By Adam Fleck
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Whether you’re a beginning homebrewer or a veteran professional, you want to make quality beer. Your customers, even if it’s only you, want to drink quality beer. Quality is the difference between making great beer and making great beer every time.
There are numerous control points in the brewing process and each introduces the possibility for variation, but also error. When something goes wrong, it’s too late to analyze. Collecting data throughout the process is more advantageous than simply testing the final product. By having a good quality control program in your brewhouse, problems can be corrected before they affect your beer.
The first thing you can do to ensure quality, and by far the cheapest, is to write everything down. And I mean everything! Every control point that you collect can be used as an indicator to flag potential problems. For example, if your mash temperature is different batch to batch, you could be reducing the efficiency of your brewhouse. The result will be a lower starting gravity and you may have possible off-flavors due to over-attenuated beer. A problem that occurs in the initial steps of brewing could be remedied in the future by constantly measuring your mash temperature. After the mash, you’ll have an average that should be within your desired range. If the temperature is off, you can correct it rather than let the error have a cascading effect on the process.
Now you could say, “But my mash tun keeps a constant temperature!” Are you sure? If it keeps a constant temperature, is it the set temperature you had in mind or does it change due to environmental factors? My point is, you don’t know unless you measure it. If you don’t write it down, you won’t know for next time.
The important factor in quality beer is consistency. It’s one thing to make a great beer. It’s another to be able to make it again. How are you measuring consistency? If you are only measuring at the end of production, it’s too late to correct any of the variables. Beer, after all, is part art and part science. The part that most breweries are missing is the science — and that’s tied to consistent repetition. It’s not as glamorous as the art aspect, and it involves things like “filing cabinets” and “statistical process control,” which certainly aren’t sexy. But the science helps you make great beer, every time.
Unfortunately, as your brewing technique advances, the equipment expense tends to grow as well. But there are cost-effective options. Breweries can use contract services for quality assurance/quality control while homebrewers have the option of purchasing test kits. Saving money on equipment means that you have more money for production. And more beer is always a good thing, right? Happy brewing!
Adam Fleck is the founder of Willamette Valley Mobile Testing, which provides contract quality control for small and midsize breweries.