Science dept. is brewing up a class of cold beer

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HEAD OF THE CLASS –SWC science professors will partner with The Homebrew to create new beer brewing class. Photo by Eric Gonzalez

Southwestern College’s biology and chemistry departments are brewing up a new class about the science of making beer.

Students do not even have to be a science major or 21 to join.

Introduction to Fermentation will debut next spring. It will take an interdisciplinary approach to the process involved in beer, liquor and wine making.

Chemistry professor Dr. David Hecht will partner up with biology professor Dr. Charlie Hoyt on a class featuring a mini but mighty microorganism.

“We will be using yeast as a model to teach biology,” said Hoyt.

Yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) is the unicellular fungus that gobbles up sugar and spits out the boozy biological byproduct ethyl alcohol.

Anthropologists theorize that the world’s very first alcoholic beverages were fermented and served up as early as 11,000 years ago. Alcohol residues were discovered in the pottery of the Jiahu, a Neolithic Village in modern day China. Since 9,000 B.C., the bewitching elixir has been the life of the party.

Intro to Fermentation will explore the biological processes, as well as the impact the discovery of fermentation has had on humanity.

“Our class is going to give a little bit of the history, the sociology and anthropology of beer, brewing and culture,” Hecht said.  “We’ll also talk about the chemistry and the biology and the biochemistry involved in the processes.”

Hoyt and Hecht said they hope the class will ferment new interest in science. They are already planning a lab component to complement the lecture.

Hoyt said they are partnering with George Thornton, owner of The Homebrew, a resource center for beer makers located in North Park, to secure state-of-the-art brewing equipment in the new cell biology lab.

“The class will be broken up into groups and they will research the different types of beer that they want to brew,” Hecht said. “They have to come up with the recipes and the protocol and then the class as a whole will decide which is the best plan and will actually brew it.”

Hoyt and Hecht said they hope the class will some day serve as an alternative to the general education requirement for biology or chemistry. A new lab is in the plans for the Math, Science and Engineering building, currently under construction.

“We have a space (in the cell biology lab) and we’re going to set up a small brewery there,” said Hoyt.

Beer and fermentation enthusiasts already have a campus club.

Biologist Research Effervesce and Wort (B.R.E.W.) Club President Kevin Morrill said students of all majors are welcome.

“Our club is open to everybody, which is a good thing, but also being a science club, it also discourages people,” he said. “The real challenge is trying to get students involved with fermentation science, which is not a difficult science.”

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