RALEIGH — Down in the basement of Schaub Hall, a team of sud-splashed academics is ankle-deep in a puddle of Wolf-toberfest the frothy product of their relentless research.
Lesser scientists around campus might be working on cloud computing or synthetic aortas, but this gang at N.C. State University is concocting liquid happiness by the 31-gallon tank.
Among their breakthroughs: Pack Pilsner. Chancellors Choice IPA. Brickyard Red. Graduator Maibock.
Considering these brews came from a pair of doctoral candidates and three more chasing masters degrees in food science, its safe to bet nobody ever thought so hard about a glass of beer.
Most brewers dont even have a microscope, says John Sheppard, the food science professor who directs the N.C. State Brewery.
The idea here is to train the eyes of science onto North Carolinas brewing trade, which now produces more than 6 million barrels a year and sparks envy nationwide.
The N.C. State Brewery serves as a quiet partner trained in microbiology and chemical engineering, a resource that can tell you how to fight contamination, manage yeast and calculate your beers International Bitterness Units, or IBU.
Most of the amateurs out there cant even accurately describe their beers color.
In Schaubs basement, doctoral candidate Blake Layfield holds up a beer Id describe as copper-colored. Maybe amber. Heres the official word from the man writing his dissertation on cell-cycle synchronization and yeast management strategy, who employs something called the Standard Reference Method.
As a scientist, Layfield says, Im going to say this beer is 75 SRM. You can see right through it.
Only at NCSU functions
The drawback is you cant buy Wolfpack beer anywhere, unlike Wolfpack ice cream. The Umstead Act prohibits government agencies from competing with private businesses. Exemptions are many, but beer is not one of them. You can drink these brews at university functions only, and the sales at these campus events pay for the next batchs supplies.
The way Layfield figures, the brewing industry could use a Ph.D. or two with heavyweights New Belgium and Oskar Blues setting up Tar Heel breweries. They could especially one who took a blue ribbon at the 2012 Brewers Cup a new addition to the N.C. State Fair.
Of course, the pivotal moment in a beer researchers life is the moment when the experiments are tasted. Layfield handed me the kölsch, which yes, boss I drank on the clock. Research purposes. One difference with an N.C. State beer is its filtered to catch yeast particles.
Horse blanket, Band-Aid
These researchers employ a whole vocabulary of technical terms to describe a beer with a taste gone haywire. Horse blanket is one. Band-Aid is another.
But the good beers, of which there are many, provoke only one response from a daring researcher:
Repeat experiment. More data required.
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