By: Gerald Dlubala
Consistency in the craft brewing process is achieved through quality control. Quality control includes regular testing and monitoring of ingredients and processes to achieve consistent results over multiple batches, while also ensuring that all regulatory issues are followed and the risk of contamination is minimized. With new flavor profiles and textures being introduced seemingly daily, a craft brewer needs to practice exceptional quality control to make their beer the best they can, even if it’s a new and unique offering. Craft brewing starts with water, and as a major component, that is where the testing must begin. Quality testers and monitors are a necessity, but so is the willingness and discipline to use them diligently at the proper times.
Simplifying the Chore of Testing and Monitoring
Milwaukee Instruments Inc., of Rocky Mount, North Carolina, operates on the belief that digital testing technology should be easy to use and available for every level of brewer. They focus on offering affordable, easy to use instruments manufactured from quality hardware. Milwaukee Instruments offers all the most widely and regularly used testing and monitoring products for the craft brewing and winemaking industries, and they do so without the use of test strips. Being known for outstanding capability while packaged in a smaller, more convenient size, their handheld meters can be kept conveniently in a pocket, and feature exceptional accuracy and lab grade performance.
“Temperature probes, pH meters and a unit like a refractometer that measures Brix are must-haves when brewing craft beer,” said Jason Brown, Operations Manager, North American Operations. “Monitors and meters are used throughout every stage of the brewing cycle. Depending on the type of beer the brewer is making at the time, there are major factors to be controlled and monitored. The initial pH of your water plays a big role in the taste and profile of the beer, whether you’re brewing a lager or a stout, a smooth or a bitter, or anything in between. The Brix, or sugar content, is measured before and after fermentation by measuring density. We have the right testing and monitoring products available for every stage of brewing, as well as every level of brewer.”
Included in that selection of testers and meters is their turbidity, or haze meter, used to measure clarity by the concentration of undissolved, suspended particles that are present in the beer.
“All of our instruments are very precise and accurate when taking measurements within the specific applications of pH, temperature or Brix. Our testers and meters are manufactured to be small and wireless, yet durable and waterproof to give a brewer the most convenient and easy-to-use method for testing and monitoring applications. These instruments have withstood the test of time and generally fit all of the required needs of the craft brewer at all levels,” said Brown. “That being said, of course, there are always ways to improve on the current tools and instruments. Brewers haven’t asked for anything that we can’t provide, but faster processing and longer-lasting probes would always be welcomed. The average lifespan of a normal pH probe is 12 to 18 months, so maybe we can improve upon that. More manufacturers are heading towards data logging equipment so brewers can have a historical view of their pH, temperature and Brix levels during different applications.”
Milwaukee Instruments’ automatic smart controllers continually monitor the required parameters set for the brewing process, including pH and ORP. These monitors dose and adjust the system as needed, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Automatic monitoring and control systems are nice additions because let’s face it, things happen, and measurements can and will get delayed or forgotten, allowing water makeup parameters to possibly get off track. Automatic smart controllers have your back when needed.
Quality Water Before Quality Beer
Industrial Test Systems in Rock Hill, South Carolina, knows that water matters in craft brewing, and, no matter what type of beer, it’s best to know the makeup of the water source. Without quality water, there cannot be quality beer. The water chosen for brewing, depending on things like chlorine or other contaminants, affects the sulfide to chloride ratio, how the beer is expressed to the drinker’s palate, and, ultimately, the final taste of the beer.
Water hardness plays a significant role in the beer’s mouthfeel. Light beers tend to be noticeably smoother on the palate, and a lot of that has to do with using softer water for brewing. Dark beers can use harder water, producing that familiar stronger or crisper flavor profile.
All-in-one kits, like the Smart Brew Starter Kit by Industrial Test Systems, can keep water testing on target. The self-contained kit tests for water hardness, calcium hardness, alkalinity, pH, chloride and sulfates. Once brewers get the hang of the basics and are looking to expand their testing, the Smart Brew Professional Kit provides the same testing plus the eXact pH+ Smart Meter System, a Bluetooth enabled, handheld multi-parameter pocket meter that works within their eXact iDip app for both iOS and Android smart devices. This unit can test pH, conductivity, salinity, Total Dissolved Oxygen, Temperature, and Oxygen Reduction Potential using two different probes. The data captured is useful for specific brewer formulas and brewing-specific calculations.
Temperature and pH Determine Results
“A good pH meter and thermometer are used in all stages of brewing and are, by far, the best friend of the craft brewer looking to produce a quality, consistent brew,” said Casey Thomson, Application Sales Engineer for Hanna Instruments, a world leader in pH and titration science.
Hanna Instruments is known for developing innovative products, and many are the norm throughout the instrumentation industry. Included in their product offerings are pH electrodes with built-in temperature sensors and waterproof, portable pH meters.
“As a brewer, one of the most important things to test regularly is the water supply you’re using as source water. If you’re using your area’s general water supply on a year-round basis, chances are your source water is changing with the seasons, and that’s ultimately going to alter and change the taste of your beer. Inconsistency in the taste of your product is something you never want because that’s a good way to lose customer loyalty. Pilsners, for example, are all about the water that they’re brewed from. Guinness will never be exactly duplicated here in the states because of the water that is used as the base.”
“Craft brewers also need to keep tabs on temperature over the entire process,” said Thomson. “Extra-long probes, like the one we affectionately call ‘The Sword,’ come in very handy to monitor the temperatures down deep into the mash to ensure consistent temperatures throughout. When you do that, you’ll know that you’re keeping the yeast happy enough to form alcohol from the sugars.”
Thomson told Beverage Master Magazine that refractometers are useful for brewing reports and for measuring the sugars before fermentation. After fermentation, a refractometer measures alcohol content. Many brewers still like to use older style hydrometers, and that’s fine, but they have to use a larger amount of product for a sample. If the brewer offers hazy IPAs, a haze meter is a great addition to their testing instruments and can indicate the amount of concentrated, suspended particles in the beer by measuring the amount of transmitted light through the product.
“Due to the growth in the popularity of sour beers, we are also seeing increased interest and requests from brewers for a tool to measure lactic acid,” said Thomson. “While we don’t currently have beer-specific units to do this, we do supply these types of testing units to the dairy industry, so the breweries can use those and expect quality, true results. Additionally, being able to measure the alpha and beta enzymes in hops is an area with some interest, so we’re learning more about the science behind as this is an area of business growth.”
“All of our instruments are generally easy to learn and use,” said Thomson. “It’s more of a situation of having the time to get the measurements done as needed. I always like to show the users what the process is to take the measurements and make sure they know what they’re getting into as far as using our equipment consistently. We get users up to speed in about two hours tops, but we also provide web training through YouTube videos, our online training manuals, etc.”
Hanna Instruments also provides testers and monitors for the wine industry. Consistent pH measurements are important throughout the process. Their Halo wireless pH meter provides direct readings on a phone or tablet. Their edge wine meter kit is their most popular unit, measuring pH, conductivity/cold stability and dissolved oxygen. It’s Bluetooth capable, able to be carried around and equipped with an eight-hour battery. A benchtop cradle transforms the unit into a tabletop wine lab.
“Winemakers are more traditional with their processes, so the testing tends to stay more standard,” said Thomson. “Occasionally, you’ll get a winemaker with a science background that wants to play around, experiment and see what happens under different circumstances so that other tests can come into play. But pH is, of course, very important throughout the entire production process, as is the ability to stay aware of free acids and sulfur dioxide that affect both bouquet and shelf life.”