Is the use of supplemental enzymes cheating?

Is the use of supplemental enzymes cheating?

It is no secret that making consistent, top-quality product requires the highest level of attention, detailed knowledge, and a dedication to craft. Equipment, personnel, and ingredients are selected for optimal performance. However, when circumstances are less than ideal, every resource must be tapped to reach full potential. Supplemental enzymes offer some unique advantages in the brewing process, but is it cheating? Follow along as we explore the ethics of brewing with enzymes.

The earliest written brewing instructions I am aware of come from an anonymous source dedicating a poem to Princess Ninkasi around 1800 BCE. Perhaps the purpose of recording this information in musical form was to enshrine its everlasting importance and spread the bounty of treasure. While these "instructions" undoubtedly led to the proliferation of a more uniform fermented beverage, it was far from settled science. Adjustments to ingredients and process have enhanced results over time. Of course, perfect can never be left alone, and centuries of brewers have brought constant innovation.

Rhienheitsgebot is a well known decree from 1516, rigidizing the manufacture of Bavarian beer. Considered by many to be the "standards" for beer manufacturing, it does not allow for additions of anything other than barley, hops, and water. Modernization has adapted the Rhienheitsgebot; however, at least a dozen breweries around the world still adhere to these historical standards, carrying the traditions of the past into the future. It is well known that yeast was overlooked due to scientific knowledge of the time, but enzymes never even get an honorable mention. Much like zinc and lactic acid, enzymes must "sneak" their way into the orthodox brewing world.

Perhaps it is best left to individual brewers to decide their own moral code. Traditions are established to ensure successful results, but innovation requires change. Personally, I will use all available means to create the best possible products I can, provided they align with my views on health, safety, and sustainability. Anything less would be unfaithful to my loyal consumers.

Enzymes are a necessary part of brewing, so hopefully that doesn't bother you. They are synthesized during the germination process in barley, and you can't take them out. In fact, they are already inside your body! Don't panic. Without them, things would be much worse, You may even fail to exist!

Hundreds of thousands of enzymes do everything for us without much effort. For a super simple breakdown, consider the following example: A pile of dirt sits next to a hole in the ground. A human stands next to it. In order to modify the dirt or hole significantly, it will require quite some time and energy from the human. When you add a supplemental enzyme into the mix (a shovel), the energy usage becomes much more efficient. The shovel will not particularly be affected by the actions taking place, it simply facilitates the transactions.

While the term "cheating" may have a semantic description in brewing, incorporating supplemental enzymes into your routine should not conflict with most interpretations of "honest" beer. I certainly called the hand mixing of cement I saw in India "honest" work; however, it seems foolish to call a shovel "cheating". Sometimes supplemental enzymes are simply concentrated quantities of the same naturally occurring enzymes found in barley and other brewing materials. In other cases, they may be derived in forms of fungus that offer the same catalyzed reactions, yet with more thermal or pH resistance. In either case, additions to your processing can be dialed in with repeatability, allowing for a consistent and expected final product.

So, the next time someone accuses you of cheating, ask for the rule book. After reading up, take a step back and ask yourself... is my product dishonest? Unhealthy? Unsafe? Unsustainable? Presuming you like the answers, move on to the next questions: Am I making the best product possible? Am I happy with my efficiency? Can I get more by doing more?

If you find yourself needing help with the answers, reach out to your colleagues and suppliers for more information on what supplemental enzymes can do for you. A variety of different options can aid from mash to filter, increasing real dollars and reducing actual labor. Both your wallet and your back will thank you!