April 5, 2023

Beer Science, Part One

In recognition of National Beer Day in April, Discovery Place scientists visited Charlotte brewery Noda Brewing Company for a deeper look at the science behind beer brewing.

Welcome back to Master Mixology with Discovery Place Science! This video series explores the intersection of science, history and alcohol, plus the occasional adult beverage demonstrations (and non-alcoholic modifications!).

In recognition of National Beer Day in April, Discovery Place scientists visited Charlotte brewery Noda Brewing Company for a deeper look at the science behind beer brewing. Noda Brewing Company opened in the Queen City in 2011 and now offers beer in its taprooms, at the airport and in stores across the Carolinas.

In this episode and part one of Master Mixology: Beer Science, we hear from Chad Henderson, head brewer and co-owner of Noda Brewing Company. In the content below the video, read some of the Q&A included in this episode.

Q: Can you tell us about the beer brewing process? How do you make beer?

Chad: It’s actually a lot more complicated than a lot of people think. Generally, the way you make beer is the same general concept for making any sort of standard alcoholic beverage like wine or mead or cider.

We basically want to get sugar derived from a fluid medium and we basically want to have yeast eat it and excrete out alcohol in the process. Now what makes the beer very unique is that we have to get the sugar from barley grains specifically, or grain in general.

There’s no liquid that comes out of a barley grain so we have to mash it, then extract sugars from the starch chains and separate the solid matter from the fluid, called “wort.” That’s boiled and gets hops added to it, creating that staple flavor.

Q: From start to finish, how long does it take to make beer?

Chad: The whole process itself for brewing takes anywhere from about six to 10 hours, depending on the style of the beer.

The actual fermentation process can take anywhere between a couple of weeks to several months to even, in some rare cases, several years before it’s ready to be consumed.

Q: What is the difference between different beers?

Chad: Between different beers, basically the biggest difference is how you orchestrate the ingredients. A lot of people equate beer-making to baking or cooking. I actually like to think of it more so as making music.

You basically have all your different “instruments” that are kind of like your different types of grains, different types of hops, your different water profiles, your different types of yeast and all the little ways you can orchestrate them together via different temperatures, different amounts of percentages…and it results in vastly different beers.

Any given time on our draft list alone, or any breweries you go to in the Queen City, you’ll see dozens of different styles and they’re using essentially the same four ingredients of different types of grains, different types of hops, different types of yeast and different types of water profiles.

Q: How long have we known as humans of the science of beer brewing? Like how far does this go back?

Chad: Well, beer is argued to be the oldest, if not the second oldest, intentionally made beverage by mankind. Pretty much everyone debates between wine or beer being the first intentionally made alcoholic beverage or intentionally made beverage in general.

You also have to think, too, back before human history was really established, a.k.a. when we were actually writing down texts or recipes or anything, most water sources were highly contaminated. So, the idea of actually heating and steeping beverages out of it became a pretty standard practice.

And until Louis Pasteur discovered what yeast was doing, we didn’t really know that fermentation was a thing. So once he came around, we had a better idea that there are actually little microorganisms that are creating alcohol. So we’ve known for a long time.

Want more Master Mixology? Check out our previous episode, Smoky Infusion, and stay tuned for our next episode: Beer Science, Part Two.