In 2017, 207.4 million barrels of beer were sold in the United States, according to the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. That is a serious amount of suds, but there is a lot more chemistry that goes into each pint than you may think. Thousands of different molecules make up the beers that we enjoy, which comes from hundreds of years of science and experimenting.
Sound smart at the bar with these four quick facts about the chemistry of beer in honor of St. Patrick’s Day:
- Beer is made up of four primary ingredients: malted barley, hops, yeast, and water which produce natural chemical reactions to create your favorite stout, ale, lager and, seemingly endless styles of beer.
- Malting raw barley is one of the most crucial processes for producing beer. This process allows partially germinated barley to convert starch into natural sugars. Once it is mixed with yeast, these sugars will ferment into alcohol.
- Various processing of “browning” barley are used to not only create the different flavor profiles of beer, but also give the beer its distinct colors. A French chemist Louis-Camille Maillard discovered this process named the Maillard reaction.
- For whiskey lovers, your favorite whiskey starts off with a similar process but likely contains different ingredients like corn, rye, or wheat. After the fermentation process produces what is known as mash. The alcohol is distilled to produce much higher levels of alcohol.
No matter what your beverage of choice is this St. Patrick’s Day, know that there is a lot of chemistry that goes into your favorite pint. If you choose to enjoy an adult beverage to celebrate the holiday, we encourage you do drink responsibly!