Tag Archives: belgium

A scientific search for the perfect yeast for the perfect brew

Belgium famously produces hundreds of different beers, but that is nothing compared to the varieties of yeast used to make it — around 30,000 are kept on ice at just one laboratory by scientists seeking the perfect ingredient for the perfect brew.

A team from the University of Leuven and life sciences research institute VIB are examining and cross-breeding yeast strains, adding modern genetics to a search for brewing perfection that dates back centuries.

“We’re … using robots to cross different yeast like farmers have been doing with cattle and livestock for centuries,” genetics professor Kevin Verstrepen told Reuters.

“We’re now doing the same with yeast on a massive scale, making millions of new strains or variants of yeast and testing which are the better ones.”

By analyzing the chemical and genetic basis of a beer’s flavor and aroma, the scientists say they are breeding yeast strains that promote the best characteristics for a good beer.

Their work has caught the attention of commercial brewers keen to tweak their recipes to eliminate, for example, a certain smell or to speed up the fermentation process.

“We take their yeast and try to keep as much as possible of the good things and then try and make it better,” Verstrepen said.

As well as its yeast research, the lab is working on a beer database. In twice-weekly meetings, Verstrepen and his students sip and promptly spit out beers in a “technical tasting” to detect minute subtleties and differences between the taste and aroma of each brew.

Each drink, served in unmarked, identical black glasses, is evaluated and subjected to chemical analyses.

Their aim is to characterize some 250 commercially available Belgian beers, creating what Verstrepen calls a “scientific map” of beer to help drinkers select their next tipple. They plan to publish their findings in a book in the coming months.

Beer to flow through city as Belgian pipe dream comes true

The idea may have seemed mad, but after all, the beer is called the Madman of Bruges — or Brugse Zot in Dutch.

And with the help of crowdfunding efforts among some 400 Madman fans, the dream of building a beer pipeline through the Belgian city of Bruges is becoming real.

“You have to be a bit crazy — like the beer — to do such a project. I just had the money for that, and I liked it. So I went crazy and gave the money to the brewery,” said local restaurant owner Philippe Le Loup, who poured some $11,000 into the pipeline.

Brewer Xavier Vanneste got the idea four years ago to pump the beer from his Bruges brewery to a bottling plant outside of town in a pipeline instead of having hundreds of transportation trucks blighting the cobblestoned streets of the UNESCO-protected medieval city.

Jokes were coming in fast, with people saying “we are willing to invest as long as we can have a tapping point on the pipeline,” Vanneste said. “That gave us the idea to crowdfund the project to make this possible.”

What at first seemed like an outrageous dream, began to seem possible when Vanneste started talking to local beer enthusiasts, he said.

Jokes were coming in fast, with people saying “we are willing to invest as long as we can have a tapping point on the pipeline,” Vanneste said. “That gave us the idea to crowdfund the project to make this possible.”

Thanks to Le Loup and others, he is now staring at the opening end of the pipeline, which from this autumn will start pumping some 4,000 liters (1,060 gallons) of beer an hour toward the bottling plant, around 3 kilometers (2 miles) away in a non-descript industrial zone.

“That is a lot of beer, more than you can drink in a lifetime,” said the owner of De Halve Maan brewery, which in addition to Brugse Zot is also famous for its Straffe Hendrik beer brand.

Sending the pipeline along all streets where customers could siphon off their favorite suds without having to leave home was too utopian even for Vanneste, but he came up with the next best thing — IOUs with a lifelong drinking guarantee.

“We have several formulas: bronze, silver and gold,” he said. “If you put in e.g. 7,500 euros ($8,350), you will receive for the rest of your days, every day one bottle of Brugse Zot.”

The offer was hard to refuse and about 10 percent of the total 4 million euro ($4.5 million) investment for the pipeline has been financed through crowdfunding. With it came a popular surge of support that has stood Vanneste in good stead.

With a warren of municipal, regional and federal urbanization laws, building approvals were often laborious to come by for something as unique as a beer pipeline but authorities soon realized a whole community was backing it.

Not only did they provide financial funding for the project, they also provided a political base for it because so many people were supporting it, Vanneste said.

The city also stood to gain. In between the picturesque beguinage houses and Our Lady’s Cathedral, De Halve Maan brewery has given the sometimes overly touristy, so-called Venice of the North a sense of real life. Vanneste could have done what so many others have done — move out, lock, stock and barrel from the city with its canals, gabled Gothic houses, horse-drawn carriages and restaurants with six-language menus.

Now, he hopes to have the best of both worlds — a historic brewery in a location where it should be and an environmentally friendly way of transporting his brews out to the bottling plant which will allow him to continue to grow.

But it is not only Vanneste’s family business that is growing. The generous contributor to the project, Le Loup, is eyeing his paunch.

You can tell from my belly that I am a beer fan, he says.

Belgium tourist boards latch on to cat craze on social media

Belgium’s tourist boards have latched onto a social media craze of cats that gave Brussels light relief during a tense five-day security lockdown in the wake of militant attacks in Paris.

Images of the city’s streets deserted as security forces hunted suspected Islamist militants have dealt a blow to Belgium’s tourism industry, with hotels reporting many cancellations.

When police on Sunday asked the public in Brussels not to share details of their operations on social media, Belgians took to tweeting each other pictures of their cats.

Capitalizing on the social media hit, Belgium’s three tourist authorities have now released a 20 second video film showing cats at Brussels’s landmarks such as the historic Grand Place or the Atomium, which they said was filmed at the height of the lockdown.

The video depicts cats dancing all over the city, some wearing black bowler hats or with green apples in front of their faces in a nod to paintings of the Belgian surrealist painter Rene Magritte.

In the background, a saxophone is heard, an invention of the Belgian Adolphe Sax. The original trend drew a warm response on social media, and the tourist authorities said they wanted to show how proud they were of Brussels and its residents for their good-humored response to the crisis.

Belgium’s capital has been on maximum alert since Saturday over the threat of a possible Paris-style attack. A coordinated assault in which 130 people were killed in Paris on Nov. 13 was claimed by Islamic State.

Brussels, home to the European Commission, reopened its metro system and schools on Wednesday, albeit with armed police and soldiers still patrolling.

“Tourism Flanders, Visit Brussels and Wallonia-Brussels Tourism are proud of the people of Brussels and wanted to give them an extra boost,” they said. “Their winking cats evoked great sympathy at home and abroad.”

On the Web…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3AB6K7rWlG4 

Cracks in nuclear reactors prompt call for worldwide inspections

The discovery of thousands of additional cracks in critical components of two Belgian nuclear reactors prompted Greenpeace to call for immediate checks of nuclear power plants worldwide. 

The cracks were found in the steel nuclear reactor pressure vessels in nuclear reactors Doel 3 and Tihange 2 in Belgium. The vessels contain highly radioactive nuclear fuel cores and the failure of the components can cause catastrophic nuclear accidents, according to Greenpeace.

On Feb. 13, two leading material scientists announced that the pervasive and unexpected cracking could be related to corrosion from normal operation, with potential implications for reactors worldwide.

Responding, Greenpeace Belgium energy campaigner Eloi Glorieux, said, “What we are seeing in Belgium is potentially devastating for nuclear reactors globally due to the increased risk of a catastrophic failure. Nuclear regulators worldwide must require reactor inspections as soon as possible, and no later than the next scheduled maintenance shutdown. If damage is discovered, the reactors must remain shut down until and unless safety and pressure vessel integrity can be guaranteed. The nuclear industry, already in crisis, is faced with an aging nuclear reactor fleet at increasing risk of severe disaster.”

In reaction to the findings, the director-general of the Belgian nuclear regulator of the Federal Agency for Nuclear Control has said that this could be a problem for the entire nuclear industry globally. He added that the solution is to begin the careful inspection of 430 nuclear power plants worldwide.

Problems were initially discovered in the summer of 2012 and both the Doel 3 and Tihange 2 reactors have been shut down since March 2014, after additional tests revealed advanced embrittlement of the steel of the test sample. The integrity of the pressure vessel must be absolute due to the radioactive releases that would result if this component were to fail.

As nuclear reactors age, radiation causes pressure vessel damage, or embrittlement, of the steel. According to the statements of the two materials scientists on Feb 13, the damage in the Belgian reactors may be partially caused by a problem resulting from the migration of hydrogen into cracks in the steel liner of the vessel — exacerbating and expanding that cracking. Greenpeace said it appears that hydrogen from the water within the vessel that cools the reactor core is getting inside the liner, reacting and destroying the pressure vessel from within.

FANC has issued a statement confirming that the additional tests conducted in 2014 revealed 13,047 cracks in Doel 3 and 3,149 in Tihange 2.

On Feb. 15, the nuclear reactor operator, announced that it would be prepared to “sacrifice” one of its reactors to conduct further destructive tests of the reactor pressure vessel for research. Several years ago, the operator dismissed the cracks as being the result of manufacturing problems during construction in the late 1970s in the Netherlands, but still failed to table evidence for this assumption.

The Belgian regulator also stated that the most likely cause was manufacturing, but could not prove it and added that it may be due to other causes.

The recent announcements of the materials scientists, indicate that this problem could be far beyond manufacturing.

If confirmed, it means that the safety of every nuclear reactor on the planet could be significantly compromised.

There are 435 commercial nuclear reactors worldwide, with an average age of 28.5 years in mid 2014. Of these, 170 reactors — 44 percent — have been operating for 30 years or more and 39 reactors have operated for more than 40 years.

“As we approach the fourth anniversary of the Fukushima-daiichi nuclear disaster, evidence has emerged that demands immediate action to prevent another catastrophe,” said Glorieux. “Thousands of previously unknown cracks in critical components of two reactors point to a potentially endemic and significant safety problem for reactors globally. Continuing to operate any reactor with such cracking would be an absolutely unacceptable risk to public safety. Greenpeace demands detailed inspections of all nuclear reactors worldwide, as conducted in Belgium, and the public release and scrutiny of the results. Any reactor with such cracking must be kept offline, until and unless the cracking is understood and safety is guaranteed. Anything less would be insane given the risk of a severe nuclear accident.”