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The science of alcohol
The science of alcohol

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1.1 The Industrial Revolution

In the following video, Paul Kosmetatos describes how the role of brewing in early industrialisation (before the introduction of modern technology) advanced to the scales we associate with brewing today.

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In the late Middle Ages, the brewing industry in northern Europe changed from a small-scale domestic industry to a large-scale export industry. The key innovation was the introduction of hops, the constituent of beer credited with the overall improvement in the quality of the beer, which began in northern Germany in the thirteenth century.

However, it was the significant improvements in the efficiency of the steam engine in 1765 that led to the industrialisation of beer production becoming a reality.

Further innovations in the brewing process came about during the Industrial Revolution with the introduction of the thermometer in 1760 and the hydrometer in 1770, allowing brewers to increase efficiency and also further their understanding of the brewing process itself. With the thermometer, brewers were able to analyse for the first time how different temperatures affected sugar yield and fermentability. But it was the discovery of the hydrometer that really transformed how beer was brewed, and you will see for yourself in Week 8 how this simple instrument can yield valuable information about the strength of brewed beer.

Before hydrometers were routinely used, beers were brewed from a single malt: brown beers from brown malt, amber beers from amber malt, and pale beers from pale malt. Using the hydrometer, brewers could calculate the yield from different malts. These early brewers observed that pale malt, though more expensive, yielded far more fermentable material than cheaper malts and this discovery is thought to have contributed significantly to the overall efficiency of the industrial brewing process. Brewers were now able to revert to using mostly pale malt for all beers supplemented with a small quantity of highly coloured malt to achieve the correct colour for darker beers.

The invention of the microscope allowed Louis Pasteur (1822–1895) to discover the yeast that was responsible for turning the sugary wort into the alcoholic beer. Furthermore, the discovery of the microbial origins of fermentation allowed brewers to adopt sanitation techniques, allowing beers to be exported over further distances.

It is safe to say that the Industrial Revolution changed the brewing industry more than any previous time period, and today the brewing industry is a global business, consisting of several dominant multinational companies and many thousands of smaller producers ranging from brewpubs to regional breweries.