W&J students toast the end of beer chemistry class

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A small group of Washington & Jefferson College students are gathered in a classroom in the school’s science building celebrating the end of a course over beer, pretzels and peanuts.


This isn’t, however, a stereotypical college party where the star attraction is a beer keg.


“It’s a lot more about chemistry than you think,” W&J senior Alex Davin said last week, when the students gave final presentations on the home brews they crafted.


Davin, 21, of Jefferson Hills, is discussing the American pale ale his team spent the summer creating from an actual recipe the students were required to study, tweak and calculate into something of their own.


Along the way, they had to learn about grains and the complexities of hops that go into making a beer such as an IPA that is supposed to have strong citrus and hoppy aroma, Davin explains.


“What does that mean? It means it’s a well-balanced beer,” he said.


Professor Pat Brletic said she designed the chemistry of beer course knowing it would appeal to college students. She also checks with the registrar’s office to verify each student who enrolls is at least 21 years old.


“I had to learn to teach the course,” said Brletic, adding she developed a taste for India pale ale, a hoppy beer developed in England during the 19th century.


“It certainly made the summer a whole lot more enjoyable,” added classmate Donovan Vogel of Carlisle.


Davin said the students had to start from scratch, brewing from water, grain, hops and yeast, “and now we have beer.”


The course also requires them to measure a beer’s gravity, alcohol by volume and bitterness through laboratory experiments on beers on the market with labels.


“It was doable, but definitely a challenge,” David said. “There were a lot of challenges and we had to learn a lot of jargon.”


Davin said the research led him to conclude more consumers are choosing craft beers over established brands.


“So sit back, relax and enjoy a cold brew,” he said.


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