Buzz builds over beer chemistry collaboration


- Vimala Jeevanandam

L-R: Thomson, Phillips Brewing president Matt Phillips, Hof and research assistant Aman Dheri at Phillips Brewing. UVic Photo Services.

Excitement is brewing over a partnership between a UVic chemist and a well-known Victoria craft beer manufacturer.

UVic’s Fraser Hof, a medicinal chemist, is working with scientists at Phillips Brewing and Malting Co. to improve commercial brewing processes. The collaboration aims to develop a precise method of identifying when brewer’s yeast has been “exhausted” and can no longer be reused.

Decisions about when to reuse or discard yeast are made by highly experienced brewers through taste, smell and simple alcohol measurements—but this process is far from foolproof. Up to two per cent of all beer produced is dumped because this process can be imprecise. Considering that Canadian breweries produced over 2.2 billion litres of beer in 2015 alone, that’s a lot of suds—and money—going down the drain.

“We want to develop a molecular analysis that can identify signs of yeast exhaustion and deliver clear decisions to brewers,” says Hof, who studies how molecules bind together as the Canada Research Chair in Supramolecular and Medicinal Chemistry.

Hof and Phillips scientist Euan Thomson came up with the idea for this project one evening over a beer or two. They’d been brainstorming ways to use their collective chemistry expertise to improve their beverage of choice, and this project was a perfect fit.

“The yeast cells that we use as early models in medical research are similar to those used for brewing,” says Hof. “We recently developed a chemical enrichment method that is perfectly suited to this project. That’s the magic of chemistry. A single discovery can have so many different applications. It’s incredibly satisfying to use the research I do in the lab to connect to my community.”

Phillips Brewing was happy to hop on board. “We’re always looking for new tools to make better beer,” says Thomson. “This partnership with Fraser and UVic is a great opportunity to immerse ourselves in the complex problems that come with beer production.”

Funding for the project is being provided through an Engage Grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.


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Keywords: chemistry, alcohol, beer, industry partnerships, research

People: Fraser Hof

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