Making a Quality Beer

September 29, 2016

It might be a bit surprising to some that the biggest news lately in the craft beer industry is quality control. Unsurprisingly, we want to tell you about our own quality control. 

Before we get to that, I need to mention two particular stories have captured significant media attention. The first was a recall notice from Side Launch Brewing Company that cleared shelves of its wheat beer (click for article). The issue seemed to stem from some type of contamination. While it didn’t present a safety issue for customers, the brewery decided to pull the product so that their fans wouldn’t get stuck with beer that was sub-par. We aren’t the only ones applauding the difficult decision; Ben Johnson of bensbeerblog.com wrote an article that outlines why this is such a great thing (click for article). The second story was a bit more overt. Exploding cans certainly does grab the attention of readers and a brewery like Amsterdam has a fairly big reach (click for article).

All this to say that quality control has been placed front and center; this is a good thing. With the craft beer industry experiencing such massive growth it’s important that every brewer makes sure that their quality control systems are keeping pace. Just the other day, Ben Johnson told the Ontario Craft scene that it was time to get its act together (click for article). It isn’t really common for brewers to share what they are doing in terms of quality control. However, given the circumstances, we’d like to give everyone a small peek into the processes we’ve put in place and where we are going in terms of quality control.

Over the last year, we have been in the process of implementing a quality management system. We currently have over 30 standard operating procedures to ensure that every batch of beer is brewed, fermented, conditioned, and packaged to our specifications. This was something that was very easy for us to do when it was only 3 of us. Now with 11 employees, we need procedures and documentation to make sure we are brewing the best beer possible.

Procedures and documentation are all well and good but we still felt like we needed to know that our product was going to be ok sitting on a shelf at the LCBO, at room temperature, for several months (as much as it pains us to see our unpasteurized beer sitting unrefrigerated). We decided to begin lab testing our beer to ensure that our products would be shelf stable. Let be honest, I’m a scientist, I was just itching for a good reason to get back into the lab. I’m pleased to say that the screening tests we are using are performing as expected.

The first picture you saw was our little setup to test for a wide variety of organisms, some desirable, some not so much. In the second picture, you can see that mixed culture fermentations (flanders for example) show up positive, while our brewers yeast is completely clean. Here are another couple pictures to illustrate some of the controls since our production plates are pretty boring as there aren't any contaminants.

Last but not least, we will also be starting a specific training program for our employees to be able to detect and identify the most common beer faults. Sure, we think we have pretty good palates but we’re planning something with a bit more rigor. More details are soon to come!