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Brewcraft Course Explores the Science Behind Beer

March 23, 2016


Psychology Professor Scott Bailey began homebrewing his own beer in the early 1990s while studying the neuroscience of taste learning in graduate school. Now, two decades later, he has paired his love and appreciation for brewing with his expertise as an experimental psychologist in his special topics course “Brewcraft PSYC379.”

Craft beer and homebrewing is booming across the nation. The number of craft beer breweries has increased from 1,776 in 2011 to 3,379 in 2015. In that same four-year span, the amount of beer sold has more than doubled from 5.5 million barrels to 12.2 million barrels according to The Brewers Association—a nonprofit dedicated to small and independent American brewers, their beers, and the community of brewing enthusiasts.

While Professor Bailey is an experienced homebrewer and beer enthusiast, he brings something special to this craft. As an experimental psychologist he’s fascinated with the scientific investigations behind basic human processes like learning, memory, and cognition. These processes also relate to our senses like taste and smell, and even drinking beer.

In addition to the chemistry behind brewing, Professor Bailey says it’s also very creative. Currently, he’s developing an IPA recipe using a five-gallon stove top, partial-mash approach with hopes of scaling the recipe for production in a 10-gallon all grain approach.

“I love to cook and so did my dad who was an artist,” Bailey said. “I enjoy seeing how all of the ingredients you put into a beer can come together and how you can change different variables like the hops or yeast strain or grain roast.”

In the Brewcraft course, students are required to develop recipes with variants and systematically manipulate those variants. The tasting component of the course is done with rigid adherence to scientific methodological presentation of tastants and recording of evaluative data. They’re also required to keep a detailed journal of their findings.

While Bailey said the class is fun for several reasons, his favorite is tricking students into learning.

“Students are attracted to learning about beer, likely for a range of reasons,” Bailey said. “Some thought they were enrolling in an opportunity to drink beer on Fridays. We do that sometimes, but we’re also talking about things like long versus short chain sugars, yeast strains, mashing and fermenting temperatures, original and final gravities, International Bittering Units, and so on. Some students are stunned to discover the infinite possibilities of ways of combining ingredients to produce what only a couple of months ago was, to them, this monolithic thing called beer.”

On Saturday, April 2, Bailey and his students are hosting the Brewcraft Beer Festival at the Jackson Park Student Activities Center. The festival is part of the course and it will feature beers from six San Antonio-area breweries including BS Brewing, Freetail Brewing, New Braunfels Brewing, Ranger Creek Brewing, Real Ale Brewing, and Seguin Brewing Company. There will also be live music from Radio Springs, a food truck, door prizes, a silent auction, and more.

Bailey said the festival is a way to showcase the national craft beer movement and highlight the many great beers available from Texas breweries, as well as some great examples of old line and contemporary beers from nearby and far away now available in Seguin.

“We are particularly interested in using this event to increase exposure to beers that are made locally and regionally,” Bailey said. “We hope to capture the attention of a range of folks from those who already enjoy sampling many styles of beers, to those who are interested in expanding their palates beyond the familiar, mass-produced beers.”

The Brewcraft Beer Festival is 21 and up only and ID is required for entry. Advance tickets are $25 and available at: Tickets available at the door for $30.

Pictured: Students John Choi, Cason Miller, and Adam Kinyicky at Homebrew Supply in San Marcos.

What’s in a Name?


Ales are beers fermented with top fermenting yeast. Ales typically are fermented at warmer temperatures than lagers, and are often served warmer. The term ale is sometimes incorrectly associated with alcoholic strength.

Real Ale

A style of beer found primarily in England where consumers have championed it. Generally defined as beers that have undergone a secondary fermentation in the container from which they are served and that are served without the application of carbon dioxide.


India pale ale (IPA) is a hoppy beer style within the broader category of pale ale. Bitter is certainly a major factor when tasting an IPA, as the style employs an increased amount of hops which can add what is often described as evident, bracing and even aggressive bitterness.


Lagers are any beer that is fermented with bottom-fermenting yeast at colder temperatures. Lagers are most often associated with crisp, clean flavors and are traditionally fermented and served at colder temperatures than ales.


A lager beer with a strong hop flavor, originally brewed at Pilsen in Bohemia (now the Czech Republic), and traditionally served in a tall glass tapered at the bottom.

Sour Beers

Sour beers have an intentionally acidic, tart, or sour taste. The most common sour beer styles are Belgian: lambics, gueuze and Flanders red ale.


Stout is a dark beer made using roasted malt or roasted barley, hops, water and yeast. Stouts were traditionally the generic term for the strongest or stoutest porters, typically 7 or 8 percent alcohol, produced by a brewery.


Strong beers that can be traced to the town of Einbeck Germany, circa 1250. They were originally spontaneously top-fermented dark beers primarily made of wheat. Einbeck is also one of the areas responsible for the propagation of lager yeasts that have become commonplace in the modern world. They may be golden, tawny or dark brown. Outside Germany, strengths vary, and a bock is usually dark.