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UC research to explore the science behind beer brewing

UC research to explore the science behind beer brewing

November 30, 2012

A University of Canterbury (UC) researcher will spend her summer months exploring the science behind brewing to meet the needs of the booming craft beer market.

UC summer scholarship student Jennifer Crowther said her research was an opportunity to explore the science behind brewing in an effort to improve the taste and quality of beer.

``The taste of beer characteristics are influenced by a range of factors including the variety of hops and the types of yeast used. Research will be conducted into the biochemistry and genetics of yeast towards manipulating the flavour profile of beers.

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

Crowther will be working alongside the Christchurch company Three Boys Brewery which has been operating out of Christchurch for more than eight years and is one of the premium microbreweries in New Zealand. Three Boys is run by former UC academic plant biochemist Dr Ralph Bungard.

``The craft beer market is booming in New Zealand and in many traditional beer drinking countries around the world. Our overall beer consumption has been in decline for many years. In contrast, the craft beer sector, although small in terms of volume, has been rapidly increasing, both in terms of the number of breweries and the volume of beer produced.

``This increase in popularity can be attributed to the more interesting flavours and styles of beer that the craft sector offers and the desire of consumers for choice and variation. The UC research project pulls together two of my favourite subjects in biochemistry and beer making.’’

The huge range of beer styles worldwide is a result of the almost endless combinations of many varieties of malt, hops and yeast strains. NZ has traditionally had an innovative hop and malt producing industry which has allowed craft brewers in NZ to produce beer with very unique, NZ-style flavours.

``The biological modification of these malt and hop flavours and aroma in beer is driven by yeast in the fermentation. However, 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.

``The UC project will look more closely at the role of yeast in the biological modification of the flavour profile in beer. We want to particularly focus on how yeasts alter the end-product flavours that are derived from malt and hops.’’

Dr Bungard said he hoped the study would allow them to develop brewing techniques that would encourage brewers nationwide to manipulate flavours in beer in a predictable and favourable fashion. It was possible that New Zealand may become internationally recognised for innovative yeast strains and fermentation management techniques, he said.

Crowther’s supervising lecturer Dr Grant Pearce said the project would run for 10 weeks through to February.

``She will be carrying out research looking at measuring some of these characteristics of particular beers using specialised equipment at UC that can measure compounds at the molecular level, aided by expert supervision by Industrial Research staff.

``Jennifer will gain familiarity with microbiology and protein science techniques, using research methodology to study the biochemical and microbiological aspects of beverages, food samples and biological extracts. The project also provides the opportunity to understand and engage with the process of research within an industry environment.’’

He said UC’s Biomolecular Interaction Centre provided expertise in how compounds interacted with each other and a suite of state of the art equipment that could measure these interactions at a molecular level.

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