Make pure beer with pure enzymes

Make pure beer with pure enzymes

“Humankind was built on beer. From the world’s first writing to its first laws, in rituals social, religious, and political, civilization is soaked in beer.”

William Bostwick – The Brewer's Tale: A History of the World According to Beer

In order to make beer, one undoubtedly must make use of enzymes. Even before raw ingredients enter a brewhouse, enzymes have begun a process vital to the success of the brewer. Without enzymatic activity, complex chemical reactions, such as fermentation, could not take place. 

How do you define "pure"beer?

How do you define "pure"beer?

Beer is a bit harder to define than it appears at first glance. Both Mirriam-Webster and Oxford give a proper sense of the word, however there are some problems with both definitions. You see, Oxford uses the phrase “an alcoholic drink made from malt, with hops added to give it taste” while M-W at least gives a nod to carbonation, one of my favorite components. M-W, however, states “typically contains less than a 5% alcohol content” which certainly raises an eyebrow.  “Pure” is much easier to define – “unmixed with any other material”. M-W and Oxford can agree on that. For this post, “pure beer” refers to “a carbonated, alcoholic drink made primarily from malted cereal grains and typically flavored with hops”.

What is a “pure” enzyme?

A “pure” enzyme is simply one that has been refined to a single specific-shaped protein complex. This means the enzyme (or compound of enzymes) has a very unique function, allowing only targeted reactions to take place. In naturally occurring living organisms, many enzymes work in conjunction to create specific results. Enzymes are often grouped into classification based upon their general commonalities. The quantity and activity of these enzymes defines many things about a living organism.

Most supplemental enzymes are created through exploiting a process of natural synthesis. Scientists take a natural living organism and “splice” into it, using the organism as a propagation host for the desired production enzyme. After growth of the organism has resulted in enzyme production, the enzyme content is separated from the remainder of the host organism. 

Enzymes are not microorganisms, and therefore cannot be genetically modified in a true sense. Rather, the host microorganism is genetically modified to code its DNA into producing the desired enzyme protein complex. Once the finished protein complex is separated from the host organism, it (the enzyme) is not considered an organism, and therefore is not technically a GMO (or GMM). 

What about Zie Germans?!?!

What about Zie Germans?!?!

Previous posts have touched on the Reinheitsgebot, or so called “purity laws”, enacted by Bavaria in the 14th century. To some, this rigid definition of water, barley, and hops would exemplify “pure” beer, but the Austrians, Belgians, and Finnish people (among others) may argue fervently. Although this particular decree on brewing is often framed as early consumer protection, the reality is somewhat more obfuscated. Politics is no stranger to time, and early brewing was no exception. Reinheistgebot likely was intended primarily to preserve food ingredients for the market, and was then quickly exploited as well. Reserving wheat, rye, fruit, and other food items exclusively for nutritional consumption was seen as a necessity of that time, but several exceptions were noted in history. 

Reinheitsgebot predates Leeuwenhoek's first glimpses of yeast globules by 164 years, so there is no mention of what may be the most important component of any fermented beverage in the original written decree. It would take an additional 203 years before Emil Christian Hansen would isolate an individual yeast cell in 1883, finally creating “pure” yeast cultures, and “curing the disease of beer”. The German Empire as a whole would not introduce the concept until 1906, and it lasted a while, but in 1987 the laws were challenged by the European Union on the basis of unfair restraint of trade. Germany was forced to allow “non-conforming” beers to be imported, as long as the ingredients were listed on the products. 

Modern interpretation of the Biersteuergesetz (Beer Tax Law) would indicate no artificial products or processes are allowed in the creation of Reinheitsgebot compliant beer. This includes malt produced from artificial germination, or the addition of artificial enzymes. Of course there is a myriad of other compliancy hoops, from milling cereal grains in-house, to biological-only acidification. Some subjects, such as water salt additions, can be quite semantical. While adding calcium sulfate or calcium chloride to brewing liquor is perfectly acceptable, adding it to a mash is non-compliant. 

Can I use enzymes in my brew?

Can I use enzymes in my brew?

As mentioned in earlier posts, the etymology of “enzyme” is Greek meaning “within leaven”. Enzymes naturally occur inside yeast cells, and fermentation would be impossible without them. Enzymes also occur naturally inside barley, with the majority of content being synthesized during the germination process. Even hops contain several enzyme varieties, so care must be taken with dry hopping schedules. 

All living things contain enzymes, including yeast, hops, and barley malt. If care is not taken during dry-hopping, enzymes present in the hops can re-start fermentation, leading to diacetyl formation. If there is not enough metabolic activity diacetyl will remain in the finished product above acceptable threshold levels.

Putting additional enzymes in your brew is not a world changing concept. This is something many distillers have come to embrace, since many non-barley cereal grains have gelatinization temperatures that denature saccharification enzymes. Where old-world distillers used around 20% barley in their mashes, new-world distiller make use of concentrated enzyme blends to more precisely control product perimeters.

If you are concerned about remaining Reinheitsgebot compliant, consider that most supplemental enzyme products for brewing are not “artificial” enzymes. That is to say, they are not synthetic organic molecules or ions that replicate the action of a natural enzyme. They are in fact naturally occurring protein complexes formed by chains of natural amino acids. Although any law is open to interpretation by the highest-paid legal analyst, I have found no reason to believe the addition of natural enzymes to a brew is non-compliant, provided you add them to the brewing liquor, and not a mash. Check with your local laws, or refer to section 9.1 of the Biersteuergesetz for further details.

Brewers commonly adjust mash pH for optimal enzymatic results, however Reinheitsgebot does not allow for non-malt derived acidification. Larger breweries will propagate a “sour-mash” which can be dosed into the main mash, while smaller breweries often use acidulated malt in the grist bill. 

For the rest of the lactic-acid dosing, yeast nutrient-adding, top-fermenting, dry-hopping rule breakers in this world, enzyme additions should offer little to no ethical hurdles. Their derivation is sustainable with relatively low emissions, and handling/disposal is not difficult. Usage can be incrementally increased until an ideal result is achieved, so large changes in product can be avoided.

Enzymes are powerful substances, but there is no reason to fear them. Understanding more will enable you to make the best choices for your product, your health, and your bottom line. Documented products offer valuable insight on how to maximize potential while minimizing costs. If enzymes can offer you a better finished product, I would implore you to give them a try!