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  • Beer man

    Love of beer leads EEOB's Rob Wallace to write a book on the subject

  • Rob Wallace has a love affair with beer.

    In his family room, he's building a bar where, when it's finished, he will be able to draw a pint of his own beer whenever he wants.

    As an undergraduate he worked for a beer distributor in Pennsylvania.

    He has his own home brewing system.

    And when he travels to England, Europe and other places around the world, he brings along a notebook and records his perception of the flavors for each new beer he discovers and tastes.

    "When I worked for the local beer distributor in college I got interested in how beer is made," Wallace said. "Then when I was in graduate school I did some international traveling and that's where I started learning about the diversity of beer."

    It's a natural link for Wallace. The associate professor of ecology, evolution and organismal biology (EEOB) also has a love of plants.

    "Beer is completely a botanical product - from the barley and hops to the yeast used in its production," he said.

    But once Wallace started looking at that aspect of the production of beer, he found printed references that explain the ingredients and the brewing process from the 'plant' perspective extremely lacking.

    "There are bits and pieces of information in different places," he said, "and then it dawned on me that this would be a good way to educate people about the botany of beer."

    Wallace is in the process of writing a book, tentatively called The Botany of Beer, which he says will be educational and useful to a range of people interested in the topic. It will focus on explaining the diversity and complexity of the beverage.

    In his research, Wallace has traveled to breweries across the globe. He has attended the hops harvest in the Pacific Northwest on three different occasions and has viewed all aspects of commercial malt production.

    "I've ridden on combines, talked to hop and barley farmers, visited breweries, and discussed brewing techniques with brewmasters to not only learn about the materials used, but also the processes used in brewing beer," he said. "I'm planning on putting all this information together to teach about the origin of plants and their products that are then used in brewing operations.

    "This way other beer aficionados will have a single, accessible fully referenced publication for this type of information. This will not be a book on how to brew beer or contain any home recipes. Instead it will be a thorough explanation of the plants, products, and processes used in the brewing industry."

    In his travels to visit with various people in the brewing industry, Wallace says the idea for the proposed book has been greeted favorably. A publisher in Portland, Ore., has expressed interest in publishing the finished manuscript.

    But for now, The Botany of Beer is on Wallace's back burner.

    He's active on a number of committees at Iowa State for both the university and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. His primary research on determining evolutionary relationships in a number of desert plant groups and teaching his classes take priority over brewing research and writing.

    Still Wallace hopes to have a complete manuscript finished sometime in 2004.

    "It's really a labor of love," he says. "It's been an enjoyable process meeting all the people in the industry."

Rob Wallace in front of home brewing equipment

Around LAS
January 26 to February 8, 2004