The science of alcohol
The science of alcohol

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The science of alcohol

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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When people think of the Industrial Revolution, the classical Industrial Revolution of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, they think of the iconic industries of cotton spinning and weaving, coal mines, steam, iron, later steel. They might be surprised to learn that brewing is as important an example of early industrialization in England. Brewing was able to become more industrial even before the introduction of technology. For a long time, indeed, up to the first couple decades of the 19th century, horses were as important a source of power in the brewing industry as steam. It was only then that finally, steam engines replaced horses. It was advances in agriculture, advances in finance, and advances in infrastructure in Britain that allowed the brewing of beer to become much more systematic and large scale. And there were now canal networks. There were turnpikes that allowed the shipping of raw materials, malt, and hops from further away to more industrial impressions, impressions that looked more like factories than the old local breweries that existed up to this point. And the increasing yields of agriculture that are characteristic of their middle and late 18th century produce the surpluses of grain that would now be used for brewing and not just to fend off famine, as had been the case up to that point. By the beginning of the 19th century, the tax regime also changed in a way that helped the brewing industry. Up to that point, the excise regime that is the taxation equivalent to VT that we have today, but taxed at source rather than on the retail end. Up to the point, it made a distinction between small beer, that is beer that was less than 2% by volume, and stronger table beer, the stronger beer, of course, being more expensive. After the beginning of the 19th century, this distinction was removed. So there was little point in staying on with small beer anymore, especially when people could have the better tasting and stronger tasting table beer, so that distinction vanished. And that also helped in the consolidation of the brewing industry, which was very much a characteristic of industrialization.
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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.


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