Instrument Guidance for Beer Quality Labs
Initiating a beer quality program can be daunting. Effectively utilizing a limited budget to achieve the most impactful result at the brewery requires a knowledge of potential pitfalls and pinch points based on the business model.
It is recommended that breweries join trade organizations such as the Brewers Association and the American Society of Brewing Chemists (ASBC) for access to important resources and methods related to the topic of brewing quality. The table below categorizes various instruments and their relevance to beer production. The subsequent table provides Example Lab Setups at Basic, Intermediate, and Comprehensive levels of QA/QC, but it is important to keep in mind that each business has unique circumstances, and these examples are likely to require adjustments in the contexts of the brewery’s specific needs and priorities.
For instance, a brew pub may be planning to exclusively sell beer on draught from their taproom. They do not plan to package and distribute, but perhaps they are hoping to re-pitch yeast for their flagship styles. This brewery should focus their sights on instruments and methods that support Yeast and Fermentation, such as a microscope or automatic yeast cell counter for measuring yeast cell concentration and viability. While controlling contamination is always important, an issue can be caught immediately since the beer will never travel far from the taproom. The threat of a reputation shattering recall is minimal. Establishing a cadence for routine sensory analysis can be most impactful for identifying defects or contamination.
A boutique brewery and blendery who produces both clean styles and mixed culture beers for release in cans or bottles should invest in Sanitation and Contamination efforts to ensure proper cleaning protocols to prevent equipment contamination. The purchase of an ATP luminometer would have the greatest impact for this brewery, as it provides instant results with minimal time and training.. With additional time and resources, the use of differential media and the accompanying supplies can provide more specific answers about contamination identification. For the speediest results, PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) Instrumentation is recommended, though this convenience comes with a higher price tag. All Sanitation & Contamination Quality efforts require a comprehensive understanding of Aseptic (Sterile) Technique.
A regional sized brewery planning large scale distribution should consider the aforementioned investments plus a focus on packaging quality to ensure that a well made beer stays fresher longer. At times the demand of production, warehouse, and delivery schedules are more restrictive, so investing in more advanced and automated equipment can provide quicker turnaround times on results. It is encouraged that a brewery of this size set aside the budget for an Automatic Yeast Cell Counter, an ATP meter, PCR Instruments, and an Optical CO2 & Dissolved Oxygen Meter.
Every type of brewery benefits from a sensory program, but even sensory analysis can be catered to the specific brewery’s needs. Every sensory program should start with basic training and by defining the desired sensory attributes of flagship beers. Then, analyze every batch for those attributes, and determine whether the beer meets its benchmark. A simple “Pass or Fail” system is often most effective. Training is required to ensure accurate results, and as the brewery grows, additional analyses can be introduced.
Lastly, a quality program is only as good as its data. If the brewery is committed to robust quality programs, investment in data analysis software (such as DraughtLab Pro and Grist Analytics) will streamline data with built in statistical tools. Serious consideration should be put into data analysis and the systems for corrective action that will inevitably be warranted. Without a clear plan in this regard, all efforts and investments risk being a moot cause.
Mel Antone Quality & Sensory Specialist, Melissa Antone LLC
Mel has worn many hats in the beer world, but her specialty is brewing QA/QC and Sensory Analysis. Her prior roles include Sensory Manager for Avery Brewing Co, Business Development for AROXA Certified Flavor Standards, and Quality Trainer for the Brewers Association. She is a Beer Educator, Contributor to Zymurgy Magazine and MBAA Tech Quarterly, International Beer Judge, and Beverage Director for The Rayback Collective in Boulder, Colorado.
Creating Quality Standards
Erik Fowler, White Labs
Quality is the most important aspect of any product. The Brewers Association defines quality as “a beer that is responsibly produced using wholesome ingredients, consistent brewing techniques and good manufacturing practices, which exhibits flavor characteristics that are consistently aligned with both the brewer's and the beer drinker's expectations.”
Quality should be the main focus of any opening brewery. Without quality, business success is