Pintful: Learning the science of beer

jfrank@newsobserver.comSeptember 17, 2013 

  • What’s on Tap Pints & Politics

    5:30 p.m. Thursday, Natty Greene’s Brewing, 505 W. Jones St., Raleigh

    The North Carolina FreeEnterprise Foundation is putting a little fun into the state capital’s favorite sport: politics. The inaugural event (a casual affair) will include discussion from Chris Sinclair, a Republican strategist at Cornerstone Solutions, and Tom Jensen, the head pollster at Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm, about election outcome predictions. Free event but RSVP requested to or 919-614-0520.

    Co-Hops Beer Festival

    2-5 p.m. Saturday, 268 E. Front St., Burlington

    Get tickets to the second annual festival at Company Shops Market, Burlington’s food co-op, before they sell out. The event will feature unlimited samples from local breweries, and the $25 ticket includes a mixed six-pack to take home. Info:

    Carolina Brewing Company Oktoberfest Bash

    4-10 p.m. Sept. 28, 140 Thomas Mill Road, Holly Springs

    The event includes live music, food trucks, cornhole and kid-friendly atmosphere. And of course, Oktoberfest beer. Proceeds go to the National MS Society. The brewery’s bike team has already raised $100,000 for the charity this year. Info:

— The pint glass, namesake of this column, is a sham.

This is essentially what Tyler Cox from Gizmo Brew Works is telling 20 people in a classroom at Science of Beer, an after-hours event at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham.

“They are cheap. They easy to mass produce. You can put your logo on it. They stack, so storage is not an issue,” Cox says, hoisting his own Raleigh brewery’s pint glass aloft. “This does nothing for your beer.”

Reaching behind him, Cox surveys two dozen different types of beer vessels scattered on a table. He grabs a tulip glass. Its bulbous bottom perches on a stem and narrows to a waist before bending outward to form a lip that holds the beer’s head.

“When you pour (your beer) in here it’s naturally going to swirl and increase the volatiles,” he explains. (Volatiles are a compound that evaporates from beer to produce aromas.) “The bulbous shape will trap all the volatiles and aroma in it as it tapers to the top. So it stays smelling better and tasting better longer.”

This is a good glass for beer, he says. It’s science.

“Tulip-ful,” however is not a great beer column name. But as I learned, so much about beer is science. The connections make it easy for the museum to host its fourth annual event with a sellout crowd of 700. The more than 15 local breweries serving unlimited free samples surely helped the effort.

Down the hallway from Cox’s classroom, Sebastian Wolfrum from Natty Greene’s Brewing is explaining soluble proteins and phenol flavors from malt while John Federal from Raleigh Brewing Company holds court in a chemistry lab talking “Beer Gone Wrong.”

In the lab, Federal passes Erlenmeyer flasks filled with bad-tasting beer to adults sitting on stools around waist-high tables. Stephanie Griffin’s gives an expressive “ick” look when she tastes beer spiked with Dimethyl Sulfides (DMS), a common off-flavor from beer contaminated with bacteria or cooled too slowly.

The sessions appeal to the beer nerds and homebrewers, but Griffin, a 34-year-old Durham resident, says she comes every year with family members who are big craft beer fans. “It’s just a lot of fun,” she says.

In other hallways and exhibits at the museum, people crowd around dozens of tables for mini-lectures or to participate in experiments.

Chemistry students from UNC-Chapel Hill explain the skunky thiol, also known as the “cat piss compound,” present in beer shocked by too much ultraviolet light. Appropriately, they used Corona, sold in clear glass bottles, for the sample.

And volunteer Eric Galamb uses a simple experiment to test people for what is known as the “PTC gene,” which makes some genetically opposed to bitter beer, such as India pale ales.

Ben Steil, a 34-year-old Durham vaccine researcher, tested positive after he sipped a hoppy beer sample and put a test paper to his tongue. He has always favored the Kolsch style over the popular IPAs, and now he knows why. “I believe it,” he said.

Others dispelled or proved beer myths.

• If the foamy head on your beer is too big to drink, wipe the side of your nose with your finger and stir it in the foam. The presence of fats, such as the oils excreted through pores, or detergents will diminish a beer’s head. Blowing on it, however, doesn’t work.

• Chilled pint glasses are bad. The cold will shock a taster’s palate and make the beer taste more bitter. The glasses also can impart flavors from the refrigerator in which it was stored. Give them back to the bartender.

The three-hour event didn’t provide the large crowd enough time to visit every table, let alone every local brewery.

Wolfrum, director of brewing operations at Natty Greene’s, says he’s not surprised to see so many people interested in the science of beer. “It’s just like why people go to farmers markets,” he says. “I think they want to know more about what they are consuming. It’s the demystifying of what you are drinking.”

What I’m tasting

A recent visit to the newly opened Crank Arm Brewing in Raleigh put two more local craft beers on my go-to list. I’m a huge fan of a rye ale, and the flagship Rickshaw Rye IPA satisfied with its big dose of spicy malt and flavor hops. I also came away with a better appreciation for a less-popular style, the 90 Schilling traditional Scottish ale. Lighter than it seems, the medium-bodied amber ale hit the spot for the fall season. Try a flight of beers for about $8. Info:

Frank:; 919-829-4698

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service