South Florida museum's free science presentations allow guests to drink and think

All photos Christine McCormick/Catalyst

Joe Grant and Jim Perry really think about their drinks. As members of the local Homebrewer’s Association, they were perfect candidates to lead a casual presentation concerning the science of beer at this month’s Think + Drink at Bradenton’s South Florida Museum. This free monthly event transforms the planetarium lobby into a casual café where deep thoughts and mild inebriation meet.

“The atmosphere is relaxed, making interaction easier,” said Dennis Paquette of Sarasota. Over the past months, he has attended a number the museum’s Think + Drink events. “Of course, one suspects the ‘drink’ might be an inducement to ‘think.’”

In celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, these local brew masters crafted a hands-on presentation for the small crowd that gathered seated around tables on lounging on couches. Many had already visited the snack bar in the corner that offered small snacks, wine and beer for a reasonable price as they listened. The lights were dim as Grant and Perry took their place at the front of the room.

“Talking about beer is easy,” Grant said. “Thinking about the science is easy. Keeping you entertained is the difficult part, so that’s what I’m going to work on tonight.”

After a brief history of mead, wine and beer, he began to explain the science of fermentation. A younger man periodically scratched his thick beard, listening closely with a tape recorder in hand. Another woman frantically scribbled in a notebook as Grant outlined the making of malt beverages. The talk was part science and method interspersed with history, anecdotes and the occasional bad pun. Talk of prohibition and German purity laws complemented the explanation of calcium’s influence on fermentation and how yeast esters and dimethyl sulfide affected the flavor characteristics of Belgian ales.

True to the “think” park of Think + Drink, Grant threw around some big words like isomizing hops, dextrose fermentation and ribanose complex sugar chains. He passed around Ziploc bags full of malted barley and bitter hops that the audience was encouraged to touch, taste and smell: the size of sunflower seeds, the barley was reminiscent of browned toast and coffee beans. The night concluded with a few sips of Perry’s Hefeweizen, a German ale the color of pale straw with a low alcohol content and light taste. Another brew, darker in color with a bitter feel, the Scottish Mild pleased the crowd.

“It still needs to age a little,” Perry commented concerning the beer’s bitterness. “I only kegged it two days ago.” Behind the kegs, a large gallon jug of cider and honey bubbled on a table. Grant explained that the fermentation would continue for months until the cloudy amber liquid turned clear.

“The black sludge in the bottom is honey that didn’t go into solution,” said Grant. “I was going to add two pounds of honey but a friend of mine suggested I use three. I should have used two.”

Homebrewing is only one example of the many topics Think + Drink has presented to the Bay area public on the second Wednesday of each month. Upcoming events will focus on the universe, time, space and the state of science in America.

“I’ve gone to half a dozen on various topics,” said Paquette. “The three-part series on energy was extremely interesting and well presented and germane to the world’s current problems. The presentations are generally presented by professionals or academics in the related field.”

Think + Drink does have its flaws. After the presentation, the audience is invited to participate in a question and answer session. “Not everyone who attends grasps the content, so the Q and A can be annoying to those who did,” said Paquette. “But that’s true at any question and answer session.”

“Did I mention it’s free?” Paquette responded when asked about Think + Drink’s appeal. “It’s entertainment that is instructive. I would recommend it to any sentient being with an open and inquisitive mind.”

The South Florida museum encourages all ages to attend, but asks that guests RSVP so they can prepare for the evening.

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