When you think about two human innovations as diverse as beer brewing and steel, like most, you probably imagine vats full of fermenting malt with hardly a thought that a metal used primarily in modern day automobile and construction industries plays any role in the brewing process at all. However, these two seemingly disconnected technologies merged into an industry process that ultimately changed every household.
Beer brewing comes to us as a 7,000-year-old tradition originating in Mesopotamia. The process is mentioned in ancient Egyptian literature and the end product, beer, is even mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. Steel, a carbon alloy of iron, is a nearly 4,000-year-old process, first excavated in weapon artifacts from a site dated at 1800 BC in Antolia which is located in Asia Minor.
Separated by thousands of years, it would be thousands of years more before the two would merge into the modern brewing process. And then the two came to be so seamlessly intertwined that they’ve never really been given a second thought.
Here are five things you probably never knew about steel and beer brewing.
1. Steel replaced the oldest brewing storage tanks, wooden casks.
Steel tanks require less space than wooden casks. They’re easier to clean and cost less to maintain because high-pressure scrubbing and sterilization techniques can be used. Steel tanks can also be built to much larger sizes than wooden casks.
2. Stainless steel used in beer brewing halts battery corrosion.
To understand galvanized battery corrosion: when two metals, or one metal and a contaminant such as dirt, are in close proximity in an electrolyte solution, such as beer, an electrical current will flow through the solution creating a chemical battery with the metals as leads. The metal, which is more active, will ionize as a result. The ions combine with oxygen to create a galvanized corrosion. Stainless steel has less conductivity than other metals used in brewing. Additionally, the resistant coating of stainless steel resists oxidation, putting an end to galvanic corrosion in the brewing process.
3. The majority of brewing equipment is stainless steel.
The brew kettle is copper, but nearly every other item used in modern brewing from piping to storage is made of stainless steel. One of the more interesting steel uses in brewing is the “beer cooler,” which is a device ordinarily constructed from steel tubes, containing an inner set of smaller steel tubes. Usually ammonia or brine is made to flow through the outer tubes, while the beer is streamed through the inner tubes. The result is a cooling process created when the ammonia or brine absorbs heat from the warm beer, thereby cooling the beer to a preset temperature.
4. Stainless steel is used in brewing processes because it does not produce any off-flavors.
Beer is corrosive to storage tanks and transport lines because beer is acidic and contains living micro-organisms which cause corrosion and fouling.
The corrosive resistance of stainless steel keeps out the unusual flavors caused by the corrosive electro-chemical byproducts of the brewing process.
5. The 1935 innovation resulting in the steel beer can played a key role in the creation of the home-based beer consumption market.
Following the end of the Prohibition era, the invention of the steel beer can caused an industry change as breweries expanded their focus from bars into the growing home consumption market.
Just a few things to keep in mind as brewing and steel interact down their own unique paths in your daily life.
Jessica Kane is a professional blogger who writes for Federal Steel Supply Inc., a supplier of carbon, alloy and stainless steel in pipe, tube, fittings and flanges.