Talking about beer is a no-brainer for Eric Scherzer, the quality control manager at Two Brothers Brewing Co.
Recently staff working on programs for Northern Illinois University’s Science Technology Engineering and Math outreach contacted him about presenting a program on “Beer Biology.” He quickly agreed.
Scherzer, an NIU graduate, says he would never pass up an opportunity to “geek out on beer science.” So July 15, Scherzer fired up his PowerPoint filled with equations and presented a program on the science behind the popular beverage.
Scherzer explains that today’s beer drinkers “want more flavor out of their beverage.” He says the sophistication of beer production in America began when European beers started being offered in American bars.
“One of the first pioneers of craft beers was probably Sierra Nevada,” he says. “Then others like Anchor and Sam Adams followed.”
Since beer is relatively simple to make, Scherzer says that “home brewing has exploded.” Scherzer, 32, began brewing at home when he was 23.
“My mom bought me a beer kit, but I lost the hops packet somehow, so I went to the local brew store to get hops,” he says. “When I saw all the options, I lost control and started brewing more and more.”
He says brewing beer is “a lot like cooking.”
“You get into adding and trying things,” he says. “My first batch was a pumpkin ale. It was OK, but I knew I could do better. Even when a batch is not the best, you still drink it.”
Scherzer’s job at Two Brothers is figuring out the right amounts of ingredients needed to duplicate the color and the flavor of a beer, batch after batch.
“Making beer is easy. Making the same beer over and over is hard,” he notes.
He says the home brewer doesn’t have to understand these equations but a basic understanding of how the ingredients interact is helpful. For example, he notes that beer is 90 percent water, so the water used in a brew can affect flavor.
“Water is referred to as brewing liquor,” he says. “The hardness and minerals will affect the final product. Iron, sulfur and salt all contribute negative flavors.”
There are three main ingredients in beer: malt, water and hops. Many home brewers focus on using different hops to create flavors but Scherzer encourages them to try a variety of yeasts.
“There are so many more flavors that can develop with yeast — clove, banana, green apple,” he says. “There are about 57 yeast varieties available. There are about 80 varieties of hops, but the biggest impact on flavor can be made with yeast.”
One of the most unusual beers that Scherzer has encountered is Gueuze. This beer is wild fermented, which means the mixture is left open to the air so that bacteria and yeast present in the air can settle in. Gueuze can take up to seven years to age because the wild yeast is slow acting.
One of the common mistakes made by home brewers, according to Scherzer, is failing to properly sterilize the bottles before bottling.
“When you are bottling, it is important to keep things sterile but be sure to rinse the sanitizer out of the bottles,” Scherzer says.
Bottles that aren’t sterile can become contaminated, and sanitizer left in bottles can affect the beer’s flavor.
Lucas Suveg, of Naperville, attended beer biology to see if he could get some tips for his home brewing operation.
“I’ve been brewing about one year,” he explained. “This program is perfect for someone like me.”
Andrew Foote, a member of the Basement Brew Crew based in Oswego, attended the event to pick up a few tips. He makes oak mash paddles that he sells on etsy.com and enjoys brewing with his friends.
“I’ve been brewing five years,” Foote said. “But there is always something new to learn.”
After the presentation, Scherzer answered questions from the audience of about 120 people. Most of the questions related to home brewing such as: “how many generations of yeast can you use before you see genetic drift?” or “how can I get a coconut flavor to my beer?”
Scherzer answered the questions while the audience sampled brews from Two Brothers.
Scherzer suggests this recipe for a cheese spread made at Two Brothers when they open up a bottle of their favorite craft beer.
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