On Friday the 2nd of December I had the honour of being invited to a beer brewing seminar. It was hosted by Fermentatio, a society established in 1887 uniting industrial and amateur brewers.
The day started with following the directions towards the auditorium. While everyone was chatting away with old friends and business partners I sneaked through the crowd towards the coffee table. Grabbing myself a cup of coffee that tasted absolutely horrible, though the accompanying biscuit made up for it. I entered the auditorium and took place, while almost spilling my coffee, at the last row which was assigned specifically to students. After waiting for almost 45 minutes everyone finally took a seat and the presentations started.
The first speaker was someone from the Belgian company Meura talking about their special type of mash filters. As I mentioned before in this blog-post, mash is the malt soaked in warm water. Meura developed a special filter with an inflatable membrane, being up to 10% more efficient than others. Hereafter we received a presentation on research of DMSO, which is a chemical compound that produces off-flavours in beer, and about a microchip that allows the fermentation of yeast in micro-droplets.
After the break we got lectured about cultivation processes of brewers yeast, the oxidisation process to remove iron and manganese out of the brewing water and about fungi of barley and their mycotoxins .
Fungi and mycotoxins are basically the nemesis of beer brewers. The fungi we’re talking about is Fusarium which is a large genus of filamentous fungi of which ‘Blight’ is a member, which is a very well known plant disease that led to the Great Irish Famine. Mycotoxin is a secondary metabolite from fungi. Primary metabolites are components that an organism produces in order to survive, secondary metabolites are compounds produced when the organism is satisfied with its primary nutrients. Secondary metabolites can vary from toxins to antibiotics to (citric)acid. There’s a whole world out there specialised in the production of these components but let’s not swerve too far in that direction.
When a brewer buys his grain he doesn’t use them right away; they’re stored in silo’s or containers at low temperatures. This storage environment needs to be perfect because if it’s too moist or the temperature isn’t right the Fusarium can start cultivating in the grains and spread rapidly (if present in the grain or air).
The TDI (Tolerable Daily Intake) of a mycotoxin is 0,06 microgram per kilogram. In case a mycotoxin has cultivated in a batch of beer an intake of only 3 beers is enough to reach that daily dose. Hear me out before you start throwing all your beers out in fear of becoming ill due to these toxins. The human population is immune to 90% of all mycotoxins from the Fusarium family. Dr. Anneleen Decloedt performed research at the University of Ghent on examining beer types which might contain mycotoxins where less than 90% of the population is immune. As conclusion she found that those types of beer are: fruit beers, Trappists and sour beers.
You might ask yourself, “why all this research, aren’t the laws for health and hygiene extremely strict”? Yes, you’re right though what’s happening in the modern days is that many toxins and viruses are mutating to resist the current cures and vaccines. The same happens with mycotoxins. Once they’re mutated we’re not resistant any more to that ‘new’ type of toxin and the health and safety laws do not incorporate these modified toxins.