Sunday, May 31, 2015

Start a Quality Program at Your Brewery, part 2

So, how’s my beer?
It’s heartbreaking to visit a new brewery and see the same avoidable off flavor in every beer while the proprietor waxes about how something seems just slightly off. You work too hard to produce sub-par beer. Solid sensory training and careful, consistent, observation with data collection are the foundation of a quality program.

Melissa Coles assesses visual characteristics

There’s trouble in River City!
Quality issues arise from ignorance to off flavors. Hands down the best quality equipment investment is in calibrating what you already have; your eyes, nose, and mouth. Beer fault training is the detection part of the answer. Aroxa and Seibel offer beer flavor training kits to program your schnozz to identify offending (or good) aromas. The Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) is specifically existent to train homebrewers to taste, judge, and offer technical brewing advice to one another. But wait, it’s not just for homebrewers! Every sanctioned homebrew competition and class I’ve been to has been a mix of equally passionate; on-the-cusp-of-pro hobbyists, happily amatuer homebrewers, and pros.

Back to School
BJCP classes covering styles, how to taste and judge, and identify beer faults are available nationwide. BJCP training materials are intensive on beer faults and corrective options. Your local BJCP class coordinator can also order off flavor kits at a reduced price. Beyond the basic training, I found judging at home brew competitions extremely helpful in understanding harmony, balance, and intangibles, knowing faults both fatal and incorrect for style, and becoming comfortable with deciphering the difference between mediocrity and true greatness.

Check out my profile
At the minimum breweries should have sensory profiles for each significant brand. List all aromas and flavors and their intensity. Note color, clarity, head texture and retention, mouthfeel, and alcohol strength. I use a modified BJCP score card for this purpose. Combine complete profiles at varying points in aging with exacting brewhouse and cellar records for a clear look at how process and recipe changes affect your final product throughout its life.

Example Conclusions:
1) tried malt type Z in IPA recipe 2. Found body and caramel aroma reduced compared to malt type X.

2) used 20 kg yeast, cropped day 9 for porter. Compared to 30 kg yeast cropped day 7 in same recipe, less alcohol heat and more body.

Wouldn’t you like to definitively know how slight variations alter your product?

Data are as data do.
Be on data collection and tracking like a rat on a cheeto. It's tedious, but it will build a map of how to improve in efficiency and quality.

Brewhouse: OG, amount of grain, mash temp and pH, KO volumes and temperatures, times on process start/stop.

cellar: cell counts and viability with microscope. yeast pH, FG, diacetyl by nose. Temperature and gravity daily.

final package: ABV%, send it out to a lab. Use White labs big QC day for a value on many analytical Packaged airs data by a Zahm and Nagel is a good place to start for in house package quality, oxidation flavor impacts should be avoided when bottling if possible.

Once you begin tracking data, each brew can be a little experiment. Slight variations can be controlled and implemented to improve a variety of parameters from yeast health to brewhouse efficiency.
Lactobacillus Brevis

If you’ve got sensory and faults on lock, identifying contamination should be a matter of dedicating time and product for long term storage. Understanding aseptic sampling technique and using it to collect and store beer for long term assessment trials can identify low-grade infection issues just by taste. Keep packaged product in sanitized vessels with as little air contact as possible in a cool, dark area for several months, tasting every month.

Wort stability is a good entry level test for microbe issues kettle to KO. Wort stability just requires sterile/sanitary vessel.

Unless your operation is adding a large packaging facility, farm out the intensive microbiological and analysis work out to White labs, Seibel, etc. If you're dead set on starting to plate for infection; Hsu's Lactobacillus/ pediococcus media (siebel product) detects lactobacillus and pediococcus without need of an autoclave. You would need the following: gloves, RO or distilled water, heat proof lab flasks (a few), a microwave, test tubes and caps, a .01g scale (jeweler's scales), and an incubator at 28C or a consistently warm spot in your building. I'd get single use sterile swabs and pipettes for sampling.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

corporate culture shock

Company culture answers the question of why we do things this way here. It forms an organic social contract defining what we believe in, how we behave and who belongs. It's also incredibly valuable, see Amazon's purchase of Zappos and appropriation of their employee policies. It cannot be controlled or managed top down because it belongs to the employees. It can however be inspired and propagated by careful communication about company goals and aligning the culture to the overall business strategy.

Craft beer business culture prioritizes development of the innovative product, relating to customers via service, outreach and marketing, and controlling the risks of production to attain operational excellence.

Operational excellence in safety, quality and consistency are more elusive and understandably tertiary concerns. Sales and stability in revenue determine a brewery's success more than safety and quality during initial growth.

As breweries become established, these concerns move to the forefront, especially in larger production operations. The risks are higher and insurance more expensive.  Balancing the safety, quality, and consistency needs of the operation as a whole and retaining employee determined company culture easily becomes combative.

Especially so when the topic of medical and legal recreational (state law) marijuana comes up. Safety often is strung up as the reason for mandatory drug testing. Clearly everyone wants a safe environment while at work. Being under the influence at work is not appropriate to the vast majority. Also most agree that it is reasonable to require drug testing after major accidents. Yet many find themselves in the independent craft beer industry because of the embrace of personal responsibility and self policing that is an essential component of a productive company culture while creating an inebriating product.

33% corporate beer still tokes
In the case of marijuana, the levels of THC stay in the body much longer than the effects. Clumsy tests that don't differentiate between getting high last Saturday and being stoned on a forklift Monday morning and constant threat regimes of random screenings rob employees of their right to enjoy legal, state tax revenue earning weed on their own time. Such as the case with most rules, the extent to which a company enforces a drug policy largely determines the degree to which employees feel their privacy and personal life are invaded.

Craft beer is largely comprised of small independent companies deciding for themselves how to enforce quality and safety policies. As they grow and change they will have to determine what values are essential to employee engagement and productivity. Companies only pay for the hours employees are at work, how much should they determine behavior off the clock?

Friday, January 30, 2015

A personal perspective on a big change

Elysian as a company will undoubtedly grow at a staggering pace over the next few years.  A company is still just a group of people, brought together by mutual needs and goals. We have dedicated our lives to creating, serving, and selling great beer. With dedication comes sacrifice, I count many among us who forwent better pay, benefits, and a slew of cushy perqs to work in craft brewing.

At some meager amount of time at Elysian, I was summoned by Dick Cantwell.  Those who knew him well assured me, “He’s just a man who cares about his beer.”

I nervously presented my work and ended by expressing; “My time at Elysian has been the most challenging and rewarding period of my career. I am continually impressed and motivated by my coworkers. Elysian demands patience, hard work, and a passion for working together to make our beer its best. Respect is earned here and well worth the effort. I have full support at every step. My accomplishments reflect the excellence of our company.”

I still feel that way today.

For employees, few of us have the means or disposition to turn our noses up at an opportunity of this magnitude.  We will have access to training and resources few of us would dare to dream of.  Speaking of means, we all look forward to the many positives that come with a big company.

Joe, Dick and Dave worked tirelessly to find a way for us to continue to thrive in an ever more competitive world. I am thankful for all they have done for me.