The History And Future Of Beer Science

The History And Future Of Beer Science
Image: Carlsberg

Beer is old. Real old. We’re talking early-neolithic-period old.

And the technology used to brew it? It is constantly changing, evolving and influencing the world of science.

Bread making was the first fermentation technology invented, and beer making soon followed. This tradition influenced all other fermentation processes – not only in food making, but also in chemical production.

Technologies invented for improving the beer brewing process – such as refrigeration, pasteurization and isolation techniques for pure brewer’s yeast – are today found all over pharma and biotech factories.

In recent years, the focus has moved to sustainability – using less water, being more energy efficient and using less CO2.

Birgitte Skadhauge is Head of Carlsberg Research Laboratory.


Skadhauge points to Emil Christian Hansen’s method for culturing pure yeast – back in 1883 – as a significant advancement which changed the international brewing and yeast industry.

“This allowed the production of beer reproducibly at very high quality – without other yeast and wild microorganisms influencing the taste of the beer negatively,” Skadhauge told Gizmodo Australia. “He isolated the first pure brewer’s yeast, known as Saccharomyces carlsbergensis that revolutionised industrial beer production.”

Then came Johan Kjeldahl, who was Director of the Carlsberg Laboratory’s Department of Chemistry from 1876 to 1900. Kjeldahl developed a general method for quantifying nitrogen in organic compounds and raw materials, which became known as the Kjeldahl method.

Søren Peder Lauritz Sørensen took over as the lab’s director from 1901 to 1938. Sørensen introduced the concept of pH – specifying the level of acidity or alkalinity of a solution. Sørensen showed the significance of pH for chemical, biochemical reactions – including those involved in brewing.

Later, Kaj Ulrik Linderstrøm-Lang, a Danish protein scientist, produced ground-breaking knowledge on the chemistry of proteins – especially on proteolytic enzymes and the dynamic structures of proteins.

Øjvind Winge’s research led to the discovery of sexual reproduction by yeast cells.

“Today considered a a pioneer in yeast genetics, he was also passionate about the breeding of malting barley and hops,” Skadhauge explains, “like myself.”

Many more inventions followed in the following decades, Skadhauge told us. In the 70s, the concept of high gravity brewing was introduced, enabling breweries to produce more beer without growing in size. Barley and yeast breeding programs started in the 70s and 80s, respectively, and barley and yeast with novel traits for improving flavour and taste in beer were bred.

Beer Propduction

Modern beer science

“I have been conducting research since 1996 here at Carlsberg Research Laboratory, and the most significant research results in my time relate to the development of climate-tolerant barley and a pipeline of new null-LOX barley with new improved malting and brewing properties,” Skadhauge said.

“This gives beer greatly increased freshness, it ensures energy and water savings, beer clarity and a longer shelf-life and an improved, more stable foam.”

Last year the lab managed to brew a beer based on the world’s first pure yeast – extracted from an original living sample that survived 133 years in a Carlsberg bottle found in the brewery’s old cellars.

“To celebrate the 140th anniversary of the Carlsberg Research Laboratory, we rebrewed the world’s first quality lager in the most authentic manner, using the original pure yeast and the exact same recipe, ingredients and brewing techniques as in 1883,” Skadhauge explains.

Originally it was a science project funded by the Carlsberg Foundation, started with a genome sequence comparison of the original purified yeast strain stored in the lab’s yeast genebank with the yeast from the old bottle. The genome sequences gave perfect match.

“We were also very curious how the original yeast would perform, but the lager turned out so good and well tasting that Carlsberg launched it, the first new Carlsberg variant in Denmark for two decades, on the eve of its 170th anniversary.”

This year, in 2017, the lab published in Nature another ground-breaking result – the Barley Genome Sequence. This came 21 years after lab’s discovery of the Yeast Genome Sequence.

Genome sequencing aside, the lab is also moving forward with production refinement.

PET kegs – Draught Master – are increasing shelf life in bars due avoiding pickup of air. The system was created at the Laboratory as well and Skadhauge says it “is probably the greatest invention in draft beer since the steel keg was introduced 70-80 years ago”.

Pouring beer

So yes – beer has been around basically forever – but what does the future hold for beer brewing?

“The future will certainly bring even more diversity and innovation,” Skadhauge confirms. “Unlike wine and cider, which is based on a single ingredient, beer is much more diverse and allows many new products to be developed.”

Skadhauge says the most exciting job in the world is being a Brew Master.

“If you like beer, there is real revolution happening right now. New beer styles are popping out every day, old styles being rediscovered and exotic botanicals are used in many bottle,” Skadhauge enthused.

“And the beer-food paring movement getting stronger and stronger every minute. If you like beer, you are in for real treat now. If not, you should better learn to enjoy it or you will miss it big deal!”

Skadhauge wants people to remember that beer is a combination of the art of brewing with the science of brewing.

“This will help all of us to fully understand and appreciate the natural, but complex brewing process so we can responsibly enjoy beer,” Skadhauge says. “Craft is about the craftsmanship and the passion brew masters put into their beer every day. Brewing great beer is important to us today.”

“If we can improve the world of tomorrow at the same time, I think our founder would be proud of us.”