Saturday, March 8, 2008

Brewing is Biochemistry

Today in my Biochemistry class I got on a tangent[1]. We were talking about polysaccharides, such as starch. I got tangented[2] into brewing.

Briefly: in brewing, starch is broken down into fermentable sugars. This is a beautiful biochemical process. The alpha and beta amylase working so well together brings tears to my eyes[3].

But...should this (the science of alcohol production) be taught in a biochemistry course.....

Yes, I think it can (or should) be. I am not endorsing the use or abuse of alcohol, but I am admiring the biochemistry that has been utilized for thousands of years.

There is some cool stuff going on, I hope to continue to write about it in this blog. But, as usual, the more one learns about something, the more one realizes how little he (or she) knows about that something. I know a lot about brewing, but I realize I know so little. That is why we have experts.

[1] I easily get on tangents. Usually they are related to chemistry, but not always.
[2] It may not be a word, but I love verbing nouns!!!!!
[3] so much more could be said about this. I hope to do so in the future[4].
[4] near or distant[5]
[5] stop using endnotes in the endnotes, dumbass[6]!!!!
[6] sorry[7]
[7] it's just that psi star psi doesn't stop by as often since she got that super-cool job in that analytical lab[8]
[8] I miss her brief and insightful replies[9].
[9] Oh well, mjenks is always good for some quality replies[10].
[10] and at least he can use proper grammar real good and stuff to make for good writing...and stuff.


Ψ*Ψ said...

I think you just won the battle of the footnotes! (Rest assured, I still read whatever you post, but I'm a lazy commenter. Sorry!)
If you had taught my biochemistry class, I might have liked it. What's not to like about a class that discusses beer? Instead, I had to take it under the postdoc from hell. We were actually told "I don't care if you actually learn any of this. Just memorize it for the exam." That didn't sit well with the (entirely too small) section of us who weren't lazy biologists looking at med school. I stopped going to class after the first exam, and despite obliterating the tests, my refusal to do the homework saw me with a C in the end. Am I bitter? Yes! Do I wish she would get hit by a bus? Frequently! Will a biochemistry course requirement deter me from applying to certain grad schools? Absolutely!

markmier said...

In my organic chemistry class, I got my professor on a tangent about brewing. I had previously gone to his office hours to suck up and talk about brewing, and asked him about the banana smell in my beer (it was fermented at probably 80 F, in Houston in September). He later brought up in the full class of 200+ the esterification reaction that makes isoamyl acetate. I thought it was pretty cool. The prof also bought me and my friend ingredients for a batch that we were to brew for him. We did, I don't remember what the batch ended up being. Also, I ended up getting a D in the class. (Rice University, Dr. Ciufolini, '94 I think). And now I'm a chemical engineer!

Ψ*Ψ said...

AWESOME combination! One of the strangest brews I've ever had tasted like bananas.

mjenks said...

mjenks is too busy throwing up after watching Indiana's lousy (can we say two more losses on the year? First round of the Big Ten AND the NCAA! I knew we could) to offer a good response.

In my biochemistry course, we learned about yeast converting sugars to ethanol. I would think the enzymes and substrates involved in the brewing process would be fair game. [1]

[1] I went to a Catholic college, so maybe that has something to do with it.

Chemgeek said...

Ψ*Ψ :) I figured you were still lurking about. There is absolutely nothing worse that a "teacher" who doesn't give a damn. A bad teacher who cares is tons better than the one who makes sure the class knows he or she doesn't want to be there. Oddly, some of the worst teachers I've had were in Biochemistry.

Mark: Yeah, fermentation at 80 F will get you all sorts of interesting things. Also, even in the short amount of time I have been teaching (10 years) I have learned that grades are only ONE way of measuring ability. Sadly, we are forced to rely on them too much. I just wrote a letter to our Academic VP supporting the graduation of a one of our Chem majors who didn't get the minimum grades required in Gen Chem or Organic. He is not "book smart" but has great hands and truly understands whats going on.

mjenks: please let it be Minnesota, please let it be Minnesota, please, please, please.... Of course for MN to play IU, the Gophers would have to get past the powerhouse the is Northwestern....Anything is possible.

mjenks said...

Isn't Minnesota the 6 seed? I think they might be able to slip past Northwestern. Heck, even Indiana did that. Barely.

mjenks said...

Another possible angle is to talk about the antioxidants in beer and how they act to preserve the body from those awful free radicals.

If you felt too guilty, talk about Vitamin E's role in absorbing the free radical from fatty acid radicals. Introduce beer then.

milkshake said...

This last argument reminds me a Slovak chemist who was teaching us in a prep camp before International Chemistry Olympiade: He had this unmistakable plum-brandy bloom in his face. He would first talk about organic chemistry, explaining the mechanism of esterification. In the second part of his talk he switched to biochemistry and was explaining te citrate cycle. At the end of the afternoon he summarised: "And as you can see there is plenty acids aront in the body that we need to esterify" (Sorry I cant reproduce his cheerful hill country accent).

Banana beer: my south african jewish physicist friend tried one in Angola and found it quite refreshing even if on the sewwt side, flat and served at Angola cellar temperature. Quite potent stuff. He showed me a picture of himself standing next to a plastic barrel with a laddle. There wass a black layer floating on the liquid in the barrel - the bugs that had to be skimmed away before the beer is poured. No hops necessary.

Chemgeek said...

what was in those bugs?

milkshake said...

I think there was lots of banana beer in those bugs.

mjenks said...

I've heard of actual banana beer before. The one that kind of confuses/intrigues me is watermelon beer. I can't imagine that it'd be good, but at the same time, it's something that I want to try.