It's about the beer
Gina Miller and Bill Keeper
Hey Bill, - Think back to our younger days when we had those engaging romantic ideas of
what the process of making beer was all about. Speaking for myself I was disappointed when I
finally understood that the days of Frauleins stirring copper kettles and Clydesdales carting
barrels around were gone (if they ever were here in the first place.). Modern commercial
brewing looks a lot more like a science person meets an industrial warehouse guy in the midst
of lots of digital instruments, stainless steel and beakers. And that's true for even most small
craft breweries and all larger ones. Come on Bill, do you really thing it's a coincidence so
many brewers have chemistry and biology backgrounds? The inspiration for a new beer may
come from anywhere, but it must be backed up by scientific method and mathematical rigor.
And that's what leads me to my current worry (stop rolling your eyes, Bill) - how will all these
breweries maintain their quality control? Oh, I'm not talking about Bud or the big boys that
taste the same every time, everywhere. I'm worried about the rest of the beer in the
marketplace. We've both had a specific beer we liked then tried it at another time and it simply
wasn't the same, which in many cases was translated as not as good.
So I've come up with a couple of things breweries can do to insure that their quality control is
functioning as it should. It's about the same principle as when the BeerNexus editor has to fix
all your responses in our column to make sure they're good enough. Ha... just kidding.
I recommend focusing on one thing: consistency. To me the best indicator of quality control is
the brewery's ability to replicate their flagship beer.. In fact, consistency is more indicative of
quality than anything else. Unless the brewer is intentionally tweaking the recipe, the beer-
drinker should have the same assessment of how the beer looks, smells, tastes and feels
every time. I can see you thinking just how do you achieve consistent beer? Here's the way.
Like a home brewer things have to be sanitary. A built-in cleaning system that allows you to
clean your brewing equipment without disassembling the system is essential. The brewery
should us a checklist that ensures every person working on the beer handles it the same way.
That sounds simple but it works. And as an aside directed to male brewers, most of whom
sport beard - use beard nets. Make sure there is no cleaning solution in your beer. Write down
everything you do. Lastly, rigorously follow all government health regulations. While quality
standards are largely self-imposed in breweries, explosive growth in the industry may be
slowed by federal and state lawmakers, and legislative changes are often to do with quality. So
stay ahead of the game and do things the right way now.
That's it from me, chug-a-lug, Bill.....see you next time.
Ah, you got me on the editing thing. What you don't know is the editor is involved simply to tone
my brilliant arguments down a bit since I seem to always win these debates. Ha back to you!
Seriously though Gina, you come up with some great topics each month and really are insightful.
This month it's just about impossible to disagree with your thought that every brewery, especially
small craft ones, should be always thinking about quality control I'm sure most do but the
pressures of business can sometimes push that to the background as more and more product
needs to hit the market at a faster and faster pace. Throw in the fact that many new small
breweries are being run by first time entrepreneurs who's only real experience was as a home
brewer and this becomes even more of an issue.
You hit a home run with you comment about consistency. Couldn't agree more. Now let me give
you a couple of more things a brewery should consider.
Every brewery should have a sort of "sensory panel". The human palate is more sophisticated
than any machine in quantifying a very subjective thing. A group of trained beer tasters can
detect off-flavors in beer (like infection and oxidation) and assure the beer is true-to-brand, or as
you put it, consistent. It's not that difficult for a brewery to do, even the smallest start ups.
To start a sensory panel, just get some reliable volunteers who are genuinely interested in
helping produce a quality product and can be available to taste several times a week. I'm gussing
most breweries have a few certified beer judges (BJCP), or Cicerones, or Beerlogists among their
fans. If not, the brewer can train the participants on the basics. Each batch should be evaluated
for appearance, aroma, taste, and body.
I know some people think that inconsistency is part of the charm of craft breweries(and I'm in
general one of them) but when that begins to mean bad tasting beer (not slightly different beer)
then a panel would certainly be in order.
Lastly, I think every brewery should have some sort of lab. Look Gina, starting a lab is a fraction
of the cost of starting a brewery. If brewers have to dump a batch of beer because of an infection
or other contamination, the cost of raw materials, equipment usage, and man hours that go down
the drain with it make lab costs worth the expense. It pays for itself if only one batch is saved from
the drain per year. A lab is essentially safeguarding the company's future by verifying the
product is clean. So where do you start? My suggestion is with a microscope. Many breweries
don't one. The prices are inexpensive and the powers are immense. With a microscope and a
little online help any brewer can monitor yeast health and see what kind of bacteria might be
giving them trouble.
Gina, all this has gotten me thirsty. Think I'll open two bottles right now. No I'm not going to
overindulge, I just want to make sure they taste the same.
Here's looking at you Gina