The Science of Beer: A New Free Online Course Promises to Enhance Your Appreciation of the Timeless Beverage

The brew­ing of beer is as old as agri­cul­ture, which is to say as old as set­tled civ­i­liza­tion. The old­est recipe we know of dates to 1800 B.C. Over cen­turies, beer moved up and down the class lad­der depend­ing on its pri­ma­ry con­sumers. Medieval monks brewed many fine vari­eties and were renowned for their tech­nique. Beer descend­ed into pubs and row­dy beer halls, whet­ting the whis­tles not only of farm­ers, sol­diers, sailors, and pil­grims, but also of burghers and a bud­ding indus­tri­al work­force. Dur­ing the age of mod­ern empire, beer became, on both sides of the Atlantic, the bev­er­age of work­ing-class sports fans in bleach­ers and La-Z-Boys.

A craft beer Renais­sance at the end of last cen­tu­ry brought back a monk­ish mys­tique to this most ancient bev­er­age, turn­ing beer into wine, so to speak, with com­pa­ra­ble lev­els of con­nois­seur­ship. Beer bars became gal­leries of fine pol­ished brass, pun­gent, fruity aro­mas, dark and seri­ous wood appoint­ments. Craft beer is fun—with its quirky names and labels—it is also intim­i­dat­ing, in the breadth of com­pli­cat­ed con­coc­tions on offer. (Hip­sters and penu­ri­ous rev­el­ers revolt­ed, made a fetish of Pab­st Blue Rib­bon, Milwaukee’s Best, and ye olde malt liquor.)

“Has craft beer peaked?” won­ders The Wash­ing­ton Post’s Rachel Siegel. You can prob­a­bly guess from the ques­tion that most trends point to “yes.” But as long as there is wheat, bar­ley, and hops, we will have beer, no mat­ter who is drink­ing it and where. One last­ing effect of beer’s high­brow few decades remains: a pop­u­lar schol­ar­ly appre­ci­a­tion for its cul­ture and com­po­si­tion. You can study the typog­ra­phy of beer, for exam­ple, as Print mag­a­zine has done in recent years. A new online course applies the tools of empir­i­cal and soci­o­log­i­cal research to beer drink­ing.

“The Sci­ence of Beer,” taught by a cadre of stu­dent teach­ers from Wagenin­gen Uni­ver­si­ty in Hol­land, explores “how [beer is] made, the raw mate­ri­als used, its sup­ply chain, how it’s mar­ket­ed and the effect of beer con­sump­tion on your body.” (This last point—in a world turned against sug­ar, carbs, and gluten—being part­ly the rea­son for craft beer’s decline.) Should your voice qua­ver when you approach the upscale reclaimed wal­nut bar and sur­vey unfa­mil­iar lagers, ales, stouts, bocks, porters, and hefeweizens… should you hes­i­tate at Whole Foods when faced with a wall of bev­er­ages with names like incan­ta­tions, this free class may set you at ease.

Not only will you learn about the dif­fer­ent types of beer, but “after this course, tast­ing a beer will be an entire­ly new sen­sa­tion: you will enjoy it even more since you will bet­ter under­stand what’s inside your drink.” Enroll­ment for the 5‑week course began this past Mon­day and the class is cur­rent­ly open and free. (Make sure you select the “Audit” option for the free ver­sion of the course.) You should expect to devote 2 to 4 hours per week to “The Sci­ence of Beer.” Please, study respon­si­bly.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Dis­cov­er the Old­est Beer Recipe in His­to­ry From Ancient Sume­ria, 1800 B.C.

The First Known Pho­to­graph of Peo­ple Shar­ing a Beer (1843)

The Art and Sci­ence of Beer

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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