Gear­head: Brew Labs

Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine - - Contents - By John M. Verive

Like a num­ber of craft brew­eries, Pla­cen­tia, Cal­i­for­nia’s The Bruery has grown their lab­o­ra­tory from a small cob­bled-to­gether room with a sin­gle staffer to a mul­ti­fac­eted team of four in a space the size of a small house. Their three­fold ap­proach—analysis, mi­cro­bi­ol­ogy, and sen­sory eval­u­a­tion—pro­vides a wealth of use­ful in­for­ma­tion about the beer they brew.

BEER AND SCI­ENCE ARE in­ex­orably linked. As hu­mans pur­sued the art of brew­ing and fer­men­ta­tion through­out his­tory, sci­en­tific un­der­stand­ing and tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances pre­ceded or closely fol­lowed each of beer’s evo­lu­tion­ary steps, from Louis Pas­teur’s home­brew­ing and “dis­cov­ery” of yeast to re­frig­er­a­tion to the ad­vanced an­a­lyt­i­cal equip­ment of to­day. Modern brew­ery lab­o­ra­to­ries are no longer the purview of only the largest pro­duc­tion fa­cil­i­ties, and ev­ery­one from start-up brew­eries to brew­pubs to home­brew­ers can im­prove their brews with a lit­tle ap­plied sci­ence.

One brew­ery that’s em­braced the util­ity of a lab­o­ra­tory is The Bruery in Orange County, Cal­i­for­nia. Known and loved for in­no­va­tive and bound­ary-push­ing beers, The Bruery strug­gled with rogue mi­crobes in 2013 that led to the un­in­ten­tional sour­ing of some high-pro­file beers. The back­lash put The Bruery’s rep­u­ta­tion on the line. It took a ma­jor cul­tural shift, not to men­tion a siz­able cap­i­tal in­vest­ment, to avert dis­as­ter. The Bruery Founder and Brew­mas­ter Patrick Rue dou­bled down on his in­vest­ment in a brew­ing lab­o­ra­tory, and re­cently, I sat down with Qual­ity & In­no­va­tion Man­ager Jes­sica Davis to see how the lab fits into The Bruery’s pro­duc­tion.

I first met Davis in pass­ing in 2013 soon after she started work­ing full time at The Bruery (she’d con­sulted for the brew­ery prior to her hire), and back then the lab was a con­verted kitch­enette next to of­fices in The Bruery’s in­dus­trial-park home in Pla­cen­tia. Less than four years later, The Bruery has ex­panded into ev­ery suite in the build­ing, and the pur­pose-built lab is now al­most 1,400 square feet and staffed by four. Un­like the other equip­ment we’ve looked at in this col­umn, the lab isn’t a sin­gle piece of gear with a well-de­fined pur­pose. It’s a collection of tools and pro­cesses for gain­ing in­sight into a beer, and the tools are best in­te­grated into ev­ery step of the brew­ing process.

A Three­fold Ap­proach

At The Bruery, Davis gets in­volved be­fore a sin­gle drop is brewed; she’s a mem­ber of the brew­ery’s in­no­va­tion team along­side Rue and ex­per­i­men­tal brewer An­drew Bell. The trio ex­plores the fuzzy bound­aries of beer for new fla­vors (and The Bruery brews a lot of dif­fer­ent beers—nearly

sev­enty in 2016 in­clud­ing re­leases from the off-shoot sour fa­cil­ity, Bruery Ter­reux). Rue comes up with the con­cept for most new beers; Bell then be­gins to de­velop a pi­lot batch recipe; and Davis de­signs ex­per­i­ments to an­a­lyze the brew, tests any of the un­com­mon in­gre­di­ents that are a hall­mark of The Bruery, and scales up the recipe for the pro­duc­tion brew­house. These pro­duc­tion beers are tested at ev­ery step through the brew­ery, from raw­ingre­di­ent sam­ples to the fi­nal QA hold in the brite tank be­fore be­ing pack­aged, and then pack­aged beer is tested in the weeks and months down the line.

The Bruery’s lab space it­self is di­vided into three main zones plus an ad­min­is­tra­tion area. Each zone rep­re­sents the three­fold ap­proach to the lab’s qual­ity as­sur­ance mis­sion: analysis, mi­cro­bi­ol­ogy, and sen­sory eval­u­a­tion.

Most of the lab’s in­stru­men­ta­tion is in the analysis zone, and one of the most im­por­tant in­stru­ments in Davis’s arse­nal is the An­ton Paar Al­colyzer. The unit de­ter­mines the den­sity, and thus the al­co­hol con­tent, of sam­ples, and—along with the CO2 me­ter and ph me­ter—tells Davis what the beer is made of. Each in­stru­ment pro­vides in­sight into dif­fer­ent brew­ing-process ef­fi­cien­cies. There are analysis mi­cro­scopes, too, for cell counts and iden­ti­fy­ing other micro­organ­isms present or even de­ter­min­ing the source of haze.

Mi­cro­scopes and stir plates are the main tools in the mi­cro­bi­ol­ogy zone where the main task is yeast man­age­ment.

The fi­nal as­pect of the lab’s re­spon­si­bil­i­ties is sen­sory eval­u­a­tion, and that re­quires the most im­por­tant in­stru­ments at the brew­ery: the trained palates of the sen­sory eval­u­a­tion team.

Sen­sory pan­els are run at The Bruery ev­ery day in the pur­pose-built space in­side the lab, with pan­elists pulled from ev­ery de­part­ment in the brew­ery. Qual­ity Lab­o­ra­tory Lead & Sen­sory Spe­cial­ist Jen­nifer Au­gus­tine runs the sen­sory eval­u­a­tions, and she knows the sen­si­tiv­i­ties and blind spots of all her pan­elists. The hu­mans are the most im­por­tant part of the lab, says Davis. They pro­vide con­text and in­ter­pret all the data col­lected by the in­stru­ments.

A craft brew­ery doesn’t need su­per­sen­si­tive lab equip­ment to im­ple­ment a qual­ity-as­sur­ance pro­gram; the best first step is “a good sen­sory space that min­i­mizes dis­trac­tion and bias,” she says. Taste and mea­sure the beer at ev­ery step of the process. Know what the beer should taste like based on recipe and con­cept and com­pare that idea to the fin­ished prod­uct. A sen­sory panel can iden­tify many process faults, and it’s the best first step in any brew­ery’s pur­suit of qual­ity.

A Cul­ture of Qual­ity As­sur­ance

The Bruery made a sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment in the lab, equip­ment, staff, and on­go­ing train­ing, but a brew­ery doesn’t need a bunch of space and lots of com­plex equip­ment to run a QA pro­gram. “You need to in­still the cul­ture of qual­ity as­sur­ance in the whole brew­ery staff,” Davis says. “Any brew­ery can do forced-at­ten­u­a­tion tests and cell counts or mon­i­tor the ph of a fer­men­ta­tion.” The

lat­ter test is even bet­ter at mon­i­tor­ing the progress of a fer­men­ta­tion than check­ing grav­ity, she says, be­cause if you know how the ph changes through the fer­men­ta­tion of a beer, you can catch prob­lems ear­lier and eas­ier. ph me­ters are af­ford­able, even at the home­brew level, and while mi­cro­scopes are more ex­pen­sive and re­quire more train­ing to use, they are the foun­da­tion of brew­ing sci­ence and cru­cial for proper yeast man­age­ment. “You need to do cell counts to pitch the ap­pro­pri­ate amount of yeast,” Davis ad­vises. Whether it’s stowed away in a cabi­net or on an out-of-the way desk, set up in a con­verted bath­room, or a sin­gle in­stru­ment in a ded­i­cated lab­o­ra­tory, the mi­cro­scope can show a brewer what’s hap­pen­ing in­side his/her beer.

Davis, a self-pro­claimed “nerd with a mi­cro­scope in the closet at home,” says that home­brew­ers, too, can ben­e­fit from a sci­en­tific ap­proach to qual­ity as­sur­ance, even with­out sci­en­tific in­stru­ments. It’s about the mind­set that you cul­ti­vate when brew­ing. No mat­ter where you’re set up, don’t think of it as your garage or your kitchen counter; think of your brew­ing space as a brew­ery. Be neat and or­derly with your equip­ment. Clean and san­i­tize with a sci­en­tist’s dili­gence. Take care­ful mea­sure­ments and keep metic­u­lous notes. Learn to use a mi­cro­scope and do cell counts. Maybe pick up a book on mi­cro­bi­ol­ogy (at least one on yeast bi­ol­ogy). Work to train and de­velop your palate. Re­mem­ber that the most pow­er­ful in­stru­ments avail­able to any brewer are in his/her mouth and be­tween his/her ears.

Clock­wise from left » The Bruery’s mo­bile analysis sta­tion; the Bruery’s lab has grown from a con­verted kitch­enette to a 1,400-square-foot com­plex; sam­ples grow­ing on a stir plate.

The Bruery’s sen­sory analysis lab in­cludes pri­vate sta­tions for pan­elists to min­i­mize dis­trac­tion and bias with slid­ing doors for pre­sent­ing sam­ples.

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