Metabolism, as defined by the ever trustworthy wikipedia states;
Metabolism is the set of chemical reactions that happen in the cells of living organisms to sustain life. These processes allow organisms to grow and reproduce, maintain their structures, and respond to their environments.
Metabolism has many layers of importance with the Hops & Grain community, kind of like a metabolic cocktail. We as brewers are constantly focused on metabolism while we are hard at work pumping out natures social elixir. And due to the heightened temperatures in our facility this time of year our bodies are working much harder to maintain internal temperature equilibrium, and with that comes an accelerated metabolic rate. I used to tell my 7th grade science students that the reason our bodies maintain a healthy 98.6 F is due to the metabolic engine that is driving all of us. When we get sick, our metabolic rate increases to provide additional blood flow allocation to our immune system and therefore requires more energy, which in our case, produces heat, i.e. running a fever. Now I’m just skimming the very surface of metabolism with that example but I’m not here to teach another lesson in 7th grade science. I trust that all of you paid attention in 7th grade science and don’t need me to educate you on the basics of metabolism. I mean really, what else was happening that could have distracted you as an 11 year old. Puberty shouldn’t be an issue and neither should the absolute awkwardness that takes us over as humans approaching our teenage years. I mean really, get over yourself already. So, if you were able to get past all of that then I’m sure you were an A+ science student. If not, the following may get a bit boring, or possibly confusing, but ultimately entertaining to read. So hang in there, it’ll be over before you know it.
As a runner and a brewer I have a wild interest in the details behind metabolism. My preference when it comes to foot races is distance over speed. I’ve never been fast but have always had the ability to kind of lose myself while running for long periods of time and because of that I’ve enjoyed running farther and farther distances. I started with a marathon, then proceeded to the Ironman distance and have slowly progressed to ultra marathon trail races and continually find myself intrigued with running distances beyond 50 miles. Something happens in my mind and soul as I run for long periods of time in the woods that makes me very happy, nay, it makes me a better person. So, onward through the fog…
With running long distance comes the need to properly fuel the ‘ol internal engine. It’s incredibly important to fuel yourself in a way that puts you in a happy place consuming just enough energy to maintain a steady effort but not enough to bog down the ol GI system when you’re allocating much more blood flow to your running muscles that you are to your digesting muscles. As humans, we can operate on two forms of metabolism, aerobic (with oxygen) and anaerobic (without oxygen). The way our bodies fuel exercise, i.e. metabolize, is by taking a simple sugar called glucose and converting it into pyruvic acid, a process known as glycolysis. When oxygen is present, our cells go through aerobic metabolism, taking pyruvic acid through a respiratory phase which helps to create more energy in the form of Adenosine Triphosphate or ATP, a cool little vehicle that transfers chemical energy to fuel our metabolism. When we exercise to the point that we can’t deliver oxygen to our muscles we enter into anaerobic metabolism. At this point, instead of producing pyruvic acid our bodies produce lactic acid. Lactic acid can be associated with the burning in your muscles at the end of an intense workout session, or the burning in your lungs whilst running from the cops or maybe even the burning in your hands after a long bout of thumb wrestling. But, given time and oxygen, our liver can take lactic acid and eventually convert it back to glucose which then goes through glycolysis again, and the cycle goes on and on. Ahhhh, the beauties of metabolism. How about that for some Monday afternoon rambling.
Now, on to the good stuff.
With our favorite little single-celled brewing organism, this basic metabolic knowledge can be applied as well. We at Hops & Grain are in the business of making beer and with that business comes the need for alcohol to be present in our liquid art. Lucky for us some dudes long ago took it upon themselves to venture on the noble journey of figuring out fermentation in all its many forms. When applied to yeast, these gents figured out that in the presence of oxygen, yeast would go through basically the same respiratory phase that I mentioned earlier, you know, the whole pyruvic acid to ATP story. But here comes the really cool part. What they also determined was that yeast could also progress through metabolism without the presence of oxygen. In this case though, our old friend pyruvic acid is converted into alcohol and carbon dioxide instead of lactic acid, like in us humans. Score!
So, why the boring but detailed description of metabolism?
Because I’m a firm believer in living the dream. Every day that I spend at our brewery is another day that I’m infinitely proud of. There are lessons to be learned, obstacles to overcome and quality assurance tests to be administered. And of course, metabolism to be monitored. But the beauty of brewing to me is in the details behind the process. As a fitness enthusiast I’ve spent countless hours reading and studying different ways to make my body work more efficiently. As a brewer I’ve also spent countless hours reading and studying different ways to make our process, and ultimately our product, more exemplary. With a desire for greatness comes a necessity for education and application. I’ve spent years testing different foods and their effects on my fitness. I’ve also spent years, and countless batches of beer, testing different process to make our beer better. I would have never figured out what I now know about nutrition if I hadn’t worked diligently to learn the science behind human metabolism and I definitely would have never made it to professional brewer status had I not worked diligently to learn the science behind yeast metabolism.
As a runner I work hard to take care of my body. When I don’t take care of my body I can feel it. I don’t sleep as well, I don’t run as well and I don’t think as well. Ultimately, I don’t live as well.
As a brewer I work very hard to take care of our beer. If I didn’t, we could tell a noticeable difference. A difference in head retention, mouthfeel, fermentation vitality and ultimately flavor.
I don’t have a reference but I’m sure that someone once said “take care of what you do and it’ll take care of you”. And if not, maybe I’ll start referencing myself.
To sum it all up, I feel very strongly in the power of an active lifestyle and I feel very strongly in the power of beer. And I’ll leave it at that, for now.