Analytical Chemistry of Beer and Brewing

Thought LeadersChris WelchExecutive DirectorIndiana Consortium for Analytical Chemistry and Engineering

In this interview, News-Medical Life Sciences talks to Chris Welch about the upcoming Pittcon presentation on the analytical chemistry involved in beer brewing.

What can analytical chemistry reveal about the beer and brewing industries?

Even though there are only four ingredients in beer - grain, hops, yeast, and water - the variation in beer styles and flavors is staggering. The key to understanding this variation, and ensuring a beer product that is consistent time after time, is analytical measurement.

In the distant past, this was done through taste, smell, flavor, and visual analysis rather than instrumentation. In modern times, however, analytical instrumentation plays an increasingly important role in the brewing process.

A lot of chemists are home brewers and the level of the craft has been growing steadily over the past 20 years or so.

Pittcon is always open to measurement science and new symposia of emerging interests, so Bruce Hamper and I thought, "Let's propose a session on beer and brewing to bring this community together and focus on some of the new things that have coming out of this area."

Bruce is a professor at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, and he teaches a course on beer and brewing. We had a very successful symposium on beer at Pittcon 2020 in Chicago, complete with a nice beer tasting event.

We wanted to follow this up with a similar event at Pittcon 2021 in New Orleans, but our virtual attendees will have to use their imagination and join in with us remotely. We will be delving into what is going on in beer and brewing chemistry.

Hops addition into beer. Image Credit: Steve Bowers / Shutterstock.com

What is the main message of the research you are presenting at Pittcon, titled ‘Analytical Chemistry of Beer and Brewing’?

I am a co-organizer and, although I am not speaking in that session, I helped to put it together. The focus will be on a lot of interesting analytical chemistry relating to the beer and brewing field.

Bruce is going to start by talking about using LCMS to investigate hops, components, and beers. We also have Glenn Fox from UC Davis, who will be talking about modern omics techniques in beer analysis, for example, proteomics and lipidomics, among others.

Eberhardt Kuhn from Shimadzu is going to talk about using analytical instrumentation to ensure consistent production quality, Matt Bachman from Indiana University will be talking about isolating and characterizing different yeast strains for use in beer making and Merlin Bicking is going to be talking about rapid oligosaccharide analysis.

We have a wealth of exciting topics, including the genomics of yeast.

Throughout 2020, you have published research on innovative analytical chemistry techniques, including supercritical fluid chromatography (SFC) and thin-layer chromatography (TLC). How are these methods used in beer and brewing research?

HPLC and HPLC/MS are the techniques used most in my personal research in this field. There is certainly room for SFC and even TLC to play a role, too, though this has not been my focus to date.

One thing we are doing is challenging our attendees to think about taking things to the next level, not in terms of increasing complexity, but in terms of increasing simplicity. For example, making these analytical techniques more suitable for use in small craft brewing operations or for home brewers.

Our recent work in the TLC field has focused more on the pharmaceutical discovery and developing high throughput analysis areas.

Analytical Chemistry in Beer Brewing 01

Analytical Chemistry in Beer Brewing 01 from AZoNetwork on Vimeo.

What are some applications you envision for the technologies of SFC and TLC?

I like both SFC and TLC. SFC has a lot of advantages from a green chemistry perspective, as well as from a performance perspective.

TLC is so simple, and yet it is readily adaptable to accommodate multi parallel analysis and high throughput analysis. TLC gets reinvented every few years and still shows a lot of potential.

Your research also spans not just analytical chemistry but other subjects like organic chemistry and pharmaceutical chemistry. How are these fields intertwined in your work?

In industrial research we often find ourselves working across different domains, as the big problems are often complex and span multiple fields.  That's one of the fun and challenging things about practical problem-solving in industrial research, and something that I try to convey to students.  I have found that studying things that are close at hand is a good way to get people interested in analytical chemistry, especially younger people and students just entering the field. With this in mind, we have done things like analyzing soft drinks for caffeine or looking at capsaicin in chili peppers.

Everybody can get on board with these types of studies, and they are a good entry point for learning about analytical instrumentation, how to use it, and the importance of measurement. Beer analysis is a continuation of those themes.

My colleague at The University of Missouri has told me that there are students coming into his course who have not previously done well in science, but before long they are able to use a graduated cylinder, make measurements, use precise timing, employ various analytical instruments and keep rigorous notes.

It is an entryway for anybody who has not found it easy to approach science. I think this is very exciting and it is one of the first things that drew me into collaborating with Bruce in some of his beer chemistry work.

Thin-layer chromatography equipment. Image Credit: Mehmet Cetin / Shutterstock.com

Can you describe the Indiana Consortium for Analytical Sciences and Engineering (ICASE) role in the scientific community as its executive director?

The Indiana Consortium for Analytical Science and Engineering (ICASE) is a fun project. I spent my career in the industry before I retired in 2017, and at that stage, I started working with ICASE.

ICASE is a joint venture between Purdue IU and Notre Dame that works to enhance cooperation and collaboration in the field of measurement science. These are some of the top institutes in the world in this field, and it has been a real honor and a privilege to have the opportunity to work with them.

One of the key things that we are doing is working in conjunction with industry members to develop creative problem-solving capabilities. We are also working with the faculty at these schools, addressing some of the measurement science needs and challenges of industry.

I am the Executive Director of ICASE, meaning that I am sort of a middleman between faculty at the different universities, working with students, and coordinating collaborations with industry. My role also involves getting new funding for collaborative projects and new research centers. It is challenging and it keeps me on my toes.

As co-founder of a journal, what can you tell us about the importance of scientific publication?

Publication is one of the critical parts of being a scientist; taking your work, putting it out there, and making a contribution to the larger body of science.

I have always taken this seriously and believed that part of giving back to the field at large involves working with journals and magazines to try to guide them, offering advice on what they can do to better reach and serve the community.

It does not take up that much time and it helps to keep these publications fresh, at the cutting edge, and attractive to the readership. All scientists inherit a lot and it is our duty and obligation to give back and to try to improve the infrastructure of science in some a small way.

As a member of the editorial advisory board for journals Chirality and ACS Central Science, it is vital to clearly communicate science. How has this experience shaped how you communicate your research?

I think that one just gets better at scientific communication with practice. It takes many years to learn how to not get those papers rejected and how to put things in the right sequence in order to entertain and provide value to the community.

Publication is an important ongoing task, but a lot of industry folks opt-out and stop publishing. That is a shame because they have some interesting stories to communicate.

I always encourage my colleagues and the folks that I train to embrace scientific publication and to try to communicate the story of their science as they go along through their career because it is important, and other people can learn from it.

What does the future hold for you and your research on the analytical chemistry of beer and brewing?

I am anxious to get together with colleagues from our upcoming symposium, have a chat with them, and see the excellent science there. I also want to have a discussion about where the next wave of innovations is needed and where these will come from.

I am particularly keen on the idea of lower-tech, lower-price analytical tools suitable for the small craft brewing industry. We issued a challenge last year for people to go away and talk about that, so I am looking forward to getting together with them to see what they have been thinking about

How are the analytical and chemical fields shifting and what advances do you expect in the future?

Some important trends include increasing portability and miniaturization of analytical instruments – getting the analytical instrumentation outside of the traditional bounds of the laboratory.

AI and machine learning have led to the possibility of autonomous instruments that do not need an expert supervising them. This may result in analytical instrumentation coming out of the traditional laboratory and out of the hands of traditional practitioners, and into the everyday world.

That is exciting for our field and for society in general. I think a lot of good can come from this.

You are the principal of the independent research and consulting firm Welch Innovation. What role does research consulting play in the science industry?

When I retired, I set up Welch Innovation along with my wife, Renee, to do research consulting. Consultants have always been an important part of industrial research because the limited group of people within a company will never be able to handle all areas of expertise. It is important that companies bring in experts to provide advice and consultation where necessary.

This is especially true when companies are faced with strategic challenges or when they are looking to move into new areas of business. We get together with leading experts from companies to try to determine the right path forward. It can be very challenging but also quite rewarding.

Image Credit: Image Credit: Master1305 / Shutterstock.com

You have previously presented at Pittcon. What brings you back to the conference each year?

I have been coming to Pittcon for more than 30 years. It is a great event with a great tradition.

Pittcon has traditionally been the place where decisions are made on the purchase of new analytical instrumentation for use in scientific research, and each year Pittcon showcases what is going on in the field, what new products are available, and what new kinds of research are emerging.

It is nice to see Pittcon adapting to the current environment and adopting this fully virtual format; it shows the resiliency of the event.

Why are events like Pittcon important now more than ever?

I think it is important to focus on what is new and where we are going next as a way of galvanizing the community.

Pittcon is also a meeting ground where the users and the producers of analytical instrumentation can get together. Producers are displaying their instrumentation and users are talking about their emerging needs, what is not quite working right, and what they wish was better.

Pittcon plays an important role in offering this environment, where these different communities can meet to discuss problems and solutions, ultimately helping to drive progress across their respective fields.

Pittcon has helped support progress and innovation in analytical instrumentation and methodologies over the years; we have to hope it continues for a long time.

About Chris Welch

Christopher J. Welch retired from a career in the pharmaceutical industry in 2017 and is now the Executive Director of the Indiana Consortium for Analytical Chemistry and Engineering (ICASE), an Indianapolis-based joint venture between Purdue, Notre Dame and Indiana University that explores industry-university collaborations on critical issues relating to measurement science. ([email protected])

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