Beer! October 6, 2010Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Collaboration, Science, Space Exploration.
An old joke used to have it that ten glasses of Guinness, a glass of orange juice, and a glass of milk was a balanced daily diet. Perhaps, that’s the application intended by the beer’s slogans, Guinness is good for you and A Guinness a day. Some researchers have found antioxidants in the stout, and it’s a slight 125 calories per 12 ounces and a mere 4% abv (alcohol by volume). Beer is a simple food, requiring time and four basic ingredients: water, barley (or another starch source), hops, and yeast. While we can’t attest to the nutritional completeness or wisdom of this diet plan, we can discuss some of the fascinating properties of Guinness and other beers.
In 2004, one of the great beer mysteries, an existential quandary that had plagued generations of barstool philosophers and saloon scientists, was solved. Why do Guinness bubbles sink instead of rise? When you’ve poured your pint, bubbles near the inside surface of the glass experience drag (see Monday’s Guest Blog for a definition of drag) as they try to rise, but the bubbles at the center of the glass rise swiftly. When those bubbles in the center hit the froth, they are pushed outward toward the edge of the glass. The edge of the glass directs this flow downward, where you observe liquid flowing down the inside of the glass. Until the beer has settled and more bubbles have gathered at the top, this process creates a circulation of Guinness up from the center, over the top under the froth, and back down the sides. In addition, you see this happen in a pint of Guinness because the bubbles are small as they are released through tiny holes; the bubbles are nitrogen, which dissolves less well than carbon dioxide; and the liquid is very dark.
If you’d like to repeat this experiment for yourself (and repeatability is part of what makes it science), we recommend that you go directly to the Guinness Storehouse at St. James Gate Brewery in Dublin, Ireland. Guinness was first brewed in 1759 on that spot, and the Storehouse was built in 1904 for the fermentation process, then changed into a small visitor’s center in 1988. In 2000, the building was completely remodeled as a seven-storey pint glass that walks visitors through the history and processes of Guinness, culminating at the Gravity Bar, which offers a panoramic view of Dublin and a free pint. You might also repeat the experiment at the Brazen Head, the pub on Bridge Street near the River Liffey that poured its first beverage in 1198, almost 300 years before Christopher Columbus happened upon the Americas and insisted he’d made his way to the Asian continent (Monday honors this event).
With that amount of lead-up, it’s about time that beer made its way into space. In the past year, beer and space travel have intersected in several ways. First to launch was Sapporo’s Space Beer. The recipe calls for barley descended from grains that sprouted on the International Space Station. Space Beer, unfortunately, was brewed in very limited quantities and its distribution has been limited to terra firma, specifically Sapporo’s home market of Japan.
Beer should be ready for space soon, though. An Australian company is developing a stout, akin to Guinness, intended for consumption by the anticipated hordes of space tourists that will be leaving Earth in the next decade. The goal was to create a beer that tastes delicious in low gravity, a problem because zero-gravity thwarts both bubbles and taste buds. The new brew was bottled last month and will be tasted next month on a plane that flies an elliptic path to create weightlessness. Given the wide range of physiologically unpleasant side effects reported in zero-G by even experienced astronauts—your digestive tract stops, dizziness leads to nausea, your hands and feet swell as the heart struggles to circulate blood—plying the novice space tourists with beer seems a logical advance. We imagine there will be no end of Earthside volunteers for the next test phase of this product launch in outer space.
Meanwhile, here on Earth, it’s pumpkin beer season. Our latest find in this category is Dogfish Head’s Punkin Ale, which is just pumpkin enough without going overboard and has a 7% abv. For one that’s more reminiscent of pumpkin pie and has a lower abv at 5.2%, try Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Ale. Other seasonal options include Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale, O’Fallon Pumpkin Ale, Saranac Pumpkin Ale, New Holland Ichabod Ale, and Wild Goose Pumpkin Patch Ale.