In 1767, Joseph Priestley, a curious minister and tinkerer, popped over to a brewery. He had lately been tinkering with air, and the brewers allowed him to tinker with the air above a batch of fermenting wort. Because the yeast were secretly* doing their work, the air above the wort was full of carbon dioxide. Priestly and the brewers knew this as “fixed air.”
Priestley must have been well-liked, because the brewers helped him conduct various experiments with their air for the next several years. In 1772, Priestley announced an exciting discovery: soda water, a.k.a. seltzer. He’d managed to carbonate a bowl of water just by letting it sit in the area just above a batch of fermenting wort, and found that his friends liked to drink it.
Priestley is now most famous for his contributions to Chemistry, not for his frequent visits to a local brewery. That’s a shame, especially when you consider that those 8 a.m. college Chemistry classes would be much more popular if classes were held at local microbreweries. Who knows what serendipitous discoveries are being prevented?
*Yeast’s role in fermentation was not understood until 1857.