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Roger Barth's Chemistry of Beer: Best Science Class Ever & New Book

by Danya Henninger on Dec 8, 2011 in Culture
Roger Barth's Chemistry of Beer: Best Science Class Ever & New Book

When he strolls around the campus of West Chester University, Professor Roger Barth is more readily recognized than many of his colleagues in the hard sciences. Even humanities majors are likely to wave in his direction, thanks to his brilliant brainstorm: teaching a college course on the chemistry of beer.

The class has been offered each year since 2009, with 60-75 students (most of them non-science majors) signing up to learn about the processes underlying one of the most popular beverages in America. As the subject matter is rather unorthodox, Dr. Barth had to create his own textbook for the seminar, The Chemistry of Beer, due to be released to the general public for the first time on December 13 (it’s available for pre-order on Amazon now).

Both science geeks and beer geeks alike will get a lot out of the multi-purpose book. Starting chapters cover the finer points of organic chemistry, a traditionally off-putting and dense topic that is lightened by constant references to its application in beer-making. Thousands of years ago, brewers were the first chemists, Barth points out. There is a real chemical basis for the fermented beverage we all know and love – though it seemed that way in days of old, turning water into beer or wine doesn’t usually happen by miracle – and it can be fascinating to explore. Many recent advances in measurement and scientific devices were driven by the desire to make better brews.

Later chapters will be of interest to homebrewers and beer afficionados, as Barth recounts differences in types of malts, yeasts, hops and the methods used to make these ingredients into the myriad of beer styles we are aware of today. What makes an ale an ale, a bock a bock or an ESB an ESB? It all comes down to chemistry, and a read through these sections can immediately elevate your understanding of your drinking choices each weekend.

A ton of research and effort went into the creation of the book, because beer culture is rife with myths and legends handed down through generations of lore and these had to be sorted from the hard facts and history. A homebrewer and avid beer drinker himself, the author enjoyed the work, just as he enjoys the yearly class trip to an area brewery (in the past, it has been to Victory; this year he’ll take his students on a tour of Sly Fox).

Dr. Barth will be speaking at this Saturday’s Valley Forge Beer Fest, giving you another reason (in addition to over 100 beers to sample) to make your way to King of Prussia this weekend (snag tickets here).

Additionally, we have a sneak-preview copy of the easy-reading, 225-pg. book to give away. Do you want to know more about the molecules that make up your beer? Tell us why you deserve the book (a $55 value!) in the comments below, and we’ll choose a lucky winner on Friday at 2 pm.

UPDATE: Thanks for all the fun comments! The winner of the sneak preview book is homebrewer Rya LaB, because, although the book is not a homebrew guide, it will definitely come in handy when he opens his brewery (fact: there's a lot of chemistry and math that goes into beermaking). Congrats!
 

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