VIB scientists map the Belgian beer landscape in a new book

17 September 2018

Using science – and taste buds – to gain insights into some of the world’s most delicious brews

Miguel Roncoroni and Kevin Verstrepen (VIB-KU Leuven Center for Microbiology) put their minds – and their mouths – to work, on behalf of beer enthusiasts the world over. “As scientists, we try to understand the world through observation, experimentation and reason,” Miguel explains. “With this in mind, we tackled the interesting challenge of investigating Belgian beer – using science.” The result is a new book: ‘Belgian Beer – Tested and Tasted’. You don’t want to miss this one!

Belgium is known around the world as the origin of some of the tastiest and most celebrated beers. However, with this reputation comes a truly dazzling and enormously diverse Belgian beer landscape. To shed new light on this confusing assortment, Miguel and Kevin, our resident ‘beer doctor’ and ‘beer professor’, respectively, have put together a neutral guide that relies on scientific data and the palates of trained international beer specialists.

Kevin, what led you toward this intoxicating research topic? What was your goal with this book?
Kevin: “As far as we’re aware, nobody had ever composed a dataset to serve as a fact-based atlas for beer or any other beverage. It’s an introductory guide to Belgian beer, a reference for the experienced beer fan and a source of inspiration for readers – and drinkers – to explore new brews.  Because we combined the analysis with advanced principle component analysis, we were able to make a 2D map of beers.”

How did you develop the atlas – and which beers came out on top?
Miguel: “We analyzed 250 beers in our lab, measuring color, bitterness, alcohol content, sugars, proteins and 70 aroma compounds. Adding an element of expertise, we put together a panel of beer experts to blind-taste the beers and give their feedback on flavor and experience. The way the beers were analyzed – through blind tastings by a trained 15-person panel, and a comprehensive chemical analysis using GC, GC-MS, NIR, LC and enzyme assays – allowed us to define the aroma of each beer without missing details. It also avoide​​d any bias that is always there if a limited number of people taste, and if they know what beer they are tasting.
We didn’t give a final score to each beer – everybody has a different palate and preferences, after all. However, most of the beers we analyzed are objectively excellent, and we did label those beers that received the top scores from panel members.”

Are you ready to take your understanding of the Belgian beer landscape to the next level?
Purchase Kevin and Miguel’s illustrated scientific encyclopedia
 in Dutch and in English. A portion of the proceeds of the book will go to VIB’s ‘Wetenschap op Stap’ science education initiative for children.