Charles Bamforth in the LA Times

Charles Perry of the Los Angeles Times, talks with Charles Bamforth, author of Grape Vs. Grain, about the role of a beer connoisseur at a university known for its winemaking. Now that’s the kind of stuff this beer-loving, NorCal-born blogger is happy to see:

Charles Bamforth stirs the pot as UC Davis’ professor of beer

By Charles Perry, Special to The Times
June 4, 2008

Dave Getzschman photographs students in the midst of making beer.

Dave Getzschman photographs students in the midst of making beer.

DAVIS, CALIF. — Meet the Anheuser-Busch Professor of Malting and Brewing Sciences at UC Davis.The what? There’s a professor of beer in that teeming nest of winemakers? Indeed there is. He’s Charles Bamforth, chairman of the department of food science and technology, a sturdy, jovial middle-aged Englishman with traces of a Liverpool/Manchester accent. On June 13 and 15, UC Davis will bestow diplomas on eight of his students — along with their 37 classmates majoring in viticulture and oenology.Bamforth clearly enjoys his role as the merry beer drinker at the wine tasting. “There are two kinds of students I set off,” he confides, as he heads off to teach his Malting and Brewing 102A class. “The chemical engineers, because I tell them they have no soul. And the oenologists, of course.”

Well, he doesn’t exactly set them off by accident — he teases them without end. To illustrate an issue in quality control, he pointedly tells an oenology major, “Now, let us say you’re throwing darts at a dartboard and you’re singularly incapable of hitting a bull’s-eye,” drawing out the word “singularly” to imply astonishing klutziness. (One of his recurrent themes is that beer requires more skill to make than wine does.) Everybody laughs, including the blushing oenologist.

At the end of the class, the last one of the quarter, another wine-making major presents Bamforth with a bottle of Champagne and a bottle of fine Belgian ale and slyly points out that the Champagne bottle is bigger. “Size matters, Charlie,” he says, showing that oenologists can tease back.

Bamforth, a onetime quality assurance officer at a Liverpool brewery, has a remarkable rapport with American college students. He is a prolific writer, author of such scholarly articles as “Food, Fermentation and Micro-organisms” and “The Foaming of Mixtures of Albumin and Hordein Protein Hydrolysates in Model Systems.”

His latest nonacademic book, “Grape vs. Grain,” is a concise discussion of the beers and wines of the world — including their history, technology and aesthetics — that treats beer throughout as wine’s equal in flavor and healthfulness. “I wanted to call it ‘Beer and Wine,’ ” he insists, “but Cambridge University Press preferred the note of confrontation.” In fact, he says, he likes both beverages, but he demands that beer get due respect, aesthetically and as a healthful drink.

Yes, healthfulness. When drunk in moderation, beer provides much the same health benefit as wine and is an excellent source of B vitamins and antioxidants, he tells his class. Did you know, for instance, that it’s an outstanding way to get your silicon, a trace nutrient important for bone and cartilage health, and that there are people in the U.K. who derive their entire recommended daily dose of silicon from beer? Or that the body absorbs the antioxidant ferulic acid — that’s (E)-3-(4-hydroxy-3-methoxy-phenyl)prop- 2-enoic acid to you and me — better from beer than it does from tomatoes?

Bamforth’s involvement in the beer world began when, as a postdoctoral biochemist, he was hired for his knowledge of enzymology by the Brewing Research Foundation, an institution funded by the British beer industry. A couple of years later, Bass Brewing Co. recruited him to be its research manager. Eventually, Bass sent him to its Liverpool brewery and charged him with making sure no flawed beer got into the market.

“They wanted me to have field experience,” he says. “They considered Liverpool a particularly tough brewery to work at.” No problem. Bamforth had street cred — he’s also been a sportswriter, specializing in soccer.

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Anchor Brewery Welcomes Bamforth

I love the Anchor Brewing Co.’s beer.

I love it.

I love Anchor Steam, I love their Christmas beer on the less “piney” years, I love Old Foghorn, and I really love the rye and gin they’ve been distilling lately.

When I went to Oakland, CA for a wedding in my fiance’s family, the hotel desk handed me a “care package” basket from the bride and groom. It had some snacks and a couple big bottles of Anchor Steam. They knew.

So when the publication of Grape vs. Grain approached, and I started to think about a launch-event location near Davis, CA, they were on my list from the start. I called the brewery one afternoon and introduced myself. When I mentioned that Charles Bamforth had a new book coming out, the woman who answered the phone said “Oh, Charlie! We know Charlie. Sure, let me get you in touch with John Danerbeck.”

Thus it began, and Anchor has been very hospitable ever since. I understand that last night’s event was a very good one.

So thanks to Anchor, to John Danerbeck (pictured right) and to Charles for his work championing beer.

Also, thanks to Jay, who graciously provided the picture. Read his post about the event here.

Were you there? I wish I was. How was it? Comments are open!

Beer vs. Wine Friday

And the winner is….

Shawn the Beer Philosopher, with:

“In wine is truth, in beer is strength … in between them both is one happy man!”

Enjoy the book, and keep your tables ring free!

Thanks to all the contributors. Grape vs. Grain is now available nationwide.

Beer vs. Wine Fridays

Caption This Image!

What is YOUR caption?

Ahh, the life of a brewing scientist. Pictured above is Grape vs. Grain author Charles Bamforth at a food-fashion-themed cookout. Well, look which beverages were happy to pose in the picture!

It just… it begs for a caption contest. Comment something witty below! The winner gets a copy of the book and a stack of five (5) Grape vs. Grain coasters.

Winners will be selected by Cambridge University Press. Comments will be subject to moderation; please keep them respectful. Polls close Wednesday, April 30. Winner will be announced Friday, May 2. Employees of Cambridge University Press are not eligible to win, but welcome to contribute! Note: Moderation is more frequent when Jonathan is working :)

Here’s a couple non-entries to get us started:

“A kiss of tannin; a kiss of hops… brightens, rather than bitters.”

“Both of Charles’ students get an A, for Alcohol.”

Beer vs. Wine Fridays

Charles Bamforth is a globe-trotting brewing scientist, and I could hardly ask him for a post the day he lands from southeast Asia. Those clamoring for some wisdom should look no further than the Preface of Grape vs. Grain, in my opinion, one of the more entertaining pieces of beverage writing I’ve encountered. I’ll post some bits of it here.

flew to Heathrow from India, via Frankfurt. The four hour holdover in the German airport had not remotely bothered me. I hate tight connections, and, besides, I was able to indulge in some sausages and weissbier while peaceably reading my newspaper, a faint buzz of conversation surrounding me.

Later the same day, I found myself for the first time in several years in central London. Strolling toward Hyde Park Corner in the dusk of early evening, it occurred to me that the traffic heading toward the West End was much heavier than I recalled from when I was a more regular visitor and living just a short train ride away. As I walked, there was suddenly the most stupendous whooping, and I turned to see two girls, probably late teens, hanging (in every sense of the word) out of the windows of a stretch limo and gyrating maniacally.

I thought little of it – surely an aberration – and continued my stroll, eventually pitching up at The Crown on Brewer Street, close to Piccadilly Circus. It was a hostelry I knew of old, and, in truth, little within had changed, with the exception of the display on the bar. There was row upon row of taps for dispensing kegged beer, but just a solitary handle for pumping traditional English ale from the cask. I had a pint of the latter, a worthy drop of Charles Wells Bombardier.

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Beer vs. Wine Fridays

Is it a moot debate?

A recent informal poll of Cambridge’s US marketing department shows a dead heat, with many baffled by the question right off the bat. Someone sneaks up behind your desk and says “Wine or beer, GO!” What would you say?

Most were taken aback, with baffled responses like “Well, my favorite beer is…” or “In the wintertime, I drink red wine but…” Does this point to the enlightenment of publishing-types? That we have the capacity to split our discriminating palates? What do you think? Is Charles Bamforth’s question a moot one?

Dr. Bamforth is zipping around and is unable to post today, though he did send along a couple fun facts for us.

Did you know?

The active ingredient that counters the blocking of the arteries is alcohol, so don’t go declaring wine as the sole ‘heart-healthy’ beverage.

One of the wines selected by experts in blind tasting of 2,300 products for the International Eastern Wine Competition (Corning NY) was Charles Shaw 2002 California Shiraz, price $1.99. The product is colloquially known as Two Buck Chuck.

Beer vs. Wine Fridays

brewing.jpgIt’s Friday. Feeling healthy? I’m not qualified to give any dietary advice but… if you’ve been drinking wine as a healthy alternative to beer, perhaps you should reconsider. Then again, who am I to talk? That picture to the left was taken in my kitchen after a night of heavy fermentation. The result was a very tasty beer. It should be no surprise that I’ve enjoyed Beer vs. Wine Fridays. Perhaps we should let an expert take over from here — someone with a real knowledge of brewing chemistry.

Charles Bamforth on Beer and Health

Alcohol is the key ingredient for countering the risk of your arteries blocking up. Guess what? It matters not one jot whether it comes from wine or beer. You might just dwell on the fact, however, that the beer contains the more vitamins, soluble fiber and silicon, which counters osteoporosis. In fact beer is second only to bananas as a source of silicon. And much more pleasurable.

Some studies (excerpted from Grape vs. Grain)

Dr. Cynthia Baum-Baicker, a clinical psychologist within the University of Pennsylvania Health system, has reviewed the literature on the positive psychological benefits of moderate alcohol consumption and concludes that there is reduced stress in such consumers. There is an increase in happiness, euphoria, conviviality, and pleasant and carefree feelings but a decrease in tension, depression, and self-consciousness. More so, low doses of alcohol improve certain types of cognitive performance, such as problem-solving and short-term memory. By contrast, heavy drinkers and abstainers had higher rates of clinical depression than did regular moderate drinkers. Guallar-Castillon and colleagues at a Madrid university described a study showing that people drinking wine or beer believed themselves to be healthier; in fact, the higher the consumption the better people felt they were! Perhaps this is the reason why studies in different regions variously flag up wine or beer as the more beneficial.

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