history, or origin and is very much dependent on the brewing process, the grain used, and on the yeast used.

In Europe, beer varies by region with English, Belgian, German and Czech styles being the most common. In England, ale would be the most common type and if you’ve ever heard a hefty Englishman order ‘a pint ov bitter’ at the bar this is what they’re referring to. The pale ale derivative uses top-fermenting yeast and pale malt. Top-fermenting yeast, or Saccharomyces cerevisiae, clumps together during the brewing process and rises to the top. Wheat beer is another beer brewed using top-fermenting yeast made from malted barley. Hailing from Germany this is a cloudy, rich, almost fruity beer and in true German nitpickery has to, by law, be made from top-fermenting yeast.

The Germans also lent their custom to the most beloved beer worldwide, lager. Lager comes from the German word ‘to store’ and came about when German brewers left the beer to cool in cold cellars over the warm summer months. This resulted in the beer continuing to ferment and clearing of the cloudiness of wheat beer, resulting in a crisp, golden, ‘pint of plain’ beverage. Made from a bottom-fermenting yeast, Saccharomyces pistorianus, the cooler environment inhibit esterification.

Probably one of the most interesting discoveries in beer culture in recent years came accidentally when, in 2010, researchers in Patagonia, Argentina came across a new species of yeast. It was believed until this point that the bottom-fermenting yeast, S. pistorianus, was a hybrid of the parent top-fermenting yeast, S. cerevisiae, and another unknown yeast. Genetic tests were concluded and the mystery yeast X was shown to be the one that hybridised to form S. pistorianus. Heineken® capitalised on this and released a limited edition beer brewed from this yeast.

Stout and porter are darker beers that’s origins are very much intertwined. Guinness is the favourite beer of Ireland and has a rich history in the state, nearly scrapping the harp logo during the IRA bombings of the 80s and rebranding itself as British, they decided to hold out on the harp and has now become one of our top tourist attractions. Guinness’ iconic burnt flavour is derived from malted barley and roasted unmalted barley and is actually a healthier option as it contains less calories and less alcohol by volume (abv) than most other beers.

The characteristic ‘surge and settle’ effect came from an Irish mathematician-turned-brewer, Michael Ash, when in 1959 he threw an absolute curveball and proposed adding nitrogen to the beer. This revolutionary move changed the taste, texture, and appearance of the beer making it creamier, smoother, and look almost as if the sediment was ‘falling’. Nitrogen is less soluble than carbon dioxide, which allows the beer to be put under high pressure without making it fizzy. High pressure of the dissolved gas is required to enable very small bubbles to be formed by forcing the draught beer through fine holes in a plate in the tap, which causes the characteristic “surge”, the iconic creamy head is merely the burst sediment of the bubbles like with any other beer. According to Guinness, ‘the pint of the black stuff is actually a deep shade of ruby.

Belgian beers or lambic beers are fermented naturally using wild yeasts, rather than cultivated, Saccharomyces yeast yielding significant differences in aroma and sourness. Yeast varieties such as Brettanomyces bruxellensis and Brettanomyces lambicus are common in lambics. In addition, other organisms such as Lactobacillus bacteria produce acids, which contribute to the sourness. Belgians are extremely proud of their beers and often boast at how strong abv many of their beers can be.

If you have ever found yourself meandering the cobble streets of Brussels with one eye open you may have taken shelter in the fantastical bar, Delerium. Hosting a staggering 2,004 different brands of beer from over 60 different countries, Delirium holds a Guinness world record for beers. The Belgian bastion of beer gets its name from the main product of the famous Huyghe brewery in Belgium, Delerium Tremens, whose name in turn is derived from the syndrome of which a person dependant on alcohol would get after the withdrawal from alcohol. Commonly known as the shakes or the horrors, delirium tremens causes symptoms such as shivering, shaking and heart palpitations among others. This is why alcohol is one of the most dangerous drugs from which to withdraw.

Alcohol is a depressant and can cause serious detriment to the life of a heavy drinker, and dependence upon alcohol should be taken very seriously. However when enjoyed in moderation, the most favoured social lubricant, the humble yet plethoric beverage, whether in the local or in the form of a big bag of cans with the lads has been and will probably always be a part of human life. So let’s raise a toast to good health, sláinte, and to our German counterparts, prost!

If you feel that you or anybody you know may be dependent on alcohol please contact support services such as, www.alcoholicsanonymous.ie, contact your GP or nearest counsellor, or reach the Welfare Officer with the UCDSU.


Orla Daly – Science Editor

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