Researchers at the University of Seville have developed a technique based on chemical patterns for identifying the country of origin of beer.
Beer snobs wishing to know the provenance of their favorite European pilsners and lagers are in luck: Scientists have developed a new chemical test that can tell you where the brew originated.
Though such tests have long existed for products such as wine, spirits, coffee and tea, one hasn't been developed yet for beer, noted Jose Marcos Jurado, a chemist at the University of Seville in Spain.
"That surprised me because beer is one of the most consumed beverages in the world," he told me in an email today.
Jurado and his colleagues developed a test that identifies chemicals in the beer that relate to various raw materials such as water and hops. A set of algorithms recognize data patterns in those chemicals that point to the beer's country of origin.
In experiments, the researchers tested their model on pilsners and lagers — blonde-colored beers — from Germany, Spain, and Portugal and found it to be accurate 99.3 percent of the time.
Some brewers manipulate the chemicals in their water to produce the style of beer they want. For example, brewers of pale ales around the world often try to match the salt content of the water in England's Burton-upon-Trent where the style was perfected.
Jurado noted that additions of salts could trick the part of the test designed to detect iron, potassium and phosphate, but the test also measures chemicals such as polyphenols from hops, a plant that gives beer its characteristic bitterness and aromas.
"It is always possible to fake a beverage," he noted, "and this model can fail." Though, he added, the addition of more chemical parameters to the test could make it even more tamper-proof.
And there might even be reason for doing so. There is a growing movement in Europe to put beers on a list of products with Protected Geographical Indication. This test could be used to certify the authenticity of listed beers.
"This practice [of chemical fingerprinting] is much extended in products like wine and its influence in marketing is well known," Jurado said. "We have given a first step in that direction, trying to point out the importance of these kinds of studies in products like beer."
Findings are published in the journal Food Control.
More on beer science and technology:
- Brewer to turn spent grains into energy
- Beer mystery solved! Yeast ID'd
- At ancient 'takeout' window, bullets and beer to go
- Ancient beer from shipwreck too salty to drink
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