Historic Beer Birthday: Eduard Buchner

Today is the birthday of Eduard Buchner (May 20, 1860-August 13, 1917). Buchner was a German chemist and zymologist, and was awarded with Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1907 for his work on fermentation.


This is a short biography from The Famous People:

Born into an educationally distinguished family, Buchner lost his father when he was barely eleven years old. His elder brother, Hans Buchner, helped him to get good education. However, financial crisis forced Eduard to give up his studies for a temporary phase and he spent this period working in preserving and canning factory. Later, he resumed his education under well-known scientists and very soon received his doctorate degree. He then began working on chemical fermentation. However, his experience at the canning factory did not really go waste. Many years later while working with his brother at the Hygiene Institute at Munich he remembered how juices were preserved by adding sugar to it and so to preserve the protein extract from the yeast cells, he added a concentrated doze of sucrose to it. What followed is history. Sugar in the presence of enzymes in the yeast broke into carbon dioxide and alcohol. Later he identified the enzyme as zymase. This chance discovery not only brought him Nobel Prize in Chemistry, but also brought about a revolution in the field of biochemistry.


Eduard Buchner is best remembered for his discovery of zymase, an enzyme mixture that promotes cell free fermentation. However, it was a chance discovery. He was then working in his brother’s laboratory in Munich trying to produce yeast cell free extracts, which the latter wanted to use in an application for immunology.

To preserve the protein in the yeast cells, Eduard Buchner added concentrated sucrose to it. Bubbles began to form soon enough. He realized that presence of enzymes in the yeast has broken down sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Later, he identified this enzyme as zymase and showed that it can be extracted from yeast cells. This single discovery laid the foundation of modern biochemistry.


One of the most important aspects of his discovery proving that extracts from yeast cells could elicit fermentation is that it “contradicted a claim by Louis Pasteur that fermentation was an ‘expression of life’ and could occur only in living cells. Pasteur’s claim had put a decades-long brake on progress in fermentation research, according to an introductory speech at Buchner’s Nobel presentation. With Buchner’s results, “hitherto inaccessible territories have now been brought into the field of chemical research, and vast new prospects have been opened up to chemical science.”

In his studies, Buchner gathered liquid from crushed yeast cells. Then he demonstrated that components of the liquid, which he referred to as “zymases,” could independently produce alcohol in the presence of sugar. “Careful investigations have shown that the formation of carbon dioxide is accompanied by that of alcohol, and indeed in just the same proportions as in fermentation with live yeast,” Buchner noted in his Nobel speech.


This is a fuller biography from the Nobel Prize organization:

Eduard Buchner was born in Munich on May 20, 1860, the son of Dr. Ernst Buchner, Professor Extraordinary of Forensic Medicine and physician at the University, and Friederike née Martin.

He was originally destined for a commercial career but, after the early death of his father in 1872, his older brother Hans, ten years his senior, made it possible for him to take a more general education. He matriculated at the Grammar School in his birth-place and after a short period of study at the Munich Polytechnic in the chemical laboratory of E. Erlenmeyer senior, he started work in a preserve and canning factory, with which he later moved to Mombach on Mainz.

The problems of chemistry had greatly attracted him at the Polytechnic and in 1884 he turned afresh to new studies in pure science, mainly in chemistry with Adolf von Baeyer and in botany with Professor C. von Naegeli at the Botanic Institute, Munich.

It was at the latter, where he studied under the special supervision of his brother Hans (who later became well-known as a bacteriologist), that his first publication, Der Einfluss des Sauerstoffs auf Gärungen (The influence of oxygen on fermentations) saw the light in 1885. In the course of his research in organic chemistry he received special assistance and stimulation from T. Curtius and H. von Pechmann, who were assistants in the laboratory in those days.

The Lamont Scholarship awarded by the Philosophical Faculty for three years made it possible for him to continue his studies.

After one term in Erlangen in the laboratory of Otto Fischer, where meanwhile Curtius had been appointed director of the analytical department, he took his doctor’s degree in the University of Munich in 1888. The following year saw his appointment as Assistant Lecturer in the organic laboratory of A. von Baeyer, and in 1891 Lecturer at the University.

By means of a special monetary grant from von Baeyer, it was possible for Buchner to establish a small laboratory for the chemistry of fermentation and to give lectures and perform experiments on chemical fermentations. In 1893 the first experiments were made on the rupture of yeast cells; but because the Board of the Laboratory was of the opinion that “nothing will be achieved by this” – the grinding of the yeast cells had already been described during the past 40 years, which latter statement was confirmed by accurate study of the literature – the studies on the contents of yeast cells were set aside for three years.

In the autumn of 1893 Buchner took over the supervision of the analytical department in T. Curtius’ laboratory in the University of Kiel and established himself there, being granted the title of Professor in 1895.

In 1896 he was called as Professor Extraordinary for Analytical and Pharmaceutical Chemistry in the chemical laboratory of H. von Pechmann at the University of Tübingen.

During the autumn vacation in the same year his researches into the contents of the yeast cell were successfully recommenced in the Hygienic Institute in Munich, where his brother was on the Board of Directors. He was now able to work on a larger scale as the necessary facilities and funds were available.

On January 9, 1897, it was possible to send his first paper, Über alkoholische Gärung ohne Hefezellen (On alcoholic fermentation without yeast cells), to the editors of the Berichte der Deutschen Chemischen Gesellschaft.

In October, 1898, he was appointed to the Chair of General Chemistry in the Agricultural College in Berlin and he also held lectureships on agricultural chemistry and agricultural chemical experiments as well as on the fermentation questions of the sugar industry. In order to obtain adequate assistance for scientific research, and to be able to fully train his assistants himself, he became habilitated at the University of Berlin in 1900.

In 1909 he was transferred to the University of Breslau and from there, in 1911, to Würzburg. The results of Buchner’s discoveries on the alcoholic fermentation of sugar were set forth in the book Die Zymasegärung (Zymosis), 1903, in collaboration with his brother Professor Hans Buchner and Martin Hahn. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1907 for his biochemical investigations and his discovery of non-cellular fermentation.

Buchner married Lotte Stahl in 1900. When serving as a major in a field hospital at Folkschani in Roumania, he was wounded on August 3, 1917. Of these wounds received in action at the front, he died on the 13th of the same month.


Historic Beer Birthday: Emil Christian Hansen

Today is the birthday of Emil Christian Hansen (May 8, 1842-August 27, 1909). Hansen was a “Danish botanist who revolutionized beer-making through development of new ways to culture yeast. Born poor in Ribe, Denmark, he financed his education by writing novels. Though he never reached an M.Sc., in 1876, he received a gold medal for an essay on fungi, entitled “De danske Gjødningssvampe.” In 1879, he became superintendent of the Carlsberg breweries. In 1883, he successfully developed a cultivated yeast that revolutionized beer-making around the world, because Hansen by refusing to patent his method made it freely available to other brewers. He also proved there are different species of yeast. Hansen separated two species: Saccharomyces cerevisiae, an over-yeast (floating on the surface of the fermenting beer) and Saccharomyces carlsbergensis, an under-yeast (laying on the bottom of the liquid).


Here’s his entry from Encyclopedia Britannica:

Danish botanist who revolutionized the brewing industry by his discovery of a new method of cultivating pure strains of yeast.

Hansen, who began his working life as a journeyman house painter, received a Ph.D. in 1877 from the University of Copenhagen. Two years later he was appointed head of the physiology department at the Carlsberg Laboratory in Copenhagen, where he remained until his death. His research was concerned mainly with yeasts that convert carbohydrates to alcohol, and in 1888 he published an article that described his method for obtaining pure cultures of yeast. The yeast grown from these single strains was widely adopted in the bottom-fermentation brewing industries. Further investigations led him to the discovery of a number of species of yeast. He defined the characters of the different species and devised a system of classification. After further study he devised additional methods for the culture and isolation of certain species.

Emil Hansen as a young man.

This is how Carlsberg describes Hansen’s breakthrough in 1883:

The Carlsberg Laboratory made its first major scientific breakthrough when Dr. Emil Chr. Hansen developed a method for propagating pure yeast.

Fluctuations in the beer quality were not unknown at the time, but had until then been solved by thorough cleaning of all installations after suspension of production. If a brew failed, there was no use in pasteurising it; it had to be destroyed.

In 1883, the Old Carlsberg beer got infected with the beer disease and all efforts were made to find a solution to the problem.

Dr. Emil Chr. Hansen who joined the Carlsberg Laboratory in 1878 was examining the beer, and he found that it contained wild yeast. Through his studies and analyses, he discovered that only a few types of yeast (the pure yeast) are suitable for brewing, and he developed a technique to separate the pure yeast from the wild yeast cells. The problem had been solved, and the new Carlsberg yeast – Saccharomyces Carlsbergensis – was applied in the brewing process.

The propagating method revolutionised the brewing industry. Rather than to patent the process, Carlsberg published it with a detailed explanation so that anyone could build propagation equipment and use the method. Samples of the yeast – Saccharomyces Carlsbergensis – were sent to breweries around the world by request and young brewers came to Carlsberg to learn the skills.


This is the entry from Wikipedia on the history of Saccharomyces Carlsbergensis:

So-called bottom fermenting strains of brewing yeast were described as early as the 14th century in Nuremberg and have remained an indispensable part of both Franconian and Bavarian brewing culture in southern Germany through modern times. During the explosion of scientific mycological studies in the 19th century, the yeast responsible for producing these so-called “bottom fermentations” was finally given a taxonomical classification, Saccharomyces pastorianus, by the German Max Reess in 1870.

In 1883 the Dane Emil Hansen published the findings of his research at the Carlsberg brewery in Copenhagen and described the isolation of a favourable pure yeast culture that he labeled “Unterhefe Nr. I” (bottom-fermenting yeast no. 1), a culture that he identified as identical to the sample originally donated to Carlsberg in 1845 by the Spaten Brewery of Munich. This yeast soon went into industrial production in Copenhagen in 1884 as Carlberg yeast no. 1.

In 1904 Hansen published an important body of work where he reclassified the separate yeasts he worked with in terms of species, rather than as races or strains of the same species as he had previously done. Here Hansen classified a separate species of yeast isolated from the Carlsberg brewery as S. pastorianus, a name derived from and attributed to Reess 1870. This strain was admitted to the Centraalbureau voor Schimmelcultures (CBS) in 1935 as strain CBS 1538, Saccharomyces pastorianus Reess ex Hansen 1904. In a further publication in 1908, Hansen reclassified the original “Unterhefe Nr. I” as the new species Saccharomyces carlsbergensis and another yeast “Unterhefe Nr. II” as the new species Saccharomyces monacensis. The taxonomy was attributed to Hansen 1908 and the yeasts entered into the Centraalbureau voor Schimmelcultures in 1947 as CBS 1513 and CBS 1503 respectively.

Since the early 1900s, bottom-fermenting strains of brewery yeast have been typically classified as S. carlbergensis in scientific literature, and the earlier valid name assigned to a bottom-fermenting yeast by Reess in 1870 was rejected without merit. This situation was rectified using DNA-DNA reallocation techniques in 1985 when Vaughan-Martini & Kurtzman returned the species name to S. pastorianus under the type strain CBS 1538 and relegated the two former species assigned by Hansen in 1908, S. carlsbergensis CBS 1513 and S. monacensis CBS 1503, to the status of synonyms. These experiments also clearly revealed the hybrid nature of the lager brewing yeast species for the first time, even though one of the parental species was incorrectly classified in retrospect. Nonetheless, over the last decades of the 20th century, debate continued in scientific literature regarding the correct taxon, with authors using both names interchangeably to describe lager yeast.


Although most accounts mention that he wrote novels to put himself through school, one has a slightly different take, though I’m not sure how true it is. “Emil earned his bread and butter as a painter but he yearned for another life and left Ribe so he could study. He graduated from High School relatively late – he was 29 years old.”


Emil Christian Hansen, taken in 1908, a year before his death.

Historic Beer Birthday: Anton Schwarz

Today is the birthday of Anton Schwarz (February 2, 1839-September 24, 1895). In addition to having studied law, he also became a chemist and worked for several breweries in Budapest, before moving to the U.S. in 1868. Moving to New York, he got a job working for the magazine/journal American Brewer, which at the time was more like the People magazine of the brewing industry. He was quickly promoted to editor, eventually buying the publication. He turned it into a serious scientific journal, writing many of the articles himself, but is credited with helping the entire industry improve its standards and processes.


Here’s his entry from the Jewish Encyclopedia, published in 1906.

Austrian chemist; born at Polna, Bohemia, Feb. 2, 1839; died at New York city Sept. 24, 1895. He was educated at the University of Vienna, where he studied law for two years, and at the Polytechnicum, Prague, where he studied chemistry. Graduating in 1861, he went to Budapest, and was there employed at several breweries. In 1868 he emigrated to the United States and settled in New York city. The following year he was employed on “Der Amerikanische Bierbrauer” (“The American Brewer”) and soon afterward became its editor. A few years later he bought the publication, remaining its editor until his death. He did much to improve the processes of brewing in the United States, and in 1880 founded in New York city the Brewers’ Academy of the United States.

Schwarz’s eldest son, Max Schwarz (b. in Budapest July 29, 1863; d. in New York city Feb. 7, 1901), succeeded him as editor of “The American Brewer” and principal of the Brewers’ Academy. He studied at the universities of Erlangen and Breslau and at the Polytechnic High School at Dresden. In 1880 he followed his father to the United States and became associated with him in many of his undertakings.

Both as editor and as principal of the academy he was very successful. Many of the essays in “The American Brewer,” especially those on chemistry, were written by him. He was a great advocate of the “pure beer” question in America.


When the United States Brewers’ Academy celebrated its 25th anniversary, in 1913, there was a ball where several alumni gave speeches and toasts, mentioning Schwarz’ contributions, including this from Gallus Thomann from Germany:


He also co-wrote the Theory and Practice of the Preparation of Malt and the Fabrication of Beer


Beer Advocate also has a nice story of Schwarz, entitled the O.G. Beer Geek.


Historic Beer Birthday: James Watt

Today is the birthday of James Watt, not the BrewDog co-founder, but the “Scottish inventor, mechanical engineer, and chemist who improved on Thomas Newcomen’s 1712 Newcomen steam engine with his Watt steam engine in 1781, which was fundamental to the changes brought by the Industrial Revolution in both his native Great Britain and the rest of the world.

While working as an instrument maker at the University of Glasgow, Watt became interested in the technology of steam engines. He realised that contemporary engine designs wasted a great deal of energy by repeatedly cooling and reheating the cylinder. Watt introduced a design enhancement, the separate condenser, which avoided this waste of energy and radically improved the power, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness of steam engines. Eventually he adapted his engine to produce rotary motion, greatly broadening its use beyond pumping water.

Watt attempted to commercialise his invention, but experienced great financial difficulties until he entered a partnership with Matthew Boulton in 1775. The new firm of Boulton and Watt was eventually highly successful and Watt became a wealthy man. In his retirement, Watt continued to develop new inventions though none was as significant as his steam engine work. He died in 1819 aged 83.

He developed the concept of horsepower, and the SI unit of power, the watt, was named after him.”

186a,James Watt
A portrait of James Watt, by Carl Frederik von Breda, completed in 1792.

Of course, from our perspective his most important contribution was to the industrial revolution, and specifically the improvement of brewery efficiency. While Watt did not invent the steam engine, his improvements made it practical, especially in breweries.

The Watt Steam Engine

The Watt steam engine (alternatively known as the Boulton and Watt steam engine) was the first type of steam engine to make use of a separate condenser. It was a vacuum or “atmospheric” engine using steam at a pressure just above atmospheric to create a partial vacuum beneath the piston. The difference between atmospheric pressure above the piston and the partial vacuum below drove the piston down the cylinder. James Watt avoided the use of high pressure steam because of safety concerns. Watt’s design became synonymous with steam engines, due in no small part to his business partner, Matthew Boulton.

The Watt steam engine, developed sporadically from 1763 to 1775, was an improvement on the design of the Newcomen engine and was a key point in the Industrial Revolution.

Watt’s two most important improvements were the separate condenser and rotary motion. The separate condenser, located external to the cylinder, condensed steam without cooling the piston and cylinder walls as did the internal spray in Newcomen’s engine. Watt’s engine’s efficiency was more than double that of the Newcomen engine. Rotary motion was more suitable for industrial power than the oscillating beam of Newcomen’s engine.


Watt’s most famous steam engine was the one installed at the Whitbread Brewery in 1785, which was known as the Whitbread Engine. Today it’s located in the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, Australia.

The Whitbread Engine

The Whitbread Engine preserved in the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, Australia, built in 1785, is one of the first rotative steam engines ever built, and is the oldest surviving. A rotative engine is a type of beam engine where the reciprocating motion of the beam is converted to rotary motion, producing a continuous power source suitable for driving machinery.

This engine was designed by the mechanical engineer James Watt, manufactured for the firm Boulton and Watt and originally installed in the Whitbread brewery in London, England. On decommissioning in 1887 it was sent to Australia’s Powerhouse Museum (then known as the Technological, Industrial and Sanitary Museum) and has since been restored to full working order.

Installation of the Watt Steam Engine at Whitbread.

History of the Whitbread Engine

The engine was ordered by Samuel Whitbread in 1784 to replace a horse wheel at the Chiswell Street premises of his London brewery. It was installed in 1785, the second steam engine to be installed in a brewery, and enabled Whitbread to become the largest brewer in Britain. The horse wheel was retained for many years, serving as a backup in case the steam engine broke down. The drive gear of the engine, still evident today, was connected to a series of wooden line shafts which drove machinery within the brewery. Connected machinery included rollers to crush malt; an Archimedes’ screw, that lifted the crushed malt into a hopper; a hoist, for lifting items into the building; a three-piston pump, for pumping beer; and a stirrer within a vat. There was also a reciprocating pump connected to the engine’s beam, used to pump water from a well to a tank on the roof of the brewery.

In a marketing coup for both the brewer and the engine’s manufacturer, King George III and Queen Charlotte visited the brewery on 24 May 1787. The engine remained in service for 102 years, until 1887.

The engine made its way to the Powerhouse Museum (then known as the Technological, Industrial and Sanitary Museum) through Archibald Liversidge, an English-born chemist, scientist and academic at the University of Sydney, who was a trustee of the museum. Liversidge was in London in 1887, at the time of the engine’s decommissioning, and when he heard that the engine was to be scrapped he asked whether it could be donated to the museum. Whitbread & Co agreed on condition that the engine be set up and used for educational purposes.

Subsequently, the engine was dismantled and shipped to Sydney on the sailing ship Patriarch. For shipping purposes, the large flywheel was divided into two halves. While the flywheel’s rim could be unbolted, the hub with attached spokes had to be drilled through and rejoined after shipping. A shortage of funds meant the engine was kept in storage for several years. Eventually the engine was erected in its own engine house, behind the main building at the museum’s old Harris Street premises. During the 1920s or 1930s, an electric motor was added so that people could see the engine in motion. During the 1980s the Technology Restoration Society was formed in order to raise funds for the engine’s restoration. Restoration took place at the Museum’s Castle Hill site. During the restoration, some parts – including the piston – were replaced to preserve the original parts. The engine, restored to steaming condition, was installed in the new Powerhouse Museum in 1988. Today the engine is sometimes operated as part of the Museum’s Steam Revolution exhibition, steam being provided by the Museum’s central boiler.


Technical specifications

The engine has a 0.64 metres (25 in) diameter piston with a 1.8 metres (6 ft) long stroke, driven by a mean effective pressure of 70 kilopascals (10 psi). Its top speed is 20 revolutions per minute (rpm) of the flywheel. In the engine’s youth, it had a maximum power output of approximately 26 kilowatts (35 hp).[It underwent a series of alterations in 1795, converting it from single-acting to double-acting; it was alleged at the time that this conversion improved its power to 52 kilowatts (70 hp), but the Powerhouse Museum claims this is false. A centrifugal governor, which moderates the level of steam provided if the engine begins to overload was added some years after this, and beam and main driving rod, both originally of wood, were replaced in sand-cast iron.


Apart from its age, the engine is notable in that it embodies the four innovations which made Boulton & Watt’s engines a significant driver of the Industrial Revolution. The first is a separate condenser, which increases the efficiency of the engine by allowing the main cylinder to remain hot at all times. The second is the parallel motion, which converts the up-and-down motion of the piston into the arcing motion of the beam, whilst maintaining a rigid connection. The rigid connection allowed the engine to be double-acting, meaning the piston could push as well as pull the beam. Third is the centrifugal governor, used to automatically regulate the speed of the engine. Finally the sun and planet gear convert the reciprocating motion of the beam into a rotating motion, which can be used to drive rotating machinery.

There’s also another Boulton & Watt engine at the National Museum of Scotland. It “was built in 1786 to pump water for the Barclay & Perkins Brewery in Southwark, London. Made double-acting in 1796, it was then capable of grinding barley and pumping water. At that time, no one else could supply a steam engine that performed both these actions at once. With some minor modifications, it remained in service at the brewery until 1884.”


And this is more from the National Museum of Scotland:

James Watt (1736-1819) was a prolific inventor, surveyor, instrument maker and engineer. His engines dramatically increased the power that could be generated through steam.

By entering into partnership with the Birmingham magnate Matthew Boulton in 1774, James Watt was able to channel the vast resource of Boulton’s Soho Foundry. Their partnership was so successful that the Boulton & Watt firm supplied engines and expertise to countries as far a field as Russia and Greece.

After pumping water and grinding barley for almost eighty-seven years, the engine came out of service in 1883.

You can see a diagram of the engine in action here:

Watt’s Steam Engine


Inside the Engine


Lighting the Fire


Running the Engine


If you want to read more in-depth about Watt’s development of the steam engine, Chapter III of “The Development of the Modern Steam-Engine: James Watt and His Contemporaries” is online, and there’s also various links at Watt’s page at the Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame.


Historic Beer Birthday: Louis Pasteur

Today is the birthday of Louis Pasteur (December 27, 1822–September 28, 1895). He “was a French chemist and microbiologist renowned for his discoveries of the principles of vaccination, microbial fermentation and pasteurization. He is remembered for his remarkable breakthroughs in the causes and preventions of diseases, and his discoveries have saved countless lives ever since. He reduced mortality from puerperal fever, and created the first vaccines for rabies and anthrax. His medical discoveries provided direct support for the germ theory of disease and its application in clinical medicine. He is best known to the general public for his invention of the technique of treating milk and wine to stop bacterial contamination, a process now called pasteurization. He is regarded as one of the three main founders of bacteriology, together with Ferdinand Cohn and Robert Koch, and is popularly known as the ‘father of microbiology.'”

Portrait of Louis Pasteur

But, of course, for the brewing industry, he’s best remembered for his “Studies on Fermentation,” which he published in 1876.

In 1876, Louis Pasteur published his ground-breaking volume, Études sur la Bière, soon translated into English as Studies On Fermentation. The book changed the course of brewing during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, representing a huge leap forward in the scientific understanding of the processes involved in beermaking. Brewers around the globe put Pasteur’s findings to work in their breweries, and thus plunged the industry headlong into the modern era.

In tribute to Pasteur’s tremendous contributions to brewing science, BeerBooks.com has reprinted Studies On Fermentation exactly as it appeared when first released in English, complete with all of Pasteur’s illustrations. An original 1879 edition was digitally scanned, professionally enhanced and reproduced in a hard cover format.

In his preface, Pasteur modestly wrote, “I need not hazard any prediction concerning the advantages likely to accrue to the brewing industry from the adoption of such a process of brewing as my study of the subject has enabled me to devise, and from an application of the novel facts upon which this process is founded. Time is the best appraiser of scientific work, and I am not unaware that an industrial discovery rarely produces all its fruits in the hands of its first inventor.”

But, of course, the brewing industry recognized almost immediately the impact that Pasteur’s work would have on the art and science of beermaking. Frank Faulkner, the British brewing scholar who performed the English translation, wrote, “Seeing the vast importance of Pasteur’s work from a practical point of view, after writing a review of it for the Brewers’ Journal, I determined to procure, at any rate for the use of my own pupils, a literal translation, illustrated by photo-lithographic copies of the original plates…It was on the completion of this translation that my views and desires expanded. The more I studied the work, the more I was convinced of its immense value to the brewer as affording him an intelligent knowledge of the processes and materials with which he deals…I determined accordingly to publish the work if I could secure the consent of its distinguished author…The debt which we English brewers owe to M[r]. Pasteur can hardly be over-estimated.”

While I’m sure there are probably many more, he had patents I highlighted last year, Patent No. 135245A: Improvement in Brewing Beer and Ale from 1873, and Patent No. 141072A: Manufacture of Beer and Yeast, in the same year.

A portrait of Louis Pasteur painted by Swedish-speaking Finnish artist Albert Edelfelt, in 1886.

Fermentation and germ theory of diseases

Pasteur demonstrated that fermentation is caused by the growth of micro-organisms, and the emergent growth of bacteria in nutrient broths is due not to spontaneous generation, but rather to biogenesis (Omne vivum ex vivo “all life from life”). He was motivated to investigate the matter while working at Lille. In 1856 a local wine manufacturer, M. Bigot, the father of his student, sought for his advice on the problems of making beetroot alcohol and souring after long storage. In 1857 he developed his ideas stating that: “I intend to establish that, just as there is an alcoholic ferment, the yeast of beer, which is found everywhere that sugar is decomposed into alcohol and carbonic acid, so also there is a particular ferment, a lactic yeast, always present when sugar becomes lactic acid.” According to his son-in-law, Pasteur presented his experiment on sour milk titled “Latate Fermentation” in August 1857 before the Société des Sciences de Lille. (But according to a memoire subsequently published, it was dated November 30, 1857). It was published in full form in 1858. He demonstrated that yeast was responsible for fermentation to produce alcohol from sugar, and that air (oxygen) was not required. He also demonstrated that fermentation could also produce lactic acid (due to bacterial contamination), which makes wines sour. This is regarded as the foundation of Pasteur’s fermentation experiment and disprove of spontaneous generation of life.


Pasteur’s research also showed that the growth of micro-organisms was responsible for spoiling beverages, such as beer, wine and milk. With this established, he invented a process in which liquids such as milk were heated to a temperature between 60 and 100 °C. This killed most bacteria and moulds already present within them. Pasteur and Claude Bernard completed the first test on April 20, 1862. Pasteur patented the process, to fight the “diseases” of wine, in 1865. The method became known as pasteurization, and was soon applied to beer and milk.

Beverage contamination led Pasteur to the idea that micro-organisms infecting animals and humans cause disease. He proposed preventing the entry of micro-organisms into the human body, leading Joseph Lister to develop antiseptic methods in surgery. Lister’s work in turn inspired Joseph Lawrence to develop his own alcohol-based antiseptic, which he named in tribute Listerine.


This is an ad is for Whitbread, from 1937, showing an illustration of Louis Pasteur working on his fermentation studies in a laboratory at Whitbread Brewing in 1871, nine years after he completed his first test of pasteurization, which took place April 20, 1862.

On his Wikipedia page, under the heading “Controversies, there’s this paragraph about his research into fermentation:

When Pasteur published his theory and experiments on fermentation in 1858, it was not new to science, neither the idea nor the experiment. In 1840 a German chemist Justus von Liebig had noted that yeast could induce fermentation in water. However, he did not know that yeasts were organisms. In 1856 another German, Friedrich Wilhelm Lüdersdorff, reported that yeasts were microorganisms that convert sugar into alcohol. In 1855, Antoine Béchamp, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Montpellier, showed that sugar was converted to sucrose and fructose in a closed bottle containing water and when he added calcium or zinc chloride to it, no reaction occurred. He also noticed moulds developing in the solution, but could not fathom the significance of it. He concluded that water was the factor for fermentation. He changed his conclusion in 1858 that water was not the main factor, in fact, fermentation was directly related to the growth of moulds, and moulds required air for growth. He regarded himself as the first to show the role of microorganisms in fermentation. Pasteur started his experiments only in 1857 and published his findings in 1858 (April issue of Comptes Rendus Chimie, Béchamp’s paper appeared in January issue), which, as Béchamp noted, did not bring any novel idea or experiments that earlier works had not shown. On the other hand, Béchamp was probably aware of Pasteur’s 1857 preliminary works. With both scientists claiming priority on the discovery, a bitter and protracted dispute lasted throughout their lives. Their rivalry extended to ideas on microbiology, pathogenesis, and germ theory. Particularly on the spontaneous generation because Pasteur in his 1858 paper explicitly stated that the lactic acid bacteria (he named them “lactic yeasts”), which caused wine souring, “takes birth spontaneously, as easily as beer yeast every time that the conditions are favourable.” This statement directly implied that Pasteur did believe in spontaneous generation. He condemned the ideas of Pasteur as “‘the greatest scientific silliness of the age”. However, Béchamp was on the losing side, as the BMJ obituary remarked: His name was associated with bygone controversies as to priority which it would be unprofitable to recall. Pasteur and Béchamp believed that fermentation was exclusively cellular activity, that is, it was only due to living cells. But later extraction of enzymes such as invertase by Marcellin Berthelot in 1860 showed that it was simply an enzymatic reaction.

Pasteur’s ground-breaking “Studies on Fermentation” is in the public domain, of course, so you can read the entire work, or just browse through it, at the Internet Archive.

In 1951, the United States Brewers Foundation featured Louis Pasteur in an ad, which was part of a series that used a Q&A format aimed at highlighting different positive aspects of beer and the brewing industry.

Historic Beer Birthday: Gerardus Johannes Mulder

Today is the birthday of Gerardus Johannes Mulder (December 26, 1802–April 18, 1880). He “was a Dutch organic and analytical chemist,” who wrote several technical chemical publications analyzing various substances, including one entitled “The Chemistry of Beer,” in 1856 or 57 (sources vary).

“He became a professor of chemistry at Rotterdam and later at Utrecht. While at the Utrecht University, Mulder described the chemical composition of protein. He claimed that albuminous substances are made up of a common radical, protein, and that protein had the same empirical formula except for some variation in amounts of sulfur and phosphorus, long before the polymer nature of proteins was recognized after work by Staudinger and Carrothers.

He was the first to use this name, protein, coined by Jöns Jacob Berzelius in a publication, his 1838 paper ‘On the composition of some animal substances’ (originally in French but translated in 1839 to German). In the same publication he also proposed that animals draw most of their protein from plants.”


Here’s a biography of Mulder from Encyclopedia.com:

Mulder studied medicine at the University of Utrecht (1819–1825), from which he graduated with a dissertation on the action of alkaloids of opium, De opio ejusque principiis, actione inter se comparatis (1825). He practiced medicine in Amsterdam and then in Rotterdam, where he also lectured at the Bataafsch Genootschap der Proefondervindelijke Wijsbegeerte and taught botany to student apothecaries. At the foundation of a medical school at Rotterdam (1828), Mulder became lecturer in botany, chemistry, mathematics, and pharmacy. His attention was directed primarily to the practical training of his students. In 1840 Mulder succeeded N. C. de Fremery as professor of chemistry at the University of Utrecht. He applied for his retirement in 1868 and spent the rest of his life in Bennekom. Besides publishing on scientific subjects, Mulder took an active part in education, politics and public health. The works of Faraday and Berzelius exerted a great influence on him; his Leerboek voor Scheikundige werktuigkunde (1832–1835) was written in the spirit of Faraday’s Chemical Manipulation. Mulder edited a Dutch translation by three of his students of Berzelius’ textbook of chemistry as Leerboek der Scheikunde (6 vols., 1834–1845). His difficult character caused problems with some of his pupils and with other chemists.

From 1826 to 1865 Mulder edited five Dutch chemical journals (see bibliography), in which most of his work was published. He worked in physics and in both general and physical chemistry, the latter in combination with medicine, physiology, agriculture, and technology. Most of his work had a polemic character. His most important contributions are in the field of physiological chemistry and soil chemistry, in which he published two extensive works that attracted much attention in translation despite their many mistakes and erroneous speculations.

Studies on proteins led Mulder to his protein theory (1838): he supposed that all albuminous substances consist of a radical compound (protein) of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen, in combination with varying amounts of sulfur and phosphorus. The differences among proteins resulted from multiplication of the protein units in conjunction with the two other elements. Thus, casein was formulated as

10 protein units + S,

And serum albumin as

10 protein units + SP2.

In 1843 Mulder published the first volume of a treatise on physiological chemistry, which was translated into English as The Chemistry of Vegetable and Animal Physiology (1845–1849). At first both Liebig and Berzelius accepted Mulder’s analysis of proteins; but Liebig soon opposed the theory vigorously, and a deep conflict with Mulder ensued. In 1839–1840 Mulder investigated humic and ulmic acids and humus substances and determined the amounts of geic acid (acidum geïcum), apocrenic acid (acidum apocrenicum or Quellsatzsäure), crenic acid (acidum crenicum or Quellsäure), and humic acids in fertile soils (1844). The structure of these various brown or black substances is unknown. They are a group of aromatic acids of high molecular weight, which can be extracted from peat, turf, and decaying vegetable matter in the soil. The difference between these acids is the oxygen content. In the decay of vegetable matter ulmic acid is formed. According to Mulder, this has the formula C20H14O6(in modern equivalents). In contact with air and water more oxygen is absorbed, which results in the successive formation of humic acid (C20H12O6, geic acid (C20H12O7), apocrenic acid C24H12O12, and crenic acid (C12H12O8).

His studies on agricultural chemistry led to the treatise De scheikunde der bouwbare aarde (1860). Mulder confirmed Berzelius’ suggestion that theine and caffeine are identical (1838) and was the first to analyze phytol correctly in his researches on chlorophyll. Among his other works are technical chemical publications on indigo (1833), wine (1855), and beer (1856), detailed research on the assaying method for analyzing silver in relation to the volumetric silver determination of Gay-Lussac (1857), and a study on drying oils (1865).


While I can’t find the book itself, Julius E. Thausing mentions it in his “Theory and Practice of the Preparation of Malt and the Fabrication of Beer,”published in 1882.



Historic Beer Birthday: Michael Edward Ash

Today is the birthday of Michael Edward Ash (December 17, 1927–April 30, 2016). He “was a British mathematician and brewer. Ash led a team that invented a nitrogenated dispense system for Guinness stout, which evolved to become the beer now sold globally as Draught Guinness. As the manager in charge of the Easy Serve project, Ash is credited as the inventor of nitrogenated beer (sometimes known as “nitro beer” colloquially).”

Michael E. Ash
Michael Ash in the 1950s.

“Following graduation from Cambridge, Ash lectured in mathematics at The Bedford College for women for three years before joining Guinness & Co. at their London Brewery in Park Royal in January 1951.

After training as a brewer by 1954 Ash also had experience of running two departments (Brewing and Forwarding) and in 1955 he was given his own department the ‘Sample Room’, which had facilities for experimentation. The ‘Draught problem’ was given to Ash as part of his briefing from the managing Director, Hugh Beaver. At the time, Guinness used a convoluted draught system in which highly conditioned beer was blended with aged, nearly still beer. It was a slow, arduous process that limited the ability of draught dispense to reach a more global market.

Guinness had for years been looking for a system in which a barman with no special training could pour a glass of draught in a matter of seconds to settle quickly with a head (3/8″ in a normal ½ pint glass).

Ash realized the solution lay in the use of a blend of nitrogen and carbon dioxide (beer typically just uses the latter), but it took years to figure out a mechanism to dispense nitrogenated beer. Inside Guinness, Ash’s quest was regarded as quixotic, and other brewers chided it as “daft Guinness” and the “Ash Can.” Eventually, working with a keg designer, Ash hit on a revolutionary, self-contained two-part keg, with one chamber full of beer and the other full of mixed gas under pressure, and the introduction of nitrogen.[5] Nitrogen is less soluble than carbon dioxide, which allows the beer to be put under high pressure without making it fizzy. The high pressure of dissolved gas is required to enable very small bubbles to be formed by forcing the draught beer through fine holes in a plate in the tap, which causes the characteristic ‘surge’.

Ultimately called the “easy serve system,” it began to replace the old “high and low” taps used in Ireland and spread to Great Britain and beyond beginning in the 1960s. The invention, which made for a smoother, less characterful beer, was not without controversy, and for years a minority of Irish drinkers complained about the change. Eventually, nitrogrenated stout became a standard, not just at Guinness but among all Irish makers of stout.

Ash left the brewing side of Guinness in 1962 to become managing director of Crooks Laboratories in Park Royal (owned by Guinness). Crooks moved to Basingstoke in 1965. At Crooks Ash was responsible for acquiring the licence for the anti-depressant Prothiaden (Dosulepin) in 1967. From 1970 onwards Ash followed various interests including business education and was a founding governor of Templeton College Oxford.”

Ash with Pete Brown.

Pete Brown, who’d met Ash recently, wrote his obituary for the Morning Advertiser after he passed away in April of this year at 88 years old, entitled The man who created the nitro stout.

A photograph of Ash taken by Jeff Alworth during his visit to Guinness in early 2016.

Similarly, Jeff Alworth wrote a piece for All About Beer Magazine, The Man Who Invented Nitro the month after he passed away.

Alworth’s article online includes an audio clip of Michael Ash describing the process he used to create Draught Guinness using nitrogen.

And this biography of Ash was prepared by Guinness’ marketing department:

Michael read mathematics at Trinity College, Cambridge and was awarded a triple first in his studies – top scholar that year in Cambridge. Between 1948 – 1950, Michael was allowed to reduce his national service conscription by teaching Maths at a University (other than Oxbridge). He taught at Bedford College. Up to the end of World War Two, the Guinness Company had a policy of recruiting only first class honours science graduates from Oxford or Cambridge. Michael was the first non-brewer to be recruited into Guinness.

It was in this role, he led a team of over 20, and their primary role was to seek to improve the shelf life of bottled Guinness. However, Michael felt that the real prize was in developing a proper system for Draught Guinness and began dedicating his time to the ‘Draught Problem’.

The rise of lagers available on draught, especially in the UK in the 1940s and 1950s, was encroaching on traditional Guinness sales, and Michael felt that there was a great opportunity for Guinness, should the stout be available in Draught format. However, the essential problem was with the gas. Carbon dioxide was used to pressurise kegs of bitter and lager, and it was easy and effective for everyone concerned. Guinness, though was too lively to be draughted with carbon dioxide alone.

Of the 20 plus men on his Sample Room team, he could only afford to assign 2 people to work part-time with him on ‘Daft Guinness’ as it became known with the Park Royal Brewery. Michael talks about working weekends and late nights over a long period of time to eventually come up with a nitrogen gas solution.

He worked hand in hand with Eric Lewis, of Alumasc, who supplied Michael with prototype after protoype of metal kegs with different experimental gas chambers. The fact that nitrogen is an inert gas meant that they bubbles lasted longer and were smaller. The right amount of nitrogen, created the ‘surge’ and allowed for a controlled, creamy head that lasts for the whole pint.

The eventual solution was a ‘mixed gas dispense’ system. Known initially as ‘The Ash Can’, The Easy Serve Cask was a self-contained, two-part keg, with one chamber full of beer and the other full of mixed gas under pressure.

Having seen the possibilities, [the company] was in a hurry to get Draught Guinness out into the market place, and he demanded that it should be launched in 1959 – the year of the Guinness bicentenary. At a board meeting of 9 December 1959 – Viscount Elveden (later 3rd Lord Iveagh) reported that about half the draught Guinness outlets had now been changed to the Easy Serve system, and the changeover of the remainder should take place by mid-January 1960.

Here’s a short video that Guinness made about Michael Ash:

Historic Beer Birthday: Theodor Schwann

Today is the birthday of Theodor Schwann (December 7, 1810–January 11, 1882). He “was a German physiologist. His many contributions to biology include the development of cell theory, the discovery of Schwann cells in the peripheral nervous system, the discovery and study of pepsin, the discovery of the organic nature of yeast, and the invention of the term metabolism.”


So Schwann appears to have made several important contributions to science, but his most important one, for my purposes, is that his discovery of the organic nature of yeast influenced Pasteur.

Schwann was the first of Johannes Peter Müller’s pupils to break with vitalism and work towards a physico-chemical explanation of life. Schwann also examined the question of spontaneous generation, which led to its eventual disconfirmation. In the early 1840s, Schwann went beyond others who had noted simply the multiplication of yeast during alcoholic fermentation, as Schwann assigned the yeast the role of primary causal factor, and then went further and claimed it was alive. Embattled controversy ensued as eminent chemists alleged that Schwann was undoing scientific progress by reverting to vitalism.

After publishing anonymous mockery in a journal of their own editorship, they published a purely physicochemical if also hypothetical explanation of the interaction resulting in fermentation. As both the rival perspectives were hypothetical, and there was not even an empirical definition of ‘life’ to hold as a reference frame, the controversy—as well as interest itself—fell into obscurity unresolved. Pasteur began fermentation researches in 1857 by approximately just repeating and confirming Schwann’s, yet Pasteur accepted that yeast were alive, thus dissolving the controversy over their living status, and then Pasteur took fermentation researches further.

In retrospect, the germ theory of Pasteur, as well as its antiseptic applications by Lister, can be traced to Schwann’s influence.


In his biography on Famous Scientists, under the section entitled “Microbes, Yeast and Fermentation” it discusses his influence on Pasteur’s work on yeast in fermentation:

Schwann identified the role that microorganisms played in alcohol fermentation and putrefaction. He carried out a variety of fermentation experiments and by 1836 had gathered enough evidence to convince himself that the conversion of sugar to alcohol during fermentation was a biological process that required the action of a living substance (yeast) rather than a chemical process of sugar oxidation.

Unfortunately, Schwann’s explanation of fermentation was ridiculed by other scientists. Acceptance only came with Louis Pasteur’s work over a decade later. Pasteur later wrote in a letter to Schwann:

“For twenty years past I have been travelling along some of the paths opened up by you.”

Letter to Schwann, 1878


In a deeper dive about the history of yeast on Think Write Publish, entitled “For the Love of Yeast: A little cell at the cutting edge of big science,” by Molly Bain and Niki Vermeulen, in Chapter 2, they discuss Schwann, Pasteur and others unlocking the secrets of yeast’s role in fermentation:

People had been using yeast—spooning off its loamy, foamy scum from one bread bowl or wine vat and inserting it in another—for thousands of years before they understood what this seething substance was or what, exactly, it was doing. Hieroglyphs from ancient Egypt already suggested yeast as an essential sidekick for the baker and brewer, but they didn’t delineate its magic—that people had identified and isolated yeast to make bread rise and grape juice spirited was magic enough. As the great anatomist and evolutionary theory advocate Thomas Henry Huxley declared in an 1871 lecture, “It is highly creditable to the ingenuity of our ancestors that the peculiar property of fermented liquids, in virtue of which they ‘make glad the heart of man,’ seems to have been known in the remotest periods of which we have any record.”

All the different linguistic iterations of yeast—gäscht, gischt, gest, gist, yst, barm, beorm, bären, hefe—refer to the same descriptive action and event: to raise, to rise, to bear up with, as Huxley put it, “‘yeasty’ waves and ‘gusty’ breezes.” This predictable, if chaotic and muddy, pulpy process—fermentation—was also known to purify the original grain down to its liquid essence—its “spirit”—which, as Huxley described it, “possesses a very wonderful influence on the nervous system; so that in small doses it exhilarates, while in larger it stupefies.”

Though beer and wine were staples of everyday living for thousands and thousands of years, wine- and beer-making were tough trades—precisely because what the gift of yeast was, exactly, was not clear. Until about 150 years ago, mass spoilage of both commercial and homemade alcoholic consumables was incredibly common. Imagine your livelihood or daily gratification dependent on your own handcrafted concoctions. Now, imagine stumbling down to your cellar on a damp night to fetch a nip or a barrel for yourself, your neighbors, or the local tavern. Instead you’re assaulted by a putrid smell wafting from half of your wooden drums. You ladle into one of your casks and discover an intensely sour or sulfurous brew. In the meantime, some drink has sloshed onto your floor, and the broth’s so rancid, it’s slick with its own nasty turn. What caused this quick slippage into spoilage? This question enticed many an early scientist to the lab bench—in part because funding was at the ready.

In a 2003 article on yeast research in the journal Microbiology, James A. Barnett explains that because fermentation was so important to daily life and whole economies, scientific investigations of yeast began in the seventeenth century and were formalized in the eighteenth century, by chemists—not “natural historians” (as early biologists were called)—who were originally interested in the fermentation process as a series of chemical reactions.

In late eighteenth-century Florence, Giovanni Valentino Fabbroni was part of the first wave of yeast research. Fabbroni—a true Renaissance man who dabbled in politics and electro-chemistry, wrote tomes on farming practices, and helped Italy adapt the metric system—determined that in order for fermentation to begin, yeast must be present. But he also concluded his work by doing something remarkable: Fabbroni categorized yeast as a “vegeto-animal”—something akin to a living organism—responsible for the fermentation process.

Two years later, in 1789 and in France, Antoine Lavoisier focused on fermentation in winemaking, again regarding it as a chemical process. As Barnett explains, “he seem[ed] to be the first person to describe a chemical reaction by means of an equation, writing ‘grape must = carbonic acid + alcohol.’” Lavoisier, who was born into the aristocracy, became a lawyer while pursuing everything from botany to meteorology on the side. At twenty-six, he was elected to the Academy of Sciences, bought part of a law firm specializing in tax collection for the state, and, while working on his own theory of combustion, eventually came to be considered France’s “father of modern chemistry.” The French government, then the world’s top supplier of wine (today, it ranks second, after Italy), needed Lavoisier’s discoveries—and badly, too: France had to stem the literal and figurative spoiling of its top-grossing industry. But as the revolution took hold, Lavoisier’s fame and wealth implicated him as a soldier of the regime. Arrested for his role as a tax collector, Lavoisier was tried and convicted as a traitor and decapitated in 1794. The Italian mathematician and astronomer Joseph-Louis Lagrange publicly mourned: “It took them only an instant to cut off his head, and one hundred years might not suffice to reproduce its like.”

Indeed, Lagrange was onto something: the new government’s leaders were very quickly in want of scientific help for the wine and spirits industries. In 1803, the Institut de France offered up a medal of pure gold for any scientist who could specify the key agent in the fermenting process. Another thirty years passed before the scientific community had much of a clue—and its discovery tore the community apart.

By the 1830s, with the help of new microscope magnification, Friedrich Kützing and Theodor Schwann, both Germans, and Charles Cagniard-Latour, a Frenchman, independently concluded that yeast was responsible for fermenting grains. And much more than that: these yeasts, the scientists nervously hemmed, um, they seemed to be alive.

Cagniard-Latour focused on the shapes of both beer and wine yeasts, describing their cellular bulbous contours as less like chemical substances and more resembling organisms in the vegetable kingdom. Schwann pushed the categorization even further: upon persistent and continued microscopic investigations, he declared that yeast looks like, acts like, and clearly is a member of the fungi family—“without doubt a plant.” He also argued that a yeast’s cell was essentially its body—meaning that each yeast cell was a complete organism, somewhat independent of the other yeast organisms. Kützing, a pharmacist’s assistant with limited formal training, published extensive illustrations of yeast and speculated that different types of yeast fermented differently; his speculation was confirmed three decades later. From their individual lab perches, each of the three scientists concluded the same thing: yeast is not only alive, but it also eats the sugars of grains or grapes, and this digestion, which creates acid and alcohol in the process, is, in effect, fermentation.

This abrupt reframing of fermentation as a feat of biology caused a stir. Some chemist giants in the field, like Justus von Liebig, found it flat out ridiculous. A preeminent chemistry teacher and theorist, von Liebig proclaimed that if yeast was alive, the growth and integrity of all science was at grave risk: “When we examine strictly the arguments by which this vitalist theory of fermentation is supported and defended, we feel ourselves carried back to the infancy of science.” Von Liebig went so far as to co-publish anonymously (with another famous and similarly offended chemist, Friedrich Wöhler) a satirical journal paper in which yeasts were depicted as little animals feasting on sugar and pissing and shitting carbonic acid and alcohol.

Though he himself did little experimental research on yeast and fermentation, von Liebig insisted that the yeasts were just the result of a chemical process. Chemical reactions could perhaps produce yeast, he allowed, but the yeasts themselves could never be alive, nor active, nor the agents of change.
Von Liebig stuck to this story even after Louis Pasteur, another famous chemist, took up yeast study and eventually became the world’s first famous microbiologist because of it.

These long-term investigations into and disciplinary disputes about the nature of yeast reordered the scientific landscape: the borders between chemistry and biology shifted, giving way to a new field: microbiology—the study of the smallest forms of life.


Benefit For Pete’s Sake At Spartan Stadium In San Jose

spartans tied-house
You may not have heard the name of Peter Cogan. He’s not a household name, not a rock star brewer and does not make a point of making sure people know who he is. He just does his job, and makes things happen. Born in England, Peter has been helping promote the beer scene in the South Bay as long as anybody can remember and has been working for Hermitage Brewing and the Tied House in Mountain View since 1990. He also helped launch the beerfest there, one of the biggest and most important early Bay Area beer festivals.

Peter Cogan, from the Tied House
Peter Cogan in 2009.

So what does that have to do with a beer festival on November 19 called “For Pete’s Sake?” Well, recently Peter was diagnosed with cancer, specifically lymphoma, and is undergoing chemotherapy treatment to beat back his cancer. For Pete’s Sake is a benefit to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), and also for Peter. Take my word for it, Peter is a great person and if there’s any stranger you help this year, let it be him. But besides a great cause, it should be a great time, too.

Microsoft Word - FB16, Craft Beer Fest, Web Page Layout.docx

Your ticket includes admission to see the San Jose Spartans play Air Force in college football, plus a beer festival with unlimited samples from at least twenty local breweries. This all takes place on Saturday, November 19, 2016 at Spartan Stadium, located at 1257 South 7th Street, CEFCU Stadium, in San Jose. The brewfest starts and 2:30 PM and lasts for four hours, until 6:30 PM. Then at 7:30 PM, the game kicks off, and you’ll have a seat on the 50 to 30 yard line. Tickets are $40 in advance, and $50 on the day of the event. Tickets are available online. Use the promo code “FORPETESSAKE2016.” Visit the For Pete’s Sake Brewfest webpage for all of the details.

So even if you’ve never met Peter, if you’ve ever enjoyed a craft beer in the Bay Area, you probably owe him at least a small debt of gratitude. And what better way to thank him then to attend a beer festival and drink some more beer and have a great time. Is that too much to ask? Let’s all help Peter beat cancer.

Peter, with Steve Donohue, now with Santa Clara Valley Brewing, at the 21st Celebrator Anniversary Party.

The Ballmer Peak

I was unaware of the Ballmer Peak (named for Microsoft’s 30th employee and former CEO Steve Ballmer) until today, but it’s an interesting idea, although there are some who believe it just may be an elaborate joke. In a nutshell, it’s the idea “that having a BAC in the 0.129% – 0.138% range can improve your cognitive abilities,” and it’s supposedly an effective technique to help with computer programming. Another way it’s been described is that “alcohol improves cognitive ability, up to a point,” and that it’s apparently a variation of the Yerkes–Dodson law, which says “that performance increases with physiological or mental arousal, but only up to a point.” xkcd described it with this cartoon:


Obviously, it may sound like bunk, but there has been earlier evidence of Creativity & Beer and also Caffeine Vs. Alcohol: Which One Better Enhances Creativity?. There’s also a lot of anecdotal evidence that alcohol can trigger creativity and/or create the conditions for new types of thinking to occur if in that sweet spot of not too drunk, and not too sober. Certainly there’s a rich historical record of books and songs created by writers and composers who were under the influence. And there was a great Bill Hicks bit about how if you think there are no positive aspects to drugs, he suggests burning all of the music that you love, because so many of the musicians who wrote it were “really fucking high.” Naturally, Bill put it much better than I ever could:

“You see, I think drugs have done some good things for us. I really do. And if you don’t believe drugs have done good things for us, do me a favor. Go home tonight. Take all your albums, all your tapes and all your CDs and burn them. ‘Cause you know what, the musicians that made all that great music that’s enhanced your lives throughout the years were rrreal fucking high on drugs. The Beatles were so fucking high they let Ringo sing a few tunes.”

Recently, however, there was an article in the Observer whose headline was “The Ballmer Peak Is Real, Study Says.”

A recent study at the University of Illinois tested the creative problem solving ability of a group of men who were given vodka cranberry and snacks and asked to solve brain teasers. The results were starkly different for the tispy group, which had a blood alcohol concentration level of 0.075, versus the control group:

Astonishingly, those in the drinking group averaged nine correct questions to the six answers correct by the non-drinking group. It also took drunk men 11.5 seconds to answer a question, whereas non-drunk men needed 15.2 seconds to think. Both groups had comparable results on a similar exam before the alcohol consumption began.

The study notes that the Ballmer Peak effect was present for creative problem solving but not for working memory.


Also, on the skeptics forum on Stack Exchange, someone asked if the Balmer Peak was real, and one of the answers posted was this:

[An] article by Norlander [link no longer working] specifically studies the relationship between moderate alcohol consumption (1.0ml/kg body weight) and creativity. According to my very rough calculations, this would correspond to a BAC in the range of 0.12–0.14 for a 73kg human. The paper concludes

…modest alcohol consumption inhibits aspects of creativity based mainly on the secondary process (preparation, certain parts of illumination, and verification), and disinhibits those based mainly on the primary process (incubation, certain parts of illumination, and restitution).

In other words, moderate alcohol consumption does improve certain types of creative thinking, while inhibiting other types of creative thinking. Since the skills required for computer programming are solely cognitive in nature (discounting the motor skills required to type, of course), and given that creativity is a large part of computer programming, it is at least plausible that one might gain some amount of improvement from alcohol consumption.

There have also been studies on the relationship between alcohol consumption and creative output. That study examined 34 well known, heavy drinking, 20th century writers, artists, and composers/performers. It concludes:

Analysis of this information yielded a number of interesting findings. Alcohol use proved detrimental to productivity in over 75% of the sample, especially in the latter phases of their drinking careers. However, it appeared to provide direct benefit for about 9% of the sample, indirect benefit for 50% and no appreciable effect for 40% at different times in their lives. Creative activity, conversely, can also affect drinking behavior, leading, for instance, to increased alcohol consumption in over 30% of the sample. Because of the complexities of this relationship, no simplistic conclusions are possible.

So for a small portion of people there was a notable increase in creative output as a result of alcohol intake. It does appear that the study did not control for the quantity of alcohol intake, though, so this may not be directly applicable to the Ballmer Peak.

The best study I was able to find on the subject was by Lapp, Collins, and Izzo. They gave subjects vodka tonics of varying strengths (by varying the ratio of tonic to vodka), some of which did not even contain any alcohol. The subjects believed that they were drinking a standard-strength vodka tonic. The subjects then were asked to perform a number of cognitively and creatively challenging tasks. Here is what they conclude:

The present results support the idea that creative people probably gain inspiration from consuming alcohol …, but show that this effect may be due to the expected rather than the pharmacological effects of the drug. … A convergence of evidence supported the idea that creativity is enhanced (at least in some aspects) by the expected effects of alcohol.

In other words, alcohol can improve certain aspects of one’s cognitive ability, but this effect is not likely due to any pharmacological process (i.e., it is often sufficient to merely believe that one is drinking alcohol in order to achieve the same benefit).

And remember: The Ballmer Peak, as it is currently understood, is but a two dimensional projection of what in reality is a higher dimensional space, vi&.


The Ballmer Peak-a-Thon even has a Ballmer Calculator you can use to determine how much to drink to reach maximum effectiveness.