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Maria Gill
Maria Gill
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Like cooking, beer brewing can be considered an art or a series of chemical reactions. Far from being opposing, these two aspects are often combined by brewers: they play with science to produce better quality beer, avoid excessive differences in taste, or on the contrary explore new palettes of flavours.

Posted at 12:00 AM

Chloe Burkin

Chloe Burkin
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Cereals, water, yeasts and hops. The ingredients for a beer recipe seem very simple at first glance. “In order for it to taste like beer and look like beer, each ingredient has to be chosen carefully,” says Mario Jolicour, a professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Montreal Polytechnic, who has been teaching an engineering course there for nearly 10 years.


Mario Jolicor, a professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the Montreal Polytechnic, grows hops in private.

For example, water contains certain minerals that affect the chemical reactions that occur during fermentation. There are also a variety of cereals that can be used (barley, wheat, oats, etc.), the germination of which is stopped at a rather early stage, to give different barley. “We can play with the humidity and drying temperature of the barley to go from a very pale grain to a toasted one, with shades of chocolate and coffee…” explains Mario Golicor.

Photo by Alain Roberge, Press Archives

Of all colors and all flavors

What about jumps? “We add it at the beginning or end of the boil to play with the bitterness, but also to give it a botanical or floral character. In this way, the properties of the beer are built by adding flavors “, the professor defines. Yeasts are essential for fermentation, and they also make it possible to develop specific aromas. We can use many yeasts, and even some bacteria to produce lactic acid and acidify beer; This is especially the case for sour beer,” explains Mario Golicor.



Strict quality control

Once the ingredients are chosen, we get to the heart of the matter: fermentation. It is therefore a matter of moving forward rigorously. “A small mistake at the beginning of the process can lead to a very large skew in taste at the end,” notes Mario Golicor.

To avoid such a situation, “we check the temperature and duration of each step, as well as the acidity and density of the liquid, in order to specifically predict the final alcohol percentage,” explains Mike Doucet, a researcher within the New Brunswick Community College’s Applied Research and Innovation Network.

Some microbreweries invite outside laboratories, such as Mike Doucet’s, to support them in preparing a new recipe or in adopting good practices. Others have chosen to push the scientific side even further: Microbrewery Grimross, set up in New Brunswick, for example, has set up a lab on its premises, in order to test samples of beer produced there every week.

Photo provided by Ashley Walsh

Devin Kearney, Quality Control Technician, in his lab

“We check the alcohol level, carbonation and oxygen levels, bitterness, color, clarity…,” enumerates Devin Kearney, technician in quality control at Grimross. “We want to make sure that customers have the same experience every time they open one of our beers.”

Microbreweries in Quebec by the numbers

  • 302 brewing companies were set up in Quebec in May 2022
  • 57% of them were created between 2015 and 2022
  • 34% of them are located in cities with less than 10,000 inhabitants

Source: Association of Micro Breweries of Quebec

Science and delicious playground

It is also possible to manipulate all this basic science to invent and explore new palettes of flavors. “In small breweries, we try to surprise the consumer. Then the chemists try to identify the compound responsible for this or that flavor, and they advise brewers to constantly invent new recipes,” says Professor Dale Wood. The latter created a degree in brewing science at Bishop University, in Sherbrooke, to train dozens of students each year in the ingredients, processes, and analysis methods of beer brewing.

Photo provided by Dale Wood

beer brewing

“When you use the right ingredients and do it right, it becomes hard to miss a beer. If a beer is not bad, you will find its audience, because there are always people who like unfamiliar beers, whether they are very bitter, very floral or even tasteless.

Towards a 100% local beer?

The researchers are also helping brewers replace certain ingredients imported from the West with Quebec-grown barley or cannabis, to switch to 100% local beer.

Photo provided by FULLHOUSE

Mike Doucet

Upstream, Quebec producers are working with scientists to meet the needs of breweries. “We don’t have the same climate or the same type of soil in Quebec as we do on the West Coast, so the taste of hops, for example, can vary if it’s grown here,” says Dale Wood. We can then perform analyzes and advise producers on minerals to add to their soil. »

Each microbrewery has its own recipes, know-how, but also its own ingredients (local or imported), which explains the great variety in Quebec beer. “I often encourage people to travel through Quebec and go to small towns to sample the local beer. This is where you find really unique and interesting products,” says the professor.

Barley production and jumping in numbers

2.5 million hectares

A barley-producing region in western Canada

46500 hectares

Barley production area in Quebec

230 tons

Leap production in Canada

From 65 to 80 tons

Leap production in Quebec

Source: Reference Center for Agriculture and Agri-Food of Quebec

Chloe Burquin, article author and freelance journalist at JournalismHe is a PhD student at the Polytechnic of Montreal. It has no connection or association with Mario Jolicor, the professor at Montreal Polytechnic mentioned in this article.

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