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Beers to Darwin and his theory; Scientific theory and beer meet next week in a unique event. In association with NETPARK.

Byline: Alastair Gilmour reports

HISTORY doesn't record whether Charles Darwin liked a pint. It's tempting to assume so; he displayed all the characteristics of an adventurous soul, he was impetuous, enterprising, intrepid and headstrong with enough of a romantic streak to appreciate that living among the hop gardens of Kent had its advantages.

Matt Ridley, science writer and co-founder of the Centre For Life in Newcastle describes Darwin further as "a shy, anxious, hypochondriac recluse" but that's no barrier to enjoying a glass or two of beer. Plus, anybody who sailed round the world and boiled baby pigeons for their skeletons (and came up with the theory of nature being red in tooth and claw) then married his cousin as a scientific experiment, must surely have sat in a tavern to observe evolution at close quarters.

This year is the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth and to celebrate, organisers of the Newcastle ScienceFest 09 have commissioned Natural Selection, a premium India Pale Ale, its ingredients carefully selected to illustrate the great scientist's legacy. His great book, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, gave an explanation for the diversity of living things. At the time of publication in 1859, Darwin's theory aroused anger and controversy, but today evolution is overwhelmingly accepted as underpinning all modern biology.

Staff from the Centre for Life came up with the idea of the commemorative beer - brewed opportunely by Darwin Brewery of Sunderland (so named because a handful of raw materials can produce countless variations; its DNA, if you like). Established in 1994, Darwin Brewery has grown steadily from experimental and educational beginnings at Brewlab at the University of Sunderland to become one of the most respected beer producers in the North East. An initial brew of 3,000 bottles of Darwin's Natural Selection (5.0% alcohol by volume) will be on sale throughout the region with more evolving through 2009.

Linda Conlon, Centre for Life chief executive and director of the Science-Fest, says: "Beer is an excellent example of both natural selection and selective breeding. Since the days of the first primitive beers, brewers have selected and modified hops and barleys and chosen from evolving strains of yeasts to produce the best."

Darwin Brewery is owned by three micro-biologists, Dr St John Usher, Dr Keith Thomas and Edward Taylor. As part of Newcastle ScienceFest 09, Keith Thomas will present Natural Selection Beer - Talk and Taste on March 11, 6.30pm (free but advance booking necessary) where he will trace the story of Britain's native drink - and those attending will be able to sample the new beer.

He says: "Traditional beers are very flexible foods, mixing flavours from their different ingredients and changing subtly as drinkers evolve their tastes.

"We've been looking at beer from Darwin's age, the late Victorian period.

Some breweries produced very weak beers at the time and one of them, Hammond's of Bradford, had a range of seven or eight beers between 4.0% and 10.3% alcohol by volume. A lot of people would have been drinking full, all-malt beer in pubs in those days, but there would be as much produced in houses that would be quite light.

"At Brewlab we're examining very early barley varieties, such as Chevalier, with the John Innes Centre in Norwich, which is an independent, international centre of excellence in plant science and microbiology. Chevalier is a wild type of barley - the very first selected variety - and very tall, but when mechanical harvesting became more common, growers started to chose smaller varieties. We've got about 1.5 kilograms in a drawer which, when planted out, will give us a brew to do next year. We're also working with the agricultural department at Newcastle University; their farms are looking at various barleys.

"Modern varieties have been developed for choice, ease of harvesting and resistance to disease, but we obviously recognise that we can't go right back. Brewlab allows us the area of research and Darwin gives us the opportunity to do the full brew and the marketing. There are also thousands of strains of brewing yeast producing many varieties of beer."

Charles Darwin realised and demonstrated that all species of life have evolved over time from common ancestors through the process he called natural selection. This explains how the small variations between individuals can gradually change whole species as those who are better suited to their environment are more likely to pass on those characteristics to the next generation. Evidence for this simple idea is found in many spheres, from ancient fossils to our own genetic code.

Each ingredient in Darwin's Natural Selection beer has a link to Darwin's story and evolution.

Keith Thomas says: "Beer in Darwin's time would have balanced benefits and it's been an opportunity for me as a microbiologist to look at genetic modification of barley and look at its potential, not for the robotics, but to help us understand the genes and strains that will affect characteristics such as longer shelf-life.

"If you go back through the years, we find the quality of beer that people chose has evolved; it works well but we're unsure why. Now in the lab we can find out why; we can look at barley strains and improve malt quality.

"Looking at longevity of people 100 years ago, if you take infant mortality out of the equation, you'll find people lived as long as they do now - they had a good, solid diet. They would have an intake of 6,000 calories, which is massive - twice the dietary intake today - but their fitness was better and they walked everywhere.

"Beer was very much a part of that.

They would live to between 70 and 80 which is not a big difference from today. But in the 1880s and 1890s a lot of sugar came in from the West Indies which made a cheap extract in beer and diets stopped being cereal and root vegetable-based.

"And most people don't realise beer's close association with bread; they have the same ingredients and a similar fermentation process. In Natural Selection we have used a strain from Westerham Brewery in Kent which was lodged with the National Yeast Collection when it was founded in 1946. The strain itself is much older and is believed to date back to the middle of the 19th Century.

"The main contributor to the malt is Pearl, a modern selected barley which is noted for its high yield, ease of harvesting and low protein content.

The hops are Fuggles, Britain's oldest named variety, which were developed and are still grown in the hop gardens near Darwin's home in Kent.

"Darwin's Natural Selection is a rich, hoppy, fully malty and fruity, like a traditional Kent IPA. Colour-wise, it's like dark straw."

As fine an ale as would tempt any shy, anxious, hypochondriac recluse into his local tavern.

"Beer is an excellent example of both natural selection and selective breeding


Beer: Evolutionary ingredients


Barley, wheat, oats and rye can be malted. Grains have to be steeped in water then allowed to germinate for around a week until the kernel's development has reached the stage where it has not sprouted and begun to live off its own sugars. The process is halted by a drying process. The grain is then known as malt. Malting also releases enzymes that will be required in mashing and fermenta tion.


In the days when much of our water was not safe to drink, beer at least had the benefit of having been boiled. Among the salts that occur in water, calcium, sulphate and chloride are of the most interest to a brewer. Calcium increases the extract from malt and hops during mashing and boiling,.

Sulphate enhances hop bitterness and dryness. Calcium sulphate in Burton-upon-Trent water helped produce pale ale as a distinct beer style. Chloride lends a fuller texture and enhances sweetness. The waters around the original porter and stout capitals of London and Dublin are relatively chloride-high.


Hops are a member of the nettle family and a first cousin to cannabis. Hops varieties are used to confer aroma or impart dryness and bitterness.

Britain's most famous varieties are Goldings and Fuggles, named after the farmers who first selected and propagated them (1790 and 1875 respectively).


Beer depends on yeast, a micro-organism, to consume sugars and convert them into alcohol and carbon dioxide.

Without yeast, beer would be barley water and wine would be grape juice. Some yeast strains have been cultivated by breweries for more than a century, giving a beer its own house-style, and are individual as a fingerprint.

Beer: Learn how

Brewlab is a leading provider of opaining and analysis services for sue international brewing industry.

It was established in 1986 and cerates at the University of underland as part of the Faculty of applied Science.

The range of training courses on fer are relevant to the first-time ewer and the keen amateur rough to professionals who are looking to keep their skills and knowledge updated.

Beer: An aperitif

Natural Selection Beer - Talk and Taste is only one of the many says the Centre for Life plans to lebrate the work of Charles darwin.

A special programme of arwin200 events and activities is anned to take place throughout five year and includes lectures, exhibitions and family-friendly events.

Newcastle ScienceFest 09 runs from March 6-15, a 10-day bumper programme of events to celebrate creativity and innovation catering for curious minds of all ages.


CHEERS Europe Minister Caroline Flint, right, at the Centre for Life where its chief executive Linda Conlon presented her with the Darwin-inspired brew.; ANCIENT TASK Brewers at Sunderland's Darwin Brewery.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Mar 5, 2009
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