Beer and science, a perfect pairing for these museum nights out

Jason Faulkner of White Street Brewing Co. serves samples to Natural Selections guests in front of the iconic Acrocanthosaurus at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences in 2016.
Jason Faulkner of White Street Brewing Co. serves samples to Natural Selections guests in front of the iconic Acrocanthosaurus at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences in 2016. North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

Over the next month, Triangle beer enthusiasts will have two chances to enjoy a side of science with their brews.

On Friday, Aug. 17, the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences hosts “Natural Selections” for the fifth year in a row, offering N.C. craft beers, beer science hands-on demonstrations and live music by Hey Brothers.

On Thursday, Sept. 13, the Museum of Life and Science in Durham will hold “AfterHours: Science of Beer ‘18” with more beer, food trucks and science demonstrations from the N.C. State food science club and the UNC-Chapel Hill chemistry department.

“There’s a lot of science and artistry that goes into what [craft brewers] do,” said Andrea Jones, events manager of the Friends of the Museum of Natural Sciences. “Our audience could really highlight the science of beer, with fermentation, yeast, malt, hops, purity of the water, and cans versus bottles.”

Visitors to both events, which are 21 and over, can experience the museums’ regular exhibits after hours. The Museum of Natural Sciences will include science exhibits such as a short show about carbonation, “beer goggle” cornhole and demonstrations about bacteria and malt extraction.

How science meets beer

To make malt, one of the main ingredients in beer, you soak grains in water, then let them sit exposed to air until the seeds start to sprout, or germinate. Then you bake, or kiln, the germinated grains to expose the sugars. Changing any of the steps will change the final malt, like the differences between white sugar, brown sugar and molasses.

Most breweries use malt from one of six industrial malt houses worldwide, of which only one is in the U.S., said Mistress of Malt Lea Woodard of Epiphany Craft Malt. Epiphany provides malt to local brewers like Fullsteam, Trophy and Ponysaurus. The breweries will share an exhibit table with Epiphany, demonstrating how to produce malt from barley and other grains.

“We’re going to bring the malts for the beers that they are bringing to the event,” Woodard said. “We’ll steep the malts so customers can smell and taste the raw ingredients. After it goes through fermentation, some these flavors will change.

“We’ll taste different kilns so people can taste and smell and experience those as well.”

Near the malt extraction table with Woodard, you can look through a microscope at bacteria with Fullsteam analyst Will Pitzer, who has a degree in fermentation science. Fullsteam will offer a sour beer made with foraged figs and bacteria that produce lactic acid.

“We use science as a tool to experiment, but in the end it’s more of an artistic expression,” Pitzer said. “Papers have been published on beer and wine and distillation since the industrial revolution; that’s what pushed me to get an education before working in a brewery. You do need a hard science background in chemistry, biology and physics.”

Putting the fun in fundraising

North Carolina has over 260 breweries and brewpubs, according to the N.C. Craft Brewers Guild. Twenty-eight of those will offer samples at the Museum of Natural Sciences. AfterHours, which has run for eight years, will include more than 54 breweries from N.C. and other regions and food samples.

All profits from ticket sales benefit the museums. Tickets come with commemorative glasses. “Natural Selections” will also include a “People’s Choice Award,” which Bond Brothers has won for two years in a row.

“It’s a great way to come in and experience the museum, try samples from different breweries and give money back to the museum for education and the museum mission,” said Ro Rode, manager for fundraising events at the Museum of Life and Sciences. “It’s beer served with a dash of altruism.”


“Natural Selections,” NC Museum of Natural Sciences, Friday, Aug. 17, 7-10 p.m. $40 General Admission, $65 VIP includes five special beer samples and food. Info and tickets here.

“AfterHours: Science of Beer,” Museum of Life and Sciences, Durham, Thursday, Sept. 13, 6:30-10 p.m. $40 General Admission, $20 designated driver, $55 VIP includes early tasting class and extra hors d’oeuvres. Info and tickets here.

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