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5 Beer Quality Issues You Should Know About

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Thu, May 15, 2014 at 9:00 AM

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2. Every brewery should have a lab

Starting a lab is a fraction of the cost of starting a brewery. If brewers have to dump a batch of beer because of an infection or other contamination, the cost of raw materials, equipment usage, and man hours that go down the drain with it make lab costs worth the expense. "It pays for itself if only one batch is saved from the drain per year," said Brian Scott of Karl Strauss. "You're safeguarding your product and company by verifying your product is clean."

So where do you start? According to Chris White of White Labs, you start with a microscope. "So many breweries don't have a microscope. The prices are inexpensive and the powers are immense." With a microscope, your beer, and a little online help you can monitor yeast health and see what kind of bacteria might be giving you trouble.

Once you go into bottles, cultures become more important, "Every beer that goes into package should be plated," White added. Cataloging the product you've sold is critical.

Even testing your water will improve the consistency of your beer. With the drought in California, water is becoming harder and mineral content needs to be accounted for. Hard water may need to be filtered or blended; "Hard water accentuates bitterness, so testing is important, especially in hoppy beers," said Rick Blankenmeier.

click to enlarge Quality Control in Beer - ERIKA BOLDEN
  • Erika Bolden
  • Quality Control in Beer
1. The government wants in on beer
While quality standards are largely self-imposed in breweries, explosive growth in the industry may be slowed by federal and state lawmakers, and legislative changes are often to do with quality. 

The FDA is creeping in on craft beer. In October 2013, the FSMA proposed a rule that would regulate the spent grain that brewers give or sell to farmers. When a beer is made with malted barley, the leftover grain has little use to a brewer - but it provides excellent feed for livestock. This ruling would have imposed unnecessary restrictions on the handling of spent grain, making it impossible for breweries to afford giving their grain away. The grain would go to landfills instead of being sustainably reused as feed.

If spent grain doesn't seem like that big of a deal, it is the second issue addressed on the FDA's FSMA website. After receiving over 2,000 comments regarding this proposal, the FDA announced in April that they would revise said proposal. But this will not be the last move that affects the beer industry.

In the state of California, newly proposed legislation will allow the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) to hire six more full-time investigators to prosecute violations in bars and breweries. While many brewers desire this increase because it will raise standards, increased enforcement may also punish minor offenses that end up impeding brewers.

It's not all bad news though. Chris White added, "The better job we do regulating the industry ourselves [through quality control], the more the government will stay out of it."


Erika Bolden writes at Erikabolden.com and @Erikabolden. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.

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