Originally Posted by jeburgdo
Hey everyone, I was wondering if anyone had any great ideas of how and where to begin to get into the more scientific and technical aspects of home-brewing.
...I've found with virtually no chemistry background, I'm kind of at a loss as to where I should start. The technical jargon and discussions tend to overwhelm me.
As so much of brewing involves chemistry in one form or another (water chemistry, biochemistry, physical chemistry, organic chemistry...) you really won't get that far without some background in chemistry. Fortunately, you don't need a pHD in order to make books like Fix's (or DeClerck's) accessible. So I guess my recommendation would be to go back to Fix and reread but as soon as you hit something you don't understand go check that out elsewhere. Elsewhere would probably be, for the most part, a freshman college chemistry text but a biochemistry text would be useful too. The biochemistry text will have to be treated like Fix or DeClerck i.e. when you are stumped, go elsewhere. Obviously, you don't need to read the complete chemistry text. There is little a brewer needs to know about the chemistry of refining uranium ore, for example. What he does need to know about is the basic structure of matter i.e. what protons, neutrons, electrons, atoms, molecules and ions are and how they combine and separate in chemical reactions. Particularly relevent to brewing are "acid- base" reactions and, if you hope to ever understand water chemistry, their ionic equilibria. Interestingly enough these seem to me to be better described in biochemistry texts than chemistry texts and this may be because the context there is more directly related to what brewers are interested in than the broader applications one might find in a general chemistry book.
Wikipedia can be a good source too. If Fix mentions NAD and you have no idea what NAD is go look it up on Wikipedia. You won't understand 95% of what they say there but gather what you can. The same goes for what you read in the texts, Fix, or DeClerck. At first 95% will be totally incomprehensible. But the next time it will be only 94% and then 93. Yes, I'm talking a long, steep learning curve but it is sort of like a huge jigsaw puzzle. Once some of the pieces fit together others begin to fall into place.
Someone recommended starting with water chemistry and that might not be a bad idea. Water chemistry is quite simple except for the hard part and that's the part that none of the popular spreadsheets handle properly or completely ignore with the result that hundreds are led astray when brewing darker beers. Setting the hard part of water chemistry up as a target and shooting at that will force you to learn a lot of stuff that is useful in understanding other aspects of brewing. For example, you might check out "Henderson - Hasselbalch" equation on Wikipedia and make it your goal to try to understand what all that gobbledygook means. The first thing you'll see is a lot of math. I haven't mentioned that but math is important. You'll at least need to know how to solve algebraic equation, what logarithms and antilogarithms are, how to plot and read a graph and things of that sort. You didn't mention your math skills and so I didn't comment on that earlier. I fear the US population has become largely "innumerate" and if the maths are a problem for you that's just another book to add to your list.