Join Quack Chats for a frothy talk on the chemistry of beer

A flight of beers

Water, hops, yeast and barley: Those are the four primary ingredients found in nearly every single beer.

Which begs the question: If most stouts and India pale ales and lagers are made from the same four fixings, then how does every beer taste so different?

It all boils down to chemistry, says the UO’s Jim Hutchison, who will deliver a free Quack Chats pub talk Wednesday, Nov. 14, on “The Secret Chemistry of Beer.”

“The ingredients in beer are almost always the same; what we’re tasting are chemicals produced during the brewing process,” Hutchison said. Which, he goes on, might sound shocking to most beer drinkers.

“How often does someone sip an IPA and think ‘Gee, these chemicals taste delicious,’? But, that’s what we’re all drinking when we enjoy a beer: a carefully crafted collection of chemicals.” 

Hutchison will explain more about this science of suds and how chemistry is in involved in the brewing process, from raw ingredients to pint glass.

“The brewing process is similar to conducting an orchestra,” Hutchison explained. “By changing the conditions, but using the same four ingredients, you can alter flavor.”

The talk begins at 6 p.m. at the Ax Billy Grill & Sports Bar at the Downtown Athletic Club, 999 Willamette St. in Eugene.

Hutchison will incorporate an experiential beer tasting into his talk. If audience members wish to partake in this option, they can purchase a flight of beer tasters from the Downtown Athletic Club. It is recommended to arrive early to do this before the talk begins.

“If you love the taste of beer or are fascinated by its history, you’ll likely appreciate learning more about the chemistry of beer,” Hutchison said.

This isn’t the first time he’s used a prevalent hobby or interest as a platform to help people better understand science. He’s also taught a popular class at the UO that delves into the chemistry of skiing and snow sports.

To learn more about upcoming Quack Chats, see the Quack Chats section on Around the O. A general description of Quack Chats and a calendar of additional Quack Chats and associated public events also can be found on the UO’s Quack Chats website.

Jim Hutchison is a UO expert in environmentally sustainable materials, products and energy development through the use of green chemistry. His nanoscience research has led to discoveries of new products for the consumer, microelectronics and energy sectors. He is an avid homebrewer.

By Emily Halnon, University Communications