10:23 AM

Determination and Optimization of Fermentation Performance

Engineering Technology professor Chris McCrory wants to help make sure the beer you're sipping is top quality.

With craft breweries popping up locally and across Ontario, interest in quality control is growing within the industry. Through his project Determination and Optimization of Fermentation Performance, Chris and his students aim to help craft brewers improve quality and predictability of the beer making process.

"We realized there was a real opportunity at Mohawk - local brewers and even Niagara College (whose Teaching Brewery has become known for producing award-winning beer) don't have some of the instrumentation that we have and that we train our students on," said Chris, a professor of Chemical, Environmental and Biotechnology Engineering.

The suds we see in our glass are typically brewed from four basic ingredients: water, grains, yeast, and a flavouring agent such as hops. Many varieties of beer result from differences in these ingredients, the additives used, and the brewing process. While brewing fundamentals (process conditions, product safety and quality control) are typically understood, brewing beer has historically been considered a trial and error "art" rather than a science. But this focus is changing as we learn that the quality of the main ingredients and their effect on fermentation performance impacts the complex microculture that produces the taste and aroma of the beer. Current research in brewing technology focuses on events at the cellular and atomic level.

While small craft breweries have perfected the sanitation process for ingredients, they don't have (and often can't find or afford) the instruments or techniques that would help them refine that art into science, but "we do."

Mohawk College partnered with local company High Road Brewing, which has designed award-winning beers with great balance and texture, to develop a fundamental scientific study of fermentation performance at the cellular and atomic level. Escarpment Laboratories, a local developer and supplier of yeast, has joined the project.

"We're lucky to partner with High Road Brewing - they were the first to commit and be interested in the work that we're doing," he said, adding the students have also been picking brains at Escarpment Labs for advice about the yeast. "Being able to phone someone and ask questions about yeast and what's going on, and to have them help us out has been amazing."

When they started the process, Chris and his student team had listed about 12 variables that could affect the quality of the final brew. Eventually that number rose to 25 and with it, the scope of the project increased significantly and the process has become more complicated.

He says none of this work would have been possible without the grant from IDEAWORKS, which allowed him to purchase equipment and materials.

"A lot of work is involved (in planning and executing the project), but this grant helped us get off the ground and start working on, 'What do we know, what do we need to get, what do we need to figure out to do this?' There was a big, big learning curve."

For their part, the students are deeply engaged in applying critical thinking and problem solving skills throughout the process, and interested in making real-world connections with local businesses. More volunteers are joining the project and long-term, Chris hopes Mohawk will potentially develop a synergy with Niagara College and become a go-to industry resource for instrumentation, sampling and analysis of materials. Who knows - one day, you could be savouring an ale that's been perfected right here in Hamilton.

IDEAWORKS is Mohawk’s hub for applied research and innovation. Learn more about how you can get involved in research through IDEAWORKS at www.mohawkcollege.ca/ideaworks