Humans have enjoyed kicking back with a nice beer after a hard day’s work for centuries; millennia, really. The earliest known form of beer was a barley beer that was developed in Iran’s Zagros Mountains and dates back to 3400 BC. Other cultures quickly picked up on this wonderful new development and modified it to their own tastes and, just like that, beer spread across the globe.
Today, we have at our disposal thousands of different beers to try, with seemingly more every day as more microbreweries spring up in every town. While this is a welcome, it does present brewers with a bit of a dilemma. What was once a niche service has now become a crowded industry with tons of rivalries. How can you ensure that your product can stand up to the fierce competition?
The simple answer is by paying attention to microbiology. While in school, microbiology might not have seemed very important, but as a brewer, you now know that it is vital. Microbiology determines how good your beer will taste, it will ensure consistency throughout different batches, and it will help keep harmful or even dangerous bacteria from spoiling your beer and hurting your customers.
To some, the number one reason to pay attention to microbiology when brewing is the quality of flavor. Many common off-flavors begin with the introduction of unwanted bacteria and yeast. One common example is how lactic acid can affect a beer’s flavor; just two cells of lactobacillus in one milliliter of beer can cause sourness is just days. Wild yeast, while often purposefully used for particular kinds of beer, can bring about off flavors where they don’t belong. Sometimes a simple mistake, like accidentally using the wrong kind of yeast (ale vs. lager), means a batch that’s only good to pour down the drain.
Consistency is another important factor to consider when brewing. Once you’ve got the perfect recipe for the beer of your dreams, you don’t want to lose it because some uninvited bacteria made it into your latest batch. Not to mention the fact that customers will be really disappointed to find that their once-favorite brew seems to taste different every time they order it. Keeping yeast contaminant-free is vital to being able to consistently produce an excellent beer every time and keep customers coming back for more.
Finally, keeping tabs on microbiology is important for the health and safety of those who will be drinking your beer. According to some sources, “Low grade or contaminated alcoholic beverages can cause serious harm to human health, which could lead to permanent organ damage or even death.” The last thing anyone wants when they’re drinking a beer is a bad time. Make sure your faithful patrons can count on your beer starting their night off on the right foot by keeping contaminants away from your brews.
How can contaminations happen? Of course lack of proper sanitation can lead to spoiled beer. If each and every tool used in the brewing process is not properly cleaned, all bets are off as far as bacteria goes. But no matter how careful you are to clean and sanitize your tools and use clean water, it’s very hard to keep a beer contaminant-free because even the air can be a source of contamination(https://www.greeleytribune.com/2020/12/17/a-talk-with-patrick-combs-the-mad-scientist-behind-weldwerks-brewing-co-s-laboratory/) “… contamination that may be in the air such as wild yeast that can cause re-fermentation and cause cans to explode or bacteria like lactobacillus that can cause beers to go sour.”
Knowing that even the air is a potential threat to your brew can be a bit overwhelming. How can a small microbrewery keep tabs on microbiology to ensure that their beers will be flavorful, consistent, and safe? Don’t fear, it isn’t impossible; in fact, it is rather quite simple. For the most part, educating yourself on what to look for and having a clean area to work in will be all you need to handle your own microbiology in-house.
While building your own lab is probably out of the question, you can definitely still take care of your brewery’s microbiology needs yourself. Mystaire offers a great solution for microbreweries looking to develop their own quality control testing on their terms. Our ductless MY-PCR Prep Station with timed UV light provides an ISO 5 environment, offering you the microbiology capability of a clean room while being compact enough to fit just about anywhere you need it. You can even move it around, giving you flexibility in case your brewery ever changes setup or location.
By focusing on your trade, your brewery can carry on the tradition first passed down by the ancients in the Zagros Mountains and bring beer to the thirsty masses. By focusing on microbiology, you can ensure that your particular flair and flavors won’t be lost among the sea of beers.