Biotechnology for better beer

Advanced knowledge of biotechnology can not only be used to invent new fuels or medicines. It can also be used to make better beers. During Gothenburg Beer Week in April, Chalmers opened its lab to help professionals and hobby makers analyze their brews.

Joshua Mayers and Fábio Luis Da Silva Faria Oliveira are researchers in industrial biotechnology at the Department of Biology and Biotechnology at Chalmers. For one day during Gothenburg Beer Week, they collaborated with Chalmers as they, with their small company Crafts Lab, rented the university laboratory and invited brewers and beer makers to an event. For two hours, they talked about different brewing techniques, brewing science, yeast types, analyzed the participating brewer's own beer samples and responded to their questions.
– We had a nice sized group, around 30 people. The lab was a bit of squeeze so any more and it would have a bit cramped, but hopefully everyone got a chance to see what we were demonstrating or explaining, says Joshua Mayers.

How did you come up with this idea?
– Joshua and I have been brewing beer for a long time and we usually help each other and indulge in “beer-geekery”. While brewing there are lots of points where you’re sitting and waiting for things and we’ve had time to contemplate on the possibilities of combining our knowledge in microbiology and biotechnology with our beer interest, says Fábio Luis Da Silva Faria Oliveira.
– There are already a large number of good breweries in Sweden and on the west coast, but one thing we did see the potential for, was services that can help support this industry. We’re aware of beer analysis lab models from the renowned White Labs in the states, and they appear to be growing their business in this area, so we thought, why won’t this model work on the west coast of Sweden amongst all the great breweries we have here? he says. 

Were you able to answer all their questions?
– There were definitely a few tricky ones! We were expecting this, but still very difficult to prepare for everything. Beer and brewing is such a big field that we’re definitely both still learning a few things. I was expecting some questions about why we would want to analyse or monitor beers, but I think everyone present had a good grasp of the importance of beer quality and the role of quality control in making great products! says Joshua Mayers.

Which reactions and feedback did you get from the visitors?
– We’ve had such nice feedback; it really makes it feel worthwhile when you get it, especially when it comes from people whose beer you enjoy! We will hopefully run a similar event in the near future for those who missed it, so keep your eyes peeled, says Joshua Mayers.

Lisbeth Olsson is Head of Division and she’s please to see industrial biotechnology being used in this way.
– I think it's great that our research and knowledge is utilized this way, she says. The insight on the issues faced in the industry gives us a better understanding for what is important to gain an in-depth knowledge of.

And in the long term, Joshua Mayers and Fábio Luis Da Silva Faria Oliveira hope to be able to start some tailored research projects with some of the breweries, maybe if they have a specific problem or solve, or a process they want to start or improve. To really use their skill-sets in the design and execution of experiments to yield useful data.

Text: Helena Österling af Wåhlberg

Published: Fri 06 Apr 2018.