Innovations in brewing
Investments in research and in new technologies are improving the quality of Brazilian beer and reducing its costs of production
Brazil is the third largest producer of beer in the world. It is also one of the world’s major consumers of beer. Brazil produces 13.8 billion liters per year, which places it behind only China and the United States in global rankings. In the past decade, consumption has increased at an average rate of 5% per year, particularly with regard to craft beers, which saw annual growth of around 20%. In such a robust market, several innovative programs are being pursued at universities, breweries, research institutes and by farmers. United in an effort to improve product quality and reduce the cost of production, they are responsible for an assortment of innovations related both to manufacturing and to the domestic cultivation of the beverage’s principal ingredients besides water: barley, hops and yeast. “The Brazilian brewing industry consists of more than 50 factory complexes whose technology is world-class,” says Paulo Petroni, managing director of the Brazilian Beer Industry Association (CervBrasil), the entity that includes the country’s largest manufacturers.
One example of the industry’s innovative effort is taking place with barley, the beverage’s main source of starch. More than 90% of the grain planted in Brazil is the fruit of domestic research. Established 40 years ago, the genetic improvement program led by the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) has already introduced 30 new cultivars of malting barley adapted to Brazil’s climate and soil conditions. “Using our cultivars, known by the abbreviation BRS, yield has more than tripled. During the 1970s, we harvested around one ton of barley per hectare and now we’re getting about 3.5 metric tons per hectare,” says agronomist Euclydes Minella, who oversees the Embrapa Wheat Program in Passo Fundo, in the state of Rio Grande do Sul (RS). “The new grain varieties we’ve developed helped consolidate cultivation of malting barley for brewing. Today, we have more productive cultivars that are higher-quality and better able to resist disease. It’s very difficult to get imported barley seeds to flourish in Brazil. The varieties developed here are very commercially competitive.”
When first established, the program was intended to replace the barley used by breweries which, at that time, was all imported. This objective has not yet been met. Domestic production of 300,000 metric tons per year of the grain, according to Embrapa, meets 43% of Brazil’s industry needs for the production of malt, the name given to the dry sprouted cereal used in manufacturing the beverage (see infographic for a description of the key stages of the beer-making process). To meet manufacturers’ demand, Brazil purchases nearly 400,000 metric tons/year of barley from farmers in Argentina, Europe, the United States and Canada.
A grass that resembles wheat, barley (Hordeum vulgare) is originally from the Middle East. It was initially domesticated in ancient Mesopotamia, present-day home of Iraq and Syria. It is an annual crop, sown in Brazil from May through July and harvested from September through November. Over the past decade, cultivation of barley mostly took place in the states of Rio Grande do Sul and Paraná, whose climate is amply suited to growing the plant. The two states together account for more than 90% of Brazil’s domestic production. The studies at Embrapa have enabled expansion of the crop’s cultivation areas and the grain can now be grown on a commercial scale in the states of São Paulo, Goiás and Minas Gerais. “By 2013, in partnership with Malteria do Vale, located in Taubaté [São Paulo State], we had introduced the varieties known as BRS, Sampa, Manduri and Itanema for cultivation in the irrigated plantations of São Paulo,” says Euclydes Minella. “In São Paulo, which accounts for nearly 5% of the grain’s production,100% of the crops consist of Embrapa cultivars.”
Cooperation between Embrapa and growers, malt producers (factories that convert barley into malt) and beer manufacturers is the foundation for the success of Embrapa’s barley enhancement program, says Minella. “The four malting factories located in Brazil–two owned by AmBev in Rio Grande do Sul, one owned by the Cooperativa Agrária Industrial, in Guarapuava [Paraná State], and one owned by Malteria do Vale, in São Paulo–are partners of Embrapa,” Minella says. Another factor that explains the success of the initiative is the technology behind the creation of the new cultivars. “When using traditional genetic improvement methods, a new cultivar takes at least six years to fix its genetic characteristics. After that, it needs an additional four years of field tests to assess yield, the quality of the grain and its disease-resistance,” Minella explains. At Embrapa Wheat, scientists are using the technique known as haplodiploidization, through the development of in vitro plants derived from gametes (reproductive cells), carriers of the half of the genome that can spontaneously or artificially induce the generation of double haploid lines. “This is how we are able to obtain a new genetically pure line in just a single generation rather than in six or more, as with the conventional process, obtaining a new cultivar in seven years.”
Just as with barley, hops (Humulus lupulus), the other essential ingredient in the beer recipe, is also the focus of intense agricultural research. Responsible for the beverage’s bitter taste, the hop plant is a climbing perennial that originated in Europe and is very hard to grow in Brazil. The hops used in beer making come only from the flowers of the female plant, which are rich in bitter resins and essential oils. Its leaf is shaped like palm and grows into a spiral pod. Hop plants grow to 6 meters in height, and at their peak of development can grow up to 30 centimeters per day. Because it is a crop typically cultivated in temperate regions of the northern hemisphere, it has never adapted to the conditions of Brazil, which imports all the hops used by domestic breweries–around 2,400 metric tons per year, at a cost of nearly $35 million. Until just a few years ago, there was no domestic production of hops in Brazil, but the work of researchers and small producers is changing this scenario.
“Having hops produced in Brazil is important not just so we won’t have to import it, but mainly so that we can develop a domestic brewing school,” says agronomist Felipe Francisco, who has studied the plant since 2012. Owner of an agricultural consultancy headquartered in Curitiba (Paraná State), he researched hops while pursuing his master’s degree completed two years ago from the Federal University of Paraná (UFPR). In addition to low temperatures–essential for the climbing plants to sprout–another challenge to cultivating the crop in Brazil is the amount of time it is exposed to sunlight each day. “In Brazil, the photoperiod, in other words, the length of the day, varies little over the course of the year. And this is not good for the plant,” says Francisco.
The researcher explains that in order for the hops to produce in the desired quantity and quality, at the right time, it needs to experience variation in sun exposure over the course of its growth cycle, ranging from a minimum of 9.5 hours to a maximum of 14.5 hours of sunlight per day. “Upon exposure to a longer period of sunlight, the plant naturally begins to produce a hormone called gibberellin or GA, which accelerates its growth. And when the days begin to grow shorter–in the southern hemisphere, as of December 21–GA production diminishes and the plant begins to flower. In a few short weeks, in February or March, it is time to harvest the flowers for production of the hops,” says Francisco. The solution found in Brazil was to “trick” the plant by simulating the ideal photoperiod for its development. To do this, the farmer installs reflectors in the plantation and using artificial light, creates longer days, reducing the amount of light when necessary.
For two years, Francisco has provided consulting services to growers from the Brazilian states of Rio Grande do Sul, Paraná, Santa Catarina, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Mato Grosso and Bahia to facilitate the small-scale production of hops. “To our surprise, we’ve harvested hops in the last two crops. All are of good quality, with the exception of that from Bahia and Mato Grosso, whose quality is average, but acceptable. Average yield was 1 ton per hectare, nearly a third of that seen in Europe, which is not bad.”
In São Bento do Sapucaí, a São Paulo town in the Serra da Mantiqueira mountains, near Campos do Jordão, agronomist Rodrigo Veraldi has also attempted to establish a domestic hops crop for more than a decade. It was by coincidence that he was successful. “In 2005, I began a plantation using Canadian hops seeds provided by a friend. Some seedlings grew in a greenhouse, but when I transferred them to the field, none of them took root, Veraldi recalls.
The agronomist threw the material away in the compost heap at his farm, and promptly forgot about it. Sometime later, he realized that a climber was sprouting on the site. “It was a piece of hops that had survived. It must have experienced some sort of genetic mutation that allowed it to adapt to the intense rains of the Mantiqueira region and resisted attack by fungus. It was a happy botanical coincidence,” he says. Veraldi propagated this particular plant and from it got one of the first–if not the very first–commercial crop of hops in Brazil on a very small scale.
In 2014, the Brazilian-Japanese brewery Brasil Kirin, maker of such brands as Schincariol, Devassa, and Eisenbahn, took an interest in Veraldi’s experiment and established a partnership with him to promote production. “Our objective was to stimulate the growth of Brazilian hops, contributing to the strengthening of Brazil’s brewing culture,” says chemical engineer Rubens Mattos, manager of Research and Development (R&D) at Brasil Kirin. That same year, samples of Veraldi’s experimental variety were used in a 15-year special edition at Baden Baden, the company’s brewery in Campos do Jordão.
“Since that first test, we have continuously invested in improving production, providing technological support and involving scientists from Japan, the headquarters of Kirin, and from Brazilian universities such as USP [University of São Paulo] and UFPR,” says Mattos. In 2015, the brewery purchased Veraldi’s variety and expanded the crop to other regions of Brazil. The expectation is to collect up to 1,500 kilos of hops flowers in 2017 and release a beer made with 100% Brazilian hops. According to Mattos, quantities of hops and malt used vary according to the type of beer, “but just as a reference, the pilsen type, in the Brazilian market, uses 8 kilos of malt and 300 grams of hops for every 100 liters of beer.”
Mattos says that Brasil Kirin is planning to register the variety with the National Plant Varieties Protection Service (SNPC), under the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply (MAPA). To that end, it is conducting analyses to establish whether it is indeed a new cultivar. “Our bet is that the plants crossed again spontaneously and generated a new variety. Genetic studies will answer that question,” Mattos explains.
The cultivation of hops in Brazil could particularly benefit small producers of special artisan beers, those with unique characteristics such as unusual color, aroma and flavor. With limited production, these microbreweries require smaller amounts of hops. Currently, they end up paying more for imported hops, which is quoted in dollars, than do the big beer makers that buy the product in larger quantities.
The boom in artisanal beers
Brazil is experiencing an explosion of microbreweries. This movement, begun in the early part of this century, has gained momentum in recent years and according to the Brazilian Association of Microbreweries (ABRACERVA), there are now approximately 420 establishments of this type in Brazil. Together, they account for nearly 1% of the volume of beer consumed in the country. “Microbreweries have really breathed air into the domestic brewing industry. For years, the large breweries produced basically one type of beverage: American Standard Lager, an easy-to-drink light beer, pale in color. During the 1990s, primarily in São Paulo, there was a subdued movement on the part of a few bars and supermarkets to import different types of beers with stronger flavors. With the emergence of the small producers, the portfolio expanded and Brazilians were introduced to an array of beverages they were not familiar with: beers with different alcohol content, new ingredients, varying flavors and aromas, and different degrees of bitterness,” biologist Luís Henrique Poleto points out. Poleto is a consultant and master brewer at the Tutta Birra, a microbrewery in Piracicaba (SP) that makes five different types of beers.
Author of a doctoral dissertation at the Luiz de Queiroz College of Agriculture (ESALQ) at USP on aging beer in wooden barrels, Poleto mentions that there is another exciting line of research in the industry that is related to the search for new yeasts. During production of the beverage, these microorganisms perform a key role in digesting the sugars–such as maltotriose, maltose and glucose–found in the beer mash, converting them into alcohol. Mash is created by mixing together the barley and water, which is warmed and then boiled at the start of the beverage making process. Historically, the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisae is employed in the process, but attempts to create beers with different profiles have encouraged experts to assess the use of unconventional microorganisms that allow new approaches to the process.
“Non-Saccharomyces yeasts have generated particular interest in the industry by demonstrating their excellent fermentation performance and capacity to contribute with a variety of aromatic compounds, as well as other organoleptic properties [experienced by an individual via the senses as smell, taste, etc.] of the product,” says biologist Cauré Barbosa Portugal, a specialist in fermented beverages, who conducted his postdoctoral research on alternative fermentation processes for beer and cachaça at ESALQ-USP. “We’re attempting to isolate and characterize other varieties of yeast for the production of special beers. Our research group has revealed some possibilities for exploring those microorganisms to produce beverages using new approaches in bio-aromatization–adding aromatic compounds through biological channels, in addition to functional beers, those with lower alcohol content and greater concentration of fibers, vitamins and minerals.”
With the successful outcome achieved in his research studies, Portugal decided to establish a company to sell customized yeast to the beverage market. “One innovative possibility is the use of yeast blends, which means using more than one microorganism in the fermentation process. Some provide more aromas while others are more neutral. By using more than one yeast in a combination or sequence–first one particular microorganism followed by another–we can modulate the fermentation process and create a different beer, with its own characteristics,” says the researcher. Christened “Smart Yeast,” the startup is now in the design stage.
Stability that protects
The search for a world-class beer has also led researchers to study the details of the structure of the liquid, such as its foam. This is the line of research of food engineer Flávio Luís Schmidt, a professor in the School of Food Engineering at the University of Campinas (FEA-Unicamp). “The goal is to improve the stability of the foam of industrialized beer by adding hydrocolloids,” Schmidt says. Hydrocolloids are polysaccharides with high molecular weight that are extracted from plants or algae, or produced through microbial synthesis.
The foam varies according to the type of beer and, in addition to locking in aromas and fragrances, it delays the oxidation process, which alters the flavor of the beverage by impeding direct light on the liquid. “The more stable the foam, the longer it stays in the mug. Beers made in Brazil, with high levels of unmalted adjuncts, have less protein in their composition and thus, less stability in their foam,” says Schmidt. “The focus of our work was to provide other options for stabilizing the foam, aside from the most common stabilizer, propylene glycol alginate (PGA).”
The results of the study showed that PGA was the hydrocolloid that performed best in stabilizing the foam, although high-viscosity pectin (from the inner layer of an orange peel) and locust bean gum (a type of plant-based carbohydrate) together with the PGA have also proven to be viable.
The adjuncts’ special touch
At the University of São Paulo Engineering School of Lorena (EEL-USP), the focus of the research studies is what are called brewing adjuncts – myriad ingredients used in beverage formulation that replace a portion of the malt. These alternative sources may be solid ingredients, such as unmalted cereals (corn, rice, wheat, sorghum, oats and rye) or liquids, including syrups, molasses and sugarcane or beet sugar. Besides reducing the cost of production–since the adjuncts tend to be cheaper than malting barley–their use allows the production of beers with a variety of flavors and aromas.
“Here in Lorena, we’re studying unconventional adjuncts that are different from those used by the large brewers, such as corn and rice,” explains chemical engineer João Batista de Almeida e Silva, a professor of beverage technology and head of that institution’s Pilot Plant Beverage Laboratory. The first adjunct studied was black rice, a grain rich in phenolic compounds and high in protein and fiber content. “In the conventional process of improving this rice, there is a breakdown of up to 35% of the grains. We used those waste materials that had no market value as a brewing adjunct. The aromatic characteristics of the grain were passed on to the beer,” explains the researcher. The study, carried out by doctoral candidate Claudio Marcelo Andrade, has generated a patent application.
After the black rice experiment, the Lorena group tested other ingredients such as banana, pine nuts, quinoa and pupunha palm at the school’s microbrewery. A recent study, headed up by student Raquel Aizemberg, was aimed at producing two types of beer: a lager (clear and light) and an ale (dark and stronger-tasting), using concentrated sugarcane broth as an adjunct. The study was conducted during Aizemberg’s doctoral research and some of the analyses were carried out at the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium. “The beverage that had 25% sugarcane syrup was the most popular. That was the best beer we’ve ever made,” says João Batista, pointing out that a patent application associated with the development of sugarcane syrup has already been filed with the National Institute of Industrial Property (INPI).
Luciano Horn, master brewer at AmBev, the company formed out of the 2004 merger with Belgian Interbrew and the 2008 merger with U.S. company Anheuser-Busch InBev, owner of Budweiser, advocates the use of unmalted cereals in the making of the beverage in Brazil. “Brazilian beer has always had corn because this cereal has been here since colonial times. The ingredient is part of the recipe because of its flavor and does not affect the beer’s quality. It is a myth to think that beers that are not made with pure malt have no quality,” he says.
In Horn’s opinion, criticism of the beers made with unmalted cereals is based on the so-called Purity Law or Reinheitsgebot [German Beer Purity Law], instituted in Germany in 1516. At that time, in order to preserve the quality of the product, increasingly more popular in Europe, Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria decreed that the beverage would contain only three ingredients: barley, hops and water–yeast would be added some time later, since that microorganism was not yet known in the 16th century. “That law, in truth, established a protected market for yeast producers from that region of Germany. It was a great marketing ploy that continues today,” says the master brewer, for whom the use of adjuncts is a common practice all over the world. “Every region uses what it has to make beer. I see no problem with this.”
As the owner of 26 different brands of beer, including Brahma, Antarctica, Skol and Bohemia, AmBev has a Technology Development Center (CDT) that functions as an idea laboratory. At the CDT, located in Guarulhos, in the metropolitan region of São Paulo, master brewers, engineers, chemists and other professionals work together. The AmBev team directly involved in R&D in Brazil comprises 170 people, who are responsible for creating everything from new flavors to innovative marketing and sales solutions. “Brazilians have looked for innovative experiences and we’re paying attention to these demands,” Horn says. In recent years, for example, the company has introduced a non-alcoholic beer, a beer-based beverage that can be consumed with ice, and a pure malt liquid with fewer calories and carbohydrates.
In order to expand and modernize the work being done at the CDT, AmBev is investing R$180 million on construction of its Innovation and Technology Center (CIT) scheduled to be inaugurated in 2017 at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) Technology Park on the Ilha do Fundão. “Because the CIT will be one of the primary centers for beer innovation in the world, we’re going to accelerate the process of creating new liquids and new packaging,” Horn says.
A study conducted by the Brazilian Public Opinion and Statistics Institute (Ibope) in 2014 revealed that beer is the most popular beverage among Brazilians. In 2013, another survey showed that beer was the preferred beverage for celebrations in Brazil. Data from the Brazilian Beer Industry Association (CervBrasil) indicate that nearly 30,000 liters of the beverage are produced in Brazil every minute. The industry sells R$70 billion per year, which is equivalent to 1.6% of the 2015 Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The history of beer around the world dates back to the time of the Sumerians, who nearly 6,000 years ago used grains to create the first fermented beverage. Archeological findings point to the fact that these people of Mesopotamia worshiped the goddess Ninkasi, devoted to the beverage. In Brazil, it is believed that beer arrived in the mid 17th century with the Dutch colonization by the East India Company. “With the departure of the Dutch in 1654, beer left the country for 150 years, only to reappear in the late 18th to early 19th centuries,” wrote Sérgio de Paula Santos in Os primórdios da cerveja no Brasil [The dawn of beer in Brazil] (Ateliê Editorial). Imported from England, the beverage returned to Brazil in 1808 with the arrival of the Portuguese royal family.
It is not known exactly when beer began to be produced on Brazilian soil, but an advertisement in the Rio de Janeiro newspaper Jornal do Commercio on October 27, 1836 offered the beverage sold by a local beer maker, Cervejaria Brasileira. According to Santos, the first commercial beers appeared in the second half of the 19th century. That was also the time of the establishment of two companies that would come to dominate the domestic market for decades: Companhia Cervejaria Brahma, in Rio de Janeiro and Companhia Antarctica Paulista. In 1999, they would merge to establish AmBev, which became the world’s third largest beer maker at that time.
1. Black Rice IAC 600 (Oryza sativa) as a malt adjunct in high gravity pilsen brewing (nº 2007/01347-3); Grant Mechanism Regular Research Grant; Principal Investigator João Batista de Almeida e Silva (EEL-USP); Investment R$102,818.27 and US$26,708.00.
2. Use of sugarcane juice as an adjunct in the production of lager and ale beers (nº 2013/08650-4); Grant Mechanism Research Internships Abroad – Doctorate; Principal Investigator João Batista de Almeida e Silva (EEL-USP); Grant Recipient Raquel Aizemberg (EEL-USP); Investment R$28,747.02.
3. Evaluation of hydrocolloids as foam stabilizer additive in beer (nº 2013/12528-0); Grant Mechanism Regular Research Grant; Principal Investigator Flávio Luis Schmidt (FEA-Unicamp); Investment R$15,672.55.