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Home Brew Forums > Home Brewing Beer > Brew Science > Organic chemistry for brewing?
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Old 01-29-2013, 06:20 PM   #1
liquiditynerd
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Default Organic chemistry for brewing?

Is anyone else taking organic chemistry on coursera? There are several home brewers and wine makers taking it to aid in their understanding of brewing and I was wundering if anyone else signed up. FYI coursera.org is a new online free college course site.

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Old 01-29-2013, 06:36 PM   #2
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Although brewing involves inorganic and organic chemistry, it seems we mostly focus on the inorganic component. It would be interesting to delve into the organic side to see if there are other things to ponder. The Analytical Chemistry course might be more applicable.

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Old 01-29-2013, 07:08 PM   #3
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I took O-Chem a few years back. While it is useful and interesting I don't think it's required to brew excellent beer even on the commercial scale. I'm sure if you want to be on the forefront of hop utilization and isomerization it's required. Both Inorganic and Organic would give you an excellent base to go into yeast biology, nearly every enzyme is based on an inorganic compound with a metal center allowing the yeasts to catalyze organic compounds.
I agree with mabrungard, Analytical Chemistry would be more applicable to brewing in it's broad scope. Since mash pH and metal solubility play quite a role in taste/texture perceptions in beer.

You can view the UC Davis Brewing Course prerequisites for a good idea of what they look for in a brewer(O-Chem's in there).

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Old 01-29-2013, 08:28 PM   #4
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Fortunately the emphasis on brewing is on Biochemistry which, I am happy to say, does not require much knowledge of organic chemistry. I was set right on this by a biochemist who said 'Go ahead and give it a shot - you'll find you really don't need that much organic." And he was right. I can jump into the middle of a biochem text and understand what they are talking about. I cannot do that with an organic chemistry text without lots more difficulty.

Needless to say, the better you understand organic the better you will understand biochem and organic is a good thing to know for its own sake but if the shortest path to good beer is sought I'd go straight to the biochem. One of the major reasons for that is that every biochem text has a big section on the Henderson-Hasselbalch equation which is key to the understanding of water chemistry as well as many aspects of biochemistry. You will find it dealt with more directly in biochem (and p-chem) books than in organic texts (to the best of my knowledge - I don't have familiarity with many organic chem texts).

Speaking of p-chem: that's what I would say I spend most of my time on. pH, its measurement, the properties of solutions, the extent of reactions, buffering... Those are the things that really seem to concern brewers most.

As for analytical - that kind of falls into place on its own. If you were to start using some of the ASBC's MOAs (Methods of Analysis) I think it would be pretty clear as to why they have you do what they have you do. This assumes you have some knowledge of statistics and the scientific method in hand at this point. Based on that perhaps we should ask 'What's your technical background?'

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Old 01-29-2013, 09:44 PM   #5
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Thanks, great insight. I did see the UCD pre reqs and assumed it would be beneficial. I do architectural preservation and material conservation so it is interesting. Since its free I figure why not.

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Old 01-29-2013, 09:50 PM   #6
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I might be wrong, but fermentation is completely o-chem is it not? it would seem anything to do with yeast would be to some extent.

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Old 01-29-2013, 10:48 PM   #7
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Techbrewie: It depends how in-depth you look at fermentation. The gross process of

Code:
C6H12O6 + Zymase → 2 C2H5OH + 2 CO2
Along with the resultant fusel oils yes. But as you get into the exact reaction and role of zymase and other enzymes you run into inorganic chemistry. Some yeasts utilize a B-12 dependent enzyme, B-12 has cobalt at the center(p470 Img 13). Many other enzymes and vitamins have metal centers. So it all depends on how close you want to look at the fermentation. Then there are all the processes in the yeasts like reproduction and respiration that almost certainly rely on inorganic molecules to transport energy/RNA/DNA around.
Many of the reactions also only occur under certain conditions which is where Physical chemistry comes in.
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Old 01-29-2013, 11:05 PM   #8
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The chemistries overlap a lot. Ultimately it is the laws of physics (quantum physics) that determine what happens in any chemical reaction but the guys that study this stuff have organized it into multiple specializations. As I said in an earlier post what happens in a yeast cell in mostly the domain of the biochemist. In fermentation you start with the Embden-Meyerhoff-Parnass pathway in which maltose is split into two glucose molecules, those are phosphorylated....until pyruvate is produced which is decarboxylated (that's where the CO2 comes from) to acetaldehyde which is reduced to ethanol (those last three steps are not part of EMP). Each step is catalyzed by an enzyme and what makes the enzymes do their jobs and how they regulate the process is a large part of the biochemists concern.

The reduction of acetaldehyde to ethanol

CH3CHO + NADH + H+ <---> CH3CH2OH + NAD+

for example, is clearly an organic reaction but the fact that it is part of a complex chain (it requires the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase to catalyze it and NAD+ is needed for an earlier step where it is consumed producing NADH and protons so there is a loop) are the things that concern biochemists more than the shapes of the molecular orbitals that hold ethanol in its particular shape and how it would react with sulfuric acid (forms ethyl ether) which would be more the concern of the organic chemist. But obviously the biochemist needs to know that this is a redox reaction and that pH will control whether it goes to left or right. I'd suggest going to the library and pulling an organic chemistry text off the shelf along with a biochemistry text and paging through them to get a feel for the difference.

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Old 01-30-2013, 02:38 AM   #9
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I know I asked the right question in the best place. As far as this subject goes I'm a newbie. I brew like I cook, off the hip and see how it turn s out. this is the reason for research. I remember a thread about welding and I found that hbt and brewers are universalists. We do it all. Thank y'all for the education, I am looking at these recommendations. Brew well my friends.

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Old 02-17-2013, 11:07 PM   #10
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I've started the class as well! Have you kept up for the 3rd week?

I figured bio-chem would be a better start, but I wasn't expecting to hear inorganic would be possibly more important - glad I know that now. It was also suggested to me by a friend who has a deep academic background in chem that chemical engineering may be a great place to focus.

I figured, since the Organic Chem is available for free, and none of those other courses are, why not! Just getting the brain back into the chemistry world in any way is sure to help is what I presume. I too was looking for local community college courses, but scheduling is impossible, and other universities charge far too much.

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