The Most Important Ingredient in Brewing : The Enzymes!

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Posted at 11:00 • 25 June • J.D. Angell • Brewing Enzymes •
(Above picture is a 3D rotation of the enzymes Xylanase. The model is shown with its arabinoxylan substrate, just before it is cleaved. Xylanase is part of Ultraflo® Max, where it degrades the pentosans from the grain cell walls during the mashing. This reduces the viscosity of the solution and thereby increases the filtration rate of both wort and beer, and haze is avoided. © Novozymes A/S) 

Thank you for joining me into this exploration into enzymes. The purpose of creating this blog is to promote open discussion and exchange of information in regards to advanced and alternative brewing methods from an enzymatic perspective. We will explore the natural occurring products, processes and reactions, as well as the potential for further enhancing or controlling end results. In covering the general malting and brewing process, we will explain some complex concepts through simple examples, so grab a cold one and join the fun!

Enzymes (most often) are proteins formed by chains of amino acids. The bonds in these chains create a very unique shape, separating them from most other proteins. These unique shapes catalyze very specific biochemical reactions, without being reactive or “used up” themselves. Certain enzymes can increase chemical reactions by thousands of times per second. In the most basic sense, they are rapidly facilitating either a splitting of molecules, or a binding of molecules. This is done by lowering the activation energy of the specific reaction they facilitate. Simply put, enzymes make it easier for chemical reactions to take place.

Etymology of the word enzyme will tell us it is a Greek word first coined by German Physiologist Wilhelm Kuhne around 1877. The break-down translation could be considered as combining the words “within” and “leavened bread”. Another contextual description might be “in yeast”, as the purpose of his experiments was to study the “unorganised ferment from yeast and other organisms”. Basically scientists of the time wanted to know if ferments were caused by the yeast organism itself, or rather what was “in yeast”.

Wilhelm Kuhne, German physiologist, coined the word enzyme.

Testing of brewing enzymes, tested by simulating mashing on lab scale. (© Novozymes A/S)

Why do I care?

Because enzymes are the most important ingredient in brewing! Without them, you can’t make beer!

From the barley lifecycle to the degradation of packaged beer, enzymes are constantly at work helping and hurting us at the same time. They carry huge responsibility through every part of the malting and brewing process and understanding them is paramount to manipulating ideal results.

When you begin to explore advanced mashing techniques including high adjunct additions or cereal cooking, understanding the actions of enzymes is paramount to your success. Without proper consideration you may not achieve access to, or saccharification of, starch molecules, leading to poor efficiency and processing issues.

As you move on to fermentation, enzymes help the yeast work its magic. One example is the enzyme maltase, facilitating the split of two linked glucose molecules (maltose) into two individual glucose molecules. The yeast can then metabolize the glucose molecules to further the fermentation process.

Certain enzymes can increase chemical reactions by thousands of times per second. In the most basic sense, they are rapidly facilitating either a splitting of molecules, or a binding of molecules.

J.D. Angell - Head Brewer at White Street Brewing Co.

Years ago when I first got into brewing, the first and only real rule was “Don’t Stick The Mash”!

Sounds simple enough, right? Well, the current trending craft beer scene has brewers adding unusual ingredients of all types and pushing the limits of conventional mashing techniques. Lauter is often the most “sensitive” part of the wort producing process, and enzymes play a huge role in the end result.

We will explore some of the details surrounding ingredients such as wheat, oats, rye, and unmalted barley, and how they impact the conversion and extraction processes. We will get into the most influential enzymes in the brewing process and some theory on how to manipulate each of them for specific circumstances. To help relate the complex information, I will attempt to use real-world examples that hopefully inspire new ideas. In order to keep it fun and make it more interesting, we will also occasionally deviate outside the brewing realm and involve other foods as well. The goal is to offer techniques and ideas to maximize efficiency, minimize processing time, and hone flavor production. Propose your concerns or ideas and we will explore them together!

Next Up

In the next post we will examine pre-brewing enzymatic conditions and raw ingredient selection. This will open the door to adjunct and alternative ingredients, and attempt to explain the evolution of some traditional processing techniques. Specifics will include cell wall hydrolases and starch hydrolases and how they relate to recipe development. Bring your questions and unusual circumstances for further discussion!

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