If you’re anything like me and only just scraped your way through high school chemistry, science isn’t something you automatically associate with excitement and fun. But two scientists out of Tassie – Kelsey Picard and Matthew Fielding – are on a mission to change that.
Kelsey, a plant scientist, and Matthew, an ornithologist, share a passion for science communication. Together they’ve created Science Made Beerable, an annual beer tasting and education event complete with an accompanying website featuring (among many excellent puns) a blog and beer reviews.
The idea was developed over the course of numerous shared road trips to schools to present about their own scientific fields.
“We would always stop at bottleshops and stock up on all of these different beers and then hold little tasting parties,” Kelsey says. “Everyone around us, all scientists, were like, ‘You’re such beer nerds.’
“They were all telling us we should figure out how to record our tastings somehow, or write about it and make it understandable for the general public. So that’s how the idea came about.”
Science Made Beerable was born with the support of National Science Week Tasmania. After COVID-19 hit, and National Science Week had to go virtual, they held their 2020 event at Hobart Brewing Company and streamed it to viewers across Australia. The event featured the host brewery plus Shambles, OCHO and Van Dieman, with each brewery invited to put forward a beer from their core range which they thought highlighted some of the amazing science that goes into a brew.
The result was a two-hour conversation you can find on YouTube here – from which you’ll definitely learn a thing or two.
This year, they’ve been successful in landing support from National Science Week and Hop Products Australia, which means the event is going to take a significant step up.
As Kelsey puts it: “It’s evolved into something bigger than we anticipated.”
They’ve challenged four local breweries to produce a beer with a difference. Joining them are Stomping Ground, Spotty Dog Brewers, Deep South Brewing Co and Buttons Brewing, from Matt’s hometown of Ulverstone.
“We pushed them to experiment and do something fun and new, push the boundaries, or do something they’ve been thinking about for a long time,” Kelsey says.
Whether it’s using a new ingredient or modifying the process slightly, it’s more about seeing the outcomes of these changes.
“Even if it doesn’t work, it’s still part of the fun," she says. "We’re encouraging people to think about the process as much as the end product.”
Spotty Dog Brewers have produced a gose that trades the traditional fruit addition for a specialist yeast, turning the focus onto the flavours contributed by the yeast. Stomping Ground are continuing their bio-transformation series that explores the interaction between yeast strains and specific hop oils, this time using locally-grown Eclipse hops in an India Pale Lager.
Deep South are collaborating with Shambles on a pale ale featuring liquid hop extract. And, last but not least, Buttons have produced what Matt calls “a pretty exciting beer” – they’ve used a pilsner base which they split into two batches, then aged on pinot noir and pinot gris skins respectively, before blending them back into pinot noir barrels.
The event will be held at Shambles’ Hobart venue, with the brewers joining Kelsey and Matt to discuss their unique creations. Kelsey says her and Matt are “there to translate, basically.”
She adds: “There’ll be words that we don’t understand that the brewers are using and we’re there to stop them and say, ‘Hey, what is this thing, can you explain it and pull it apart?’ – and then we can bring in our science knowledge and also try and pull it apart.”
It’s an event designed for everyone from the avid homebrewer or science nerd to those who enjoy beer and want to understand a bit more about the brewing process.
“It’s trying to speak in many different languages,” is how Matt sees it.
Tickets for the in-person event are already sold out, but you can purchase an ExBEERimental Science four-pack here then join them and send in questions via the Facebook live stream on August 18.
As for next year, both Kelsey and Matt are expecting babies in the next few months – separately, Kelsey clarifies – so it’s a case of watch this space.
“Life will look very different, but we definitely prioritise this over other work because it’s much more fun,” Kelsey says. “As long as we’re both still enjoying drinking beer and learning about beer and there’s new things coming out to write about we’ll keep doing it.”
ExBEERimental Science takes place on August 18 at 7pm AEST. You can follow Science Made Beerable's blog posts, beer reviews, and excellent puns on their website.