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Beer is as old as civilization. Civilization as we care to remember it, anyway.

It was mankind's first stride into biotechnology. It helped push nomadic tribes into agriculture. It founded nations. It got Charlie Bamforth a job.

Bamforth, a PhD, DSc, chair of the Department of Food Science & Technology at the University of California and Anheuser-Busch Endowed Professor of Malting and Brewing Sciences likes his beer, as the title suggests. Thursday evening Bamforth discussed the glory of brewing science at Xerox PARC as a part of a five-part series of the science of food.

Beer is good for you, according to Bamforth, and who are we to argue? It is a rich source of B vitamins which play an important role in cell metabolism. Studies about wine (drunk in moderation) increasing a person's health merely involves the alcohol intake and therefore is exactly the same for its frothy cousin.

"A study showed that people who bought wine at a grocery store also bought things like tofu and low fat yogurt and lettuce leaves," said Bamforth. "People who bought beer bought things like burgers, minced beef and cigarettes. Now just imagine how unhealthy they would be if they didn't drink beer."

UC Davis apparently shares Bamforth's love for the beer science. His "Introduction to Beer and Brewing" course is the third most popular class on campus. Who knew there were so many would-be biochemists out there? (The most popular class at the university is about sex. The professor of brussel sprouts and early morning jogs could not be reached for comment.)

Good beer production is long and difficult. It involves soaking malt barley, boiling the solution with hops, cooling and fermenting with yeast and the release of Co2 and ethyl alcohol. For the layman, it it goes something this: C6H12O6 --> 2C2H5OH + 2CO2 = Deeeebby! Deeeeeebby!! I broke a window for you Debby!!

The key to beer-making is consistency. While wine connoisseurs worry about vintage, grape harvests, aging and sniff at corks, the best batch of beer is one that tastes exactly like the last one. Because beer doesn't age well, getting a consistent taste is a major problem for importers. That means your la-di-da foreign brew is probably suffering from fatigue by the time it gets to your fridge. The best time to drink a beer is immediately after it's been bottled.

The most important fact about beer science is that it's one of the few food-groups that doesn't lose its appeal after you learn too much about it. There's nothing like a visit to the local slaughterhouse or meditation on pickled cucumber factories using outdoor brine tanks with no lids to ruin a perfectly good deli sandwich. Sure, brewers use something called "starchy endosperm" to make your beer; that's smalltime. Shrug it off. Have a beer or something. ®

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