Beer testing goes molecular to find atoms of ale
A team of scientists has been tasked with a particularly difficult project – defining just what is good about Queensland’s famous XXXX beer.
University of Queensland scientists will for the first time reveal the full profile of all the molecular components that give beer its flavour, and that much-prized foaming head.
XXXX is a divisive drink to say the least – phenomenally popular in North Queensland especially, but its renown can be observed to fade drastically as the drinker travels south.
At the other end of the country - where XXXX runs into a VB-fuelled group of passionate imbibers - it has hardly made a mark.
Dr Glen Fox, from UQ’s Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation, said powerful new system biology tools now offer scientists world-first insights into beer quality.
“Studying beer quality and foam is nothing new, but now we have the tools to see more of the interactions between the previously hidden molecules which are present in beer and foam,” he said.
Dr Fox heads a new project working with UQ’s Australian Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology and School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences to gain the most detailed picture yet of all the carbohydrate, protein and yeast molecules in a glass of beer.
Supported by a two-year internal university funding grant, Dr Fox and his collaborators, Dr Claudia Vickers, Dr Amanda Nouwens and Dr Ben Schulz, will focus on beer quality, using beer foam as an example.
Dr Fox said the perfect foam on a head of beer was worth a lot to the beer consumer.
“It’s largely a matter of perception – which is that when a beer is poured, it should have about a centimetre of foam and collapse at a certain rate when you drink it.
“Plus it should have an appearance of ‘cling’, where the foam clings to the glass.
“Consistency means everything to the brewers – they want to brew beer that always tastes the same and always has the appearance of a good foaming head.
“It’s something they can’t put a dollar value on, but it’s worth a lot,” he said.
The quality and the quantity of protein in beer determines its foam quality, and the UQ research has so far identified more than 200 proteins in beer.
The next step is to try to relate the known and previously unidentified proteins to beer quality.
The UQ team hopes to identify if certain proteins should be present at different stages in the process, which would allow the brewer to troubleshoot for quality control and help manage wastage and fermentability.
“It’s always been possible to test for individual components but often you could only test for one or two of these components at the one time,” Dr Fox said.
“You couldn’t tell what the interactions were between various sugars, proteins and yeast components, but now we can get a single sample that gives us a picture of what all the changes to sugars and proteins are.”
The research, paid for by local XXXX and international malting company Cargill Malt (through Australian company Joe White Maltings), promises not to even try and change the flavour of the deep north’s top drop.