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How an External Brewery Lab Can Make You a Better Brewer (and grow your sales)

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Since launching Rockstar Brewer Labs in late 2018, it’s been great to see so many breweries engage in a conversation with me about how a lab can help them grow beer sales through enhanced beer quality.

Often, however, when you chat with a brewer and tell them about all of the data they can acquire about their own beer, it’s like a deer in the headlights.

A typical brewer engaging in their first ever “what can I do with a lab” conversation.

Look – I get it – why should you bother undertaking any lab work if your current beer outcomes seem perfectly fine right now.

Why go to the expense?

I mean, a brewery laboratory is only there in case something goes wrong and nothing’s going wrong, right?

Well…..that’s not entirely the case.

As brewers, we don’t like operating blind.

We meticulously measure out our malt and hops and apply them in the right way in order to get great flavour outcomes.

We control our process and we make decisions based on the data presented to us.

In fact, we are data and process driven.

So it makes good sense to collate as much information as you can so that you, as a skilled brewer, can make informed decisions.

But, I will concede, it’s hard to know where to start if you’ve never considered it and building your own lab can be expensive.

So in this article, I’m going to give you 3 areas in your brewing operation where you can start with some basic outsourced lab analysis that will make your beer better with immediate effect at low cost.

1 – Water Analysis

Water. I used to think of it as one of the ‘dark arts’ of brewing.

Because I didn’t understand it, I ignored it.

But how can you ignore a component of your beer that makes up about 95% of your product?

I’ll admit, when I started studying water and reading John Palmer and Colin Kaminski’s book called “Water: A Comprehensive Guide For Brewers”, I used to read it in bed and was asleep after reading just a page or two.

I don’t say that to sound disrespectful, it’s just that the content was probably a little too technical for a bed time read.

To to be honest, there’s quite a bit of noise when it comes to understanding brewing water chemistry.

So as part of the Rockstar Brewer Mastermind, I set about creating some content for my members to demystify brewing water chemistry and give brewers some strategies to make some immediate changes to their formulations.

You have to ask yourself – do you currently put gypsum into your mash?

How about Calcium Chloride? Or acid?

If so – how much?

Now let me ask you this – why?

How is it possible to know what outcome you’re trying to achieve with your beer without knowing what your water is like in the first place?

We addressed brewing water chemistry in our October 2018 “Office Hours” session and I’ve made it available for free to brewers who order a water test through Rockstar Brewer Labs.

And yes, while it’s possible to get a water report from your local water authority’s website, it doesn’t take into account your pipes in your street and your water treatment system in your brewery.

Your water is as unique as your beer!

It makes sense to know how it’s unique and once you’ve worked that out, you can adjust your brewing water with confidence.

2 – International Bitterness Units (aka IBUs)

Us brewers love using software to write beer recipes.

I’m a massive Beersmith fan and have always been.

It just works for me.

But when I create a beer recipe and I add “hops to the kettle” in the software, it gives me an estimate of the IBU contribution of each charge leading to total IBUs for the beer.

But – the truth is, it’s only a theoretical number.

Beersmith, for example, has 3 formulae for estimating IBU: Tinseth, Rager and Garetz.

Each take into account the amount of Alpha Acid in my chosen hop variety as well as wort gravity and hot contact time during the boil/whirlpool.

But what any software can’t measure is hop utilisation specific to each brewhouse.

Your brewhouse.

21.5 IBUs going into the kettle. Or is it?

So when you market your beer and say “this IPA has 70 IBUs” you need to ask yourself, “Does it really?”

Every brewhouse is different.

Kettles powered by steam generally have higher hop utilisation than, say, an electric kettle.

So it makes sense to establish what your specific brewhouse’s hop utilisation rate is right?

Armed with that information, you can formulate additional recipes with better IBU accuracy.

The good thing is that it’s not difficult to establish the IBUs in wort or beer but it does require some specialist equipment that your brewery may not be able to afford.

An outsourced IBU analysis of your wort or beer is pretty cost effective and it’ll help you baseline your hop utilisation so you can dial in your beers for consistency.

3 – Wild Yeast and Bacteria aka The “Oh Crap” Analysis

So you’ve worked tirelessly on your CIP and SIP.

You’ve brewed an awesome beer, packaged it and released it into the world.

But a few weeks later, something’s gone wrong and you start getting reports of gushing kegs, bottles and cans.

What caused it?

At a stab it’s hard to say and if you’re in this situation, it’s not a good idea to start guessing either.

It could be wild yeast such as Brettanomyces or it could be Saccharomyces var Diastaticus which I have covered in another blog post.

With PCR testing readily available to all brewers, you no longer need to roll safe.

It might also be “Dry Hop Creep”.

Whatever it is, you need to get to the bottom of it so it doesn’t happen again.

The good news is that you can test for Lactobacillus and Pediococcus as well as Diastaticus and get a 24 hour turnaround when you need it by using Polymerase Chain Reaction analysis (aka PCR).

PCR in layman’s terms is a very fast method of testing for the presence of a micro-organism.

It works by isolating the genetic signature of these micro-organisms and works without having to plate up and grow a sample, which can take days.

When you’ve got a problem and you need an answer quick, PCR is your best friend.

Conclusion

Brewery Lab Services in Australia are now more accessible than ever.

With outsourced brewery laboratory analysis services, there’s no reason why you should get to know your beer better.

Because knowledge is power and in this ever increasingly competitive craft beer market, access to data can make all the difference with respect to beer quality, brand loyalty and ultimately, repeat sales.

Take a look around at your beer market, you’ll see that the breweries that are investing in laboratory analysis as part of a beer quality program are the ones that are growing.

If you’re still not sure how an external brewery lab can help your craft beer business, contact me.  I’m here to help.

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