Beer brewing is one of humanity’s oldest chemical undertakings, undoubtedly dating from a prehistoric period when we first began to appreciate how to employ yeast for converting sugars and grains to alcohol.

Simon Fraser University professor Zamir Punja holds 3D-printed molecules; the smaller one on the right is ethanol, which is the alcohol in beer. The larger molecule is responsible for beer’s distinctive hoppy flavour. Photo credit: ACCN, Canadian Chemical News, Tim Lougheed 

The appeal of that process, and its finished products, has persisted for thousands of years. A further testament to that appeal is the introduction of a course on the subject at Simon Fraser University, starting this semester. The credit course, called Science of Brewing, is open to students from any discipline. Eager undergrads will study various aspects of the brewing process and the business that has grown up around it. It is the first initiative to emerge from an SFU program called INSPIRE, which is dedicated to teaching science in unique and innovative ways. It also features the enthusiastic participation of a private sector partner, Central City Brewing Company, a microbrewery that hosts an operation on the edge of the university’s campus in Surrey, British Columbia.

Two SFU faculty members, chemistry professor Uwe Kreis and biology professor Zamir Punja are teaching the course, which will also feature laboratory sessions and presentations by guest speakers. Students will be formed into teams, each of which will produce a research poster as a final project. “The idea would be to pair up a science student with a business student and a communications student,” says Punja, who wants to build on the interdisciplinary nature of the program.

Formal brewing curricula do exist on other campuses, including one major program at the University of California, Davis. Those graduates may be aiming to work for a brewery somewhere, while graduates from SFU’s offering are expected to emerge with a much broader appreciation of brewing science.