Fjordman: A History of Beer — Part 4

Fjordman has posted the fourth installment of his history of beer at the Brussels Journal. Some excerpts are below:

In the late 1700s, leading European scholars learned that when a gas is cooled, its volume is reduced by a predictable amount. Pressurizing a gas by forcibly squeezing its molecules closer together reduces its volume. The first person to liquefy a substance that normally (i.e., in temperatures we experience daily) exists as a gas was Gaspard Monge, a French scholar primarily remembered for his achievements in mathematics, especially descriptive geometry, but who did work in physics and chemistry as well. Monge produced liquid sulfur dioxide in 1784, but most gases were not liquefied until the mid-1800s. In the 1840s the Irish physical chemist Thomas Andrews (1813-1885) suggested that every gas has a critical temperature above which it cannot be liquefied even under greater pressure. His concept of critical temperature led to a breakthrough in the liquefaction of many so-called permanent gases.

The English natural philosopher James Prescott Joule was a scientific brewer whose father had made good money from making beer. At an early age, James Joule was given a laboratory adjacent to the brewery premises. Here is a quote from his biography in the excellent book The Oxford Guide to the History of Physics and Astronomy, edited by John L. Heilbron:

“Joule was educated at home and by the natural philosopher John Dalton. As the son of the wealthiest brewing family in Manchester, England, he had the opportunity to choose his profession freely….The brewery and Manchester industry in general made an ideal environment for studying the most current problems in science and technology. The new forces of electricity and magnetism then enjoyed the attention of most people interested in natural philosophy…. Expressing phenomena numerically had become a habit of Joule’s when he worked in the brewing world…..The experiments drew on the thermometric skills he had acquired in the brewery, and invoked a close collaboration with the local instrument maker and natural philosopher John Benjamin Dancer. Joule and Dancer produced the most precise working mercury thermometer available at the time. Their contemporaries still used air thermometers….Joule was characterized as a ‘gentleman specialist’ for having established the mechanical equivalent of heat through exact measurement, but his related reflections on the dynamical nature of heat and its significance for thermodynamics carried little weight before he began his collaboration with William Thomson. Thomson made ‘Joule’s constant’ (the ratio of mechanical work to heat) the building block of the science of energy.”

Few physicists understood or took seriously what Joule argued since he was a brewer by profession and an amateur scientist. Fortunately, the young William Thomson, often known as Lord Kelvin, realized the importance of his work and collaborated with Joule for years on studies of the relationship between work and heat. Joule collaborated with Lord Kelvin on developing a thermodynamic (absolute) temperature scale, the Kelvin scale from 1848, where absolute zero (0 K) constitutes the absence of all thermal energy. The magnitude of the degree Celsius, from the centigrade scale named after the Swedish astronomer Anders Celsius and normally used in everyday life, is exactly equal to that of the kelvin, but 0 K is – 273.15 °C.

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The Frenchman Sadi Carnot in 1824 published a theoretical account of steam engines whose importance was not fully grasped until some years later. The First Law of Thermodynamics, which states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, was enunciated in 1842 by the German physician and physicist Julius Robert Mayer. He related mechanical energy to thermal energy. Mayer’s original studies were carried out whilst he was employed as a ship’s doctor in the Dutch East Indies in 1840. He noticed the difference in the color of venous blood when taken in tropical conditions as opposed to when it was taken in colder climates. Local physicians informed him that the bright red color was typical of tropical conditions. The consumption of oxygen required to maintain body temperature is less there than in colder countries. Mayer understood that by burning the same amount of food, the body could produce different proportions of heat and work, but the sum of the two had to be constant.

Although their starting points were very different, Joule and Mayer are generally regarded as the co-discoverers of the principle of energy conservation, which constitutes a fundamental part of all branches of physics and physical chemistry. The German scholar Hermann von Helmholtz placed the principle on a better mathematical basis in 1847 when he clearly stated the “conservation of energy” as a principle applicable to all natural phenomena. The German physicist Rudolf Clausius, building on Carnot’s work, introduced the concept of entropy and stated the ideas of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which stipulates that the total entropy of any isolated thermodynamic system always increases over time. The German physical chemist Walther Nernst in the early 1900s formulated the Third Law of Thermodynamics, which basically says that it is impossible to reach absolute zero of temperature.

By the late nineteenth century, breweries were the largest users of commercial refrigeration units, though some still relied on harvested ice. In the early twentieth century, standards were reached for home refrigerators, the construction of trains and ships with large refrigerators, the installation of special refrigerators in slaughterhouses, the design of new hotels with air cooling systems etc. This revolution in refrigeration happened parallel to another revolution in transportation, and the combination of the two was to have global consequences.

Unfortunately, faster and more extensive communications increases the risk of spreading diseases from one region of the world to another. The grape phylloxera is a pest native to North America which had for generations made it difficult to transplant European vines to this region, although the reason for this was not properly understood. The local vines are naturally resistant to it. The louse did not survive the weeks at sea onboard the sailing ships, but the speed of the new steamships brought phylloxera to Europe in the 1860s. It caused tremendous devastation among European vineyards for decades, but the problem was eventually overcome by grafting resistant American rootstocks onto Old World vines. One of the positive side effects of this disaster was the growing importance of science in winemaking.

Read the rest at the Brussels Journal.

3 thoughts on “Fjordman: A History of Beer — Part 4

  1. In case somebody thinks I have left the whole anti-Jihad business: No, I haven’t. Everything I write about mathematics, optics and astronomy, about the history of beer and European music etc. is intended for use in an upcoming book called “In Defense of European Civilization,” or something similar. I am completing the manuscript for this as we speak and will return with a vengeance in a few weeks.

    If you wonder why I write about beer this is mainly because many people find the history of wine and beer interesting, often more so than the history of, say, mathematics. I also write about it because alcoholic beverages form an important part of European cultural history and because they reflect the growth of European civilization itself. From the wines enjoyed by the ancient Greeks and Romans we had the medieval monasteries, the development of urban capitalism, the overseas expansion, the growth of science and industry.

    It is true that we got some of the fundamental building blocs of civilization, above all writing, from the Middle East. We got the very concept of agriculture from the Fertile Crescent, and it is likely that early European beers in 3000 or 4000 BC closely resembled Mesopotamian ones. However, Europeans eventually progressed far beyond anything achieved in the Middle East either in ancient, medieval or modern times. Modern beers produced in twenty-first century Europe have very little in common with original Mesopotamian beers apart from the name and the fact that they are both fermented beverages made from cereals.

    Although alcoholic beverages have been produced and enjoyed for thousands of years by the Chinese, the Koreans, the Indians, the Japanese, the Persians, the Sumerians, the Egyptians, the Mayans and the Incas, modern Europeans were the only ones to provide a correct scientific explanation for the fermentation process and establish truly scientific brewing. This mirrors society in general and illustrates the fact that modern science was born in Europe, not anywhere else.

  2. Fjordman, thanks for this wonderful article on that most wonderful of human inventions, beer. I appreciate all these articles on European acomplishments you’ve written. In spite of what the multiculturalist idiots say, European civilization has produced far more good things than bad. It’s acomplishments need to exalted and defended.

    Or as Homer Simpson would say: Mmmmmmm, beer!

  3. It’s made the prospect of a foaming tankard or three this evening even more enticing than usual – Cheers Fjordman.

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