Speaking at Nerd Nite Los Angeles, Thursday!


I’ll be talking about “The Dinosaur in My Beer” for Nerd Nite Los Angeles this Thursday! The event is hosted at Busby’s East, 5364 Wilshire Ave., from 7 pm to 10 pm, with the action starting at 7:45 pm. Two other speakers are on the docket for that evening–should be a fun time! Each TED-style talk is slotted for around 20 minutes each. Tickets are $10 each, and they can be ordered here.

Homebrew Con Seminar: The Dinosaur in My Beer!

blog_imageI’m excited to be on the schedule for Homebrew Con (aka National Homebrewers Conference) in Minneapolis next month! If you’re at the event, come see my seminar: The Dinosaur in My Beer: 250 Million Years of Homebrewing History.

Of course, most beer enthusiasts are familiar with the overall arc of brewing lore (and some of you could probably recite it in your sleep). Things got rolling in the ancient Middle East around the same time that cereal grains were domesticated, hops made it into the equation during the Middle Ages, and craft breweries got their game going during the late 20th century. This is all interesting–and indeed, numerous books and articles have been published on the topic. Yet, virtually every treatment of brewing that I’ve read neglects the much deeper history of all of our brewing ingredients. We wouldn’t have Burton water without events that happened during the dawn of the age of the dinosaurs. We wouldn’t have hops without an evolutionary innovation in plants more than 120 million years ago. And oddly enough, the production of barley malt led to the discovery of many important fossils.

My seminar (around 45 minutes long, with time for questions) ties together threads that stretch deep into our planet’s history. You’ll gain a better appreciation for just how densely beer and beer ingredients are interwoven with the evolution of life–beer ain’t just a cultural phenomenon! I’ve given versions of this talk at Claremont Craft Ales as well as the Arizona Museum of Natural History, but the Homebrew Con version will have lots of new content, plenty of cool images, and interesting anecdotes. I guarantee that you’ll learn something you didn’t know before!

My seminar starts at 9 am on Saturday, June 17, in Auditorium 1. And even if you can’t make the seminar, I’d love to chat about beer, brewing, and paleontology. Hope to see you in Minnesota!

And for an extra bonus…I’m bringing a replica of the skull from Aquilops americanus, the little dinosaur that inspired Eagle Face Oatmeal Stout, as seen in a recent issue of Zymurgy magazine. If you’ve ever wanted to get your selfie with a dinosaur, now is your chance!

[Image info: The dinosaur skeleton in the logo is modified from a 19th century rendering of Iguanodon by Gustave Lavalette. Also of note: the fossil was found in a part of Belgium that is purportedly home territory for saisons! This fact inspired one of my first attempts at the style.]

The Dinosaur in My Beer: March 8 at Claremont Craft Ales

Beer and science are a natural fit…even more so than beer and pretzels, in my opinion. As a homebrewer, I absolutely love geeking out over the scientific facets of the hobby. The usual history of beer starts a few thousand years ago with the rise of agriculture. But, there is so much more to the story. Every brewing ingredient–water, barley, yeast, and hops–has its own tale to tell. In many cases, the narrative extends back to the time of the dinosaurs!

So, if you are in Claremont, California, on Wednesday, March 8, swing by Claremont Craft Ales and catch my talk on the prehistory of brewing ingredients! The event starts at 6:30 pm, but you can swing by before or hang around after for some great beer and also a chance to chat with me about anything you like.


The basic talk will be a preview of my seminar for HomebrewCon in June. I’ll be posting more about that in the upcoming months, too.

If you haven’t been to Claremont Craft Ales (CCA) before, it’s a really great venue. A few things you can look forward to:

  • Their beer is great! I highly recommend the Jacaranda IPA as well as the Raspberry Gose (both are also available in cans).
  • CCA has plenty of options for non-beer-drinkers. In addition to a nice selection of canned dry sodas (the tasty fancy stuff, not just a bunch of Coke products), various food trucks are also there most afternoons and evenings.
  • It’s a very friendly space — kids and dogs are quite welcome. (note relevant to my talk: although dinosaurs have a reputation as a “kids topic”, my talk isn’t really geared for kids. That’s not to say it’s “adult content”–just that the presentation will be at a level where the typical 12 year old might get a little bored, because the combined topic of beer and paleontology probably isn’t in their wheelhouse, or at least it shouldn’t be.)

Interested in having me talk for your event? Drop a line via the contact form!

Image credit: Dinosaur skeleton from Iguanodon rendering by Gustave Lavalette in the public domain.

The Quest for a Real Jurassic Beer

Unexpected connections between my vocation of paleontology and my avocation of brewing pop up in the strangest places.

Recently, I decided to try my hand at a traditional Bohemian pilsner. While reading up on the style in order to develop my recipe, I ran across this interesting tidbit from a technical presentation by folks from Technische Universität München and Weyermann Malting Company [link to PDF]:

The most influencing process for the production of original Bohemian malt is the floor malting process after a 48 h steeping. This is done on traditional naturally cooled Solnhofen limestone floor tiles.

Solnhofen Limestone?!!! No way! My paleontologist brain went into overdrive when I read that statement. Using Solnhofen Limestone for floor tiles is the paleontological equivalent of using Kobe beef in a McDonald’s Happy Meal. Kinda sacrilegious, but also pretty awesome. Let me take a minute to explain this seemingly inane (yet exciting) detail.

Malted barley

Malted barley

First, the brewing side. Raw barley grains are turned into malt by a brief germination, which among other things creates enzymes in the grain that break down starches into more fermentable sugars later during the brewing process itself. Germination produces a lot of heat, which can be a fire hazard in some conditions (and isn’t great for the quality of the finished malt, either). So, the grain is cooled by a combination of physical turning as well as specially cooled floors. Traditionally, the cooling was accomplished by hand-turning on stone tiles (including those made from Solnhofen Limestone, apparently). This germination period is followed by a drying and kilning period, which halts germination and readies the malted barley for brewing. The malted grains are ground up, steeped in water, the resulting liquid is boiled with hops and then fermented with yeast–and bingo, you have beer!

Now, let’s talk about rocks. Solnhofen Limestone is from Bavaria, formed in warm-water lagoons during the Late Jurassic, around 150 million years ago. The gentle waters and fine-grained ooze created the conditions for exquisite preservation of any animals that died in or near the water. Soft-bodied organisms that are rarely fossilized, including dragonflies and giant shrimp, are fairly common finds. The most widely known fossils, though, are the rare and delicate flying vertebrates. Winged reptiles such as Pterodactylus are housed in museum collections globally. And then there is the most iconic fossil of all: Archaeopteryx.

Fossil of Archaeopteryx in Solnhofen Limestone. Specimen displayed at the Museum für Naturkunde (Berlin). Photo by H. Raab, CC-BY-SA.

Fossil of Archaeopteryx in Solnhofen Limestone. Specimen displayed at the Museum für Naturkunde (Berlin). Photo by H. Raab, CC-BY-SA.

First discovered in the 1850s, the early bird Archaeopteryx is a textbook example of a transitional fossil. It preserves features of its dinosaurian ancestors, including sharp teeth and a long bony tail, as well as the long flight feathers found in today’s modern birds. The fingerprints of evolution are all over Archaeopteryx, and it has been key for many discussions on the origin of birds and flight as well as their relationship with carnivorous dinosaurs. Although new discoveries in China, Mongolia, and elsewhere have filled in additional details, the Archaeopteryx skeletons from the Solnhofen Limestone remain historically and scientifically important.

Beyond its paleontological significance, the durable and fine-grained Solnhofen Limestone has a long industrial history–indeed, the fossils are basically “by-catch” from that activity. Over the centuries, the limestone has been used for sculpture, floor tiles, and printing (lithographic) plates. A connection to brewing was new to me!

In the interest of geeky beers, I wondered: was it possible to brew a beer with malt that had rested on the same rocks as Archaeopteryx–a real Jurassic beer? I knew that Bohemian malt had traditionally been malted on Solnhofen Limestone floor tiles. But was this still the case today? Time for some sleuthing.

I started my investigation with Weyermann Malting. They carry a wide range of European pilsner malts; being a modern company, their product is largely produced using state-of-the-art malting techniques in order to maintain consistency and quality. This most typically entails malting on slotted metal floors to allow efficient germination and air circulation at the appropriate times in the process. These procedures create high quality malts, but they don’t involve Solnhofen Limestone.

My eye was then drawn to their floor-malted Bohemian pilsner malt. It is billed as being “made in an original floor malting facility”. That sounded promising. A little more sleuthing found a 2009 article [PDF] about the malt by Sabine Weyermann (of the very same malting company) in Scandinavian Brewers’ Review. In this article, Weyermann notes that their floor-malted pilsner malt is produced under contract at Ferdinand Brewery and Malting Company–whose malt house is floored by Solnhofen tiles.

A view inside the traditional floor malting facility at Ferdinand Brewing and Malting. From Weyermann 2009.

A view inside the traditional floor malting facility at Ferdinand Brewing and Malting. From Weyermann 2009.

My journey to Solnhofen Beer was almost complete! I sent off a quick email to several individuals at Weyermann Malting Company, to confirm if their traditional pilsner malt that is sold today is still produced on Solnhofen Limestone. Not long after, I received a response from Stefan Gottschall at Weyermann, verifying the Solnhofen connection. My quest was complete.

So, you can brew a Solnhofen-themed beer! Thanks to Weyermann’s Floor-Malted Bohemian Pilsner Malt, every sip of my latest lager has a physical connection to Archaeopteryx and all of the other Jurassic critters of ancient Bavarian lagoons. This is beer at its best–an experience not just of taste, but also one imbued with 150 million years of history and a link to the fossils I love.

An Archaeopteryx-linked beer requires the appropriate glassware.

An Archaeopteryx-linked beer requires the appropriate glassware.