Researchers in Winnipeg, Canada, are scouring proteins found in malting barley, beer's main ingredient, to find those responsible for causing foam and haze.
Marta Izydorczyk, of the Grain Research Laboratory in Winnipeg, and Werner Ens, a physicist at the University of Manitoba, are leading the research, which uses the university's newly developed technology for studying and characterizing proteins.
Brewers have become almost fanatical, and understandably so, about how their beer looks and performs when it is poured into a glass. The stability, volume and shape of the foam are all examined closely.
The new research could add more accuracy to the process, according to Izydorczyk.
"If we can isolate and identify all proteins participating in foam production and haze production, then we can manipulate them, either through malting barley breeding programs [sic] or in the processing stage."
The study is being funded by Canada's Agri-Food Research and Development Initiative (ARDI), the Brewing and Malting Barley Research Institute and the Canadian Malting Barley Technical Centre.
David Gislason, chair of ARDI, said he hoped the research could also lead to increased demand for Canadian malting barley.
"By enhancing the malting and brewing qualities of Canadian barley, we can increase the competitiveness of our barley on the world stage."
Various studies have been completed in recent years on how to predict how malting barley will perform in the brewing process generally.
A 2004 study of six commercial malt varieties by UK-based Brewing Research Institute (BRi) suggested that laboratory tests for wort filterability were the best way of predicting how well the barley would perform during processing.
The BRi put each malt through its paces in a pilot brewery and rated the varieties on lautering, fermentation behaviour and yield of ethanol.
Brewers and whisky makers in the UK may also benefit from a £1.8m project started last year, in which scientists are seeking to identify the most economically important genes in barley. These include genes affecting yield, disease, pest resistance and how much alcohol can be extracted.
The study is being funded by the government, food and drink industry and agricultural bodies. Coors Brewers UK, subsidiary of US brewer Molson Coors, is one of those contributing.