Why are enzymes important to brewing?
Brewers focus on enzymes for two main results. First is starch conversion. “Diastase” enzymes enable long chains of glucose molecules to be “cleaved” into smaller, simpler, glucose linkages. These “conversion” enzymes are loosely defined as a group, with many enzymes in the category specifically targeting degradation of cell walls, hydrolysis of glucose chains, and much more. Barley is a main ingredient of choice due to its balance of enzymes and gelatinization temperatures. It offers a simplified processing compared to other starch sources.
Seedlings use enzymes to convert stored starch into useable energy. With this stored energy the plant is able to build enough structure to begin collecting light for more energy.
Second, and arguably the most important part of brewing, is ethanol production. As brewers, we often say “brewers make wort, but yeast makes beer”. Yeast is essential for brewing primarily because of its ability to metabolize sugar into ethanol. This is done by enzymes within the yeast cell walls. Enzymes such as maltase and invertase allow for processing saccharides into glucose, and eventually into ethanol and carbon dioxide. The desired wort composition varies by style and yeast selection, with glucose monomers influencing ethanol and ester production and polysaccharides providing mouthfeel and body. Without a proper wort composition, yeast will fail to metabolize ethanol.
Often overlooked, there are many other enzymes able to aid in processing. From b-glucans in lautering improvements to alpha acetolactate decarboxylase in maturation and stability, enzymes can enhance (or degrade) your efforts. Due diligence is required. Discuss your thoughts with colleagues and friends, and research independently to learn more about targeting enzyme efficacy.
On a final note, some brewers may be hesitant to explore use of supplemental enzyme additions to their processing. The reality is they are already influencing enzyme reactions during the course of their brews. Hydration ratios, temperature and rest times, and even yeast strain selection, all influence the behavior of enzymes during brewing. Manipulating your techniques and ingredients is often looked upon favorably, so let us push a step further and direct our enzymatic attention!