Brewing up ‘the perfect beer’

Researchers at Aarhus University turn their lab into a microbrewery in the quest to perfect the nectar of the gods

First, you make malt from grain. From that you extract a liquid called wort. Hop is added for bitterness. When the mixture is ready, you add in yeast. During fermentation, the sugar in the malt turns into alcohol and – voilà – you have beer. 


It may sound simple, but beer brewing is actually a complicated biological process.


Just ask Christian Dannesboe, an assistant professor of bioprocess engineering at Aarhus University. For half a year, he and his students have been trying to find the formula for the perfect beer.


“Beer can very easily get an unwanted undertaste. Variations in temperatures or the tiniest seed in the brewing tank can ruin the taste completely. And even if you get it perfect one time, you might not be able to repeat it,” Dannesboe said.


New beers emerge on the Danish market with incredible speed. Last year saw a record 756 new beers released. However, the beer being brewed at Aarhus University is going to be quite different.


”Our goal is to present a beer that tastes of our chosen ingredients and nothing else – a perfect beer,” Dannesboe said. ”We will need to find out the exact formula on how to make such a beer, so that we are able to do it over and over again.”


The researchers have turned their laboratory into their own advanced microbrewery. A specialised sensor technology allows them to observe every part of the brewing process in great detail.


”Brewing is a living and very complicated process, where even variations of temperatures down to half a degree can have a huge impact on the taste. By using modern technology, we leave less to chance and we have more control over the final product,” Dannesboe said.


One would think that something like the taste of beer would be a very subjective thing. Nevertheless, the researchers and students may soon be able to pinpoint exactly what happens when a beer gets an unwanted nuance in taste. 


For instance, they can measure bitterness so that they know exactly how much hop to add in order to perfectly balance out the taste. 


They have already gathered most of the information they need. The exact formula, on the other hand, remains a secret as Dannesboe is keeping those details to himself in order to improve the beer's ability to compete with other microbreweries.


The brewing team is going directly for the gold medal at next year’s beer brewing competition at the Copenhagen Beer Festival, so the thirsty and the curious will have to wait until May 2014 to get a taste of that perfect beer.

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