Chemistry of Beer

Essay by melissa566B-, March 2003

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Out of the Blue? Chemistry of Beer

Annually, college students spend $5.5 billion on alcohol, mostly beer. This averages to $466 per year! As youth continue to spend insane sums of money on alcohol, the irony of it is that most young people do not know the least about the properties of alcohol. Beer, the most commonly consumed alcoholic beverage of minors [including young chemists]. Now this writer asks, with all this beer being consumed has the initiative ever been taken to enlighten others on the chemistry behind this enjoyed yet [stresses] dangerous intoxicant? Beer consists of three main chemical proportions: barley, hops and yeast [water is excluded]. It is through these three rudiments that an observation can be made that making beer involves a great deal of chemistry.

The first element to a good beer is Barley. Barley is the seed of a grain that looks a lot like wheat.

Before Barley can be used to make beer, it must be malted-- which involves a natural conversion process. A complex series of biochemical reactions must take place to convert barley to fermentable sugars, and to allow yeast to live and multiply, converting those sugars to alcohol. The barley also, needs to germinate in water for a week at the specific temperature of 21 degrees Celsius . When the husk (shell) begins to open and sprouts appear the barley is called green malt. The nutrients contained within the barley seed are an asset to the germination process. Enzymes are released which chemically change the polysaccharides (starches) within the plant into sugars . The way to perfect a brew is to stop germination of the barley at a point when the enzymes have reacted with most but not all polysaccharides, leaving some sugars [as to provide energy to the alcohol-making yeast].