Monday, September 30, 2013

Start a quality program at your brewery today

Down a damp corridor I hear The Cellarmaster bellowing. " I'm trying to protect the beer!" rings off the tanks, neatly lined observers to his frustration and dedication. Snatching glances through the stands of fermenters, I see negotiations have escalated.

Contests of will break out in breweries attempting to tame the often opposing goals of growth and quality. The brew must go on, and decisions need to be made, quickly. Will quality standards or "get the job done" win the day? What is most important for preserving quality and where can (or should ) we cut corners?

Integrating quality and consistency monitoring practices in your brewery will mean building a program from scratch to support the needs of your brewery. Always keep in mind " how does this serve the needs of the brewery?"

Building a program requires the entire staff to take a direct interest in beer quality. Open your discussions with your team by explaining the overall impacts of a quality assurance program on the business.

Why are quality and consistency important?
Success as a brewery means creating the best beer possible with the least amount of resources and risk. Risk equates to unsaleable beer due to contamination or low quality.  Q&C effects investor relations,customer satisfaction, growth, accountability, enforcing distribution contracts, and production costs. It’s about growing and protecting your business. Let your employees know how their participation (or lack of) affects the company as a whole.

What can we learn from very successful breweries?
AB, SAB Miller, Molson Coors, Sierra Nevada, Boston BC, New Belgium. All provide a consistent, high
quality product to their customers at national and international level. It’s about customer trust. You want your customers to get what they expect. All have invested in quality control measures to grow.

What are your goals?
What changes are coming for your business and how can implementing quality and consistency
tracking and evaluation help your product improve or maintain Q&C in spite of those changes?

Example goals:
Make 50,000 BBL packaged product with 120 day shelf life this year.
Increase brand consistency across multiple brewpubs
Increase consistency batch to batch
Troubleshoot obvious flaws
Track flavor changes over time
QC is the collection and tracking of data to make better decisions.

Once you have your goals in mind. Figure out the information you will need to make changes in process to achieve those goals. Let's use the example of  "increasing consistency batch to batch".

What information do you need to start? Identify the unknowns that if monitored and adjusted can impact you goals.
Examples of data gathering activities:
Brew sheet tracking
Tasting panels
yeast viability and counts
Fermentation profiles
Gravities
mash pH
starch conversion test
wort stability
forced fermentation
VDK testing
Temperature tracking seasonally
microbe screening at each vessel transfer
grist sieve testing
For our sample goal of increasing consistency batch to batch, all of the above can be used to identify and reduce inconsistencies between batches of the same beer.

Create a plan with your team (foster the environment of quality and safety as a priority)
Set investment limits for goals. # employee hours, $ invested
Set a timeline for accomplishing goals.
Follow up with assessment at set times.
Identify missing pieces and supplement.
Train employees.
Invest in equipment
Write SOPs and logs for tracking info.
Outsource vital testing that cannot be accomplished in-house.
Review at 6 months, and annually.
Write Q&C tasks into every job description, employee handbook, and training session. From brewer to
tasting room, everyone should consider “what is best for our beer?”