Beer has been around for millennia — some scientists even posit it predates organized bread baking, going back more than 6,000 years. There are beers today that use ancient ingredients that lost civilizations once prized, like Dogfish Head’s Birra Etrusca and Brasserie Dupont’s Posca Rustica, from Belgium. But only recently have scientists come to understand some of modern beer’s most powerful properties, and to use science to improve what some might say is already perfect.
Resistance is Futile
We know we love beer, but do we know exactly why? Recently, Smithsonian.com reported a study that showed how sips of beer can trigger of rush of chemicals in the brain associated with pleasure (dopamine, if you’re curious). In other words, it’s not alcohol that sends those happy neurotransmitters firing, it’s the mere taste of beer. Yep. We knew it. In the immortal words of Old School’s Frank Ricard, “It’s so good! Once it hits your lips, it’s so good!”
Don’t Lose Your Head
The looks of beer are more complex than one might imagine, too. Last fall, according to Popular Science, researchers mapped the gene in brewers’ yeast that can result in a lasting foam head. This came as a surprise to some, because conventional wisdom ties foam stability to barley malt. Ask any committed beer lover, though, and they’ll say foam is more than just agitated beer; it’s important both aesthetically and for the experience of drinking, from aroma to mouth feel. A beer’s foamy head is indicative of healthy yeast, a well-brewed beer, and a clean glass (always use a dry, spot-clean glass, by the way. Dirt, soap, and water droplets are big time head-killers).
Beer Barley: Smarter Than You
Also last fall, USDA scientists, working with researchers around the world, unlocked the barley genome, mapping its DNA after years of struggle. Turns out that barley, the world’s 4th most important cereal grain, has 32,000 genes, double that of corn (and humans, incidentally). The research should aid in combatting devastating disease susceptibility, reversing chronically low yields in certain strains, and upping nutritional levels. Oh, and hey, science? Good thing you finally figured that one out. No one wants to drink Franken-bier. Let’s keep those ingredients pure and natural, OK?
Do you know any surprising beer facts? Share them with us below.