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Fermly Blog

  • Writer's pictureFrances Tietje-Wang

Quality Questions on Beer Testing

Updated: Mar 15

A technician assessing the product for quality parameters

We get a lot of questions about quality from beer drinker to brewmaster! Here are some answers to the most common!


Contents


What is beer testing?

Beer testing refers to the comprehensive evaluation of various attributes of beer to ensure its quality, consistency, and compliance with industry standards. This process involves a range of analyses and assessments performed by trained professionals, often in specialized laboratories or brewing facilities.


Beer testing encompasses several key aspects, including sensory evaluation, chemical analysis, microbiological testing, and physical measurements. Sensory evaluation involves assessing the beer's appearance, aroma, flavor, and mouthfeel to detect any off-flavors, inconsistencies, or defects that may impact its overall quality. Chemical analysis involves quantifying key components such as alcohol content, bitterness, acidity, and sugar levels through methods like chromatography and spectrophotometry. Microbiological testing focuses on identifying and quantifying any microbial contaminants or spoilage organisms that could affect the beer's stability and shelf life.


Physical measurements may include assessing parameters like carbonation levels, clarity, and foam stability.

Through rigorous beer analysis, brewers can ensure that their products meet desired specifications, maintain consistency from batch to batch, and adhere to regulatory requirements. By continuously monitoring and refining their brewing processes based on testing results, brewers can uphold the quality and integrity of their beers, satisfying consumers and enhancing their brand reputation.


Quality ingredients are important for a quality product
What is the purpose of beer testing?

The purpose of beer testing is multifaceted, ensuring the quality, safety, and consistency of beer products. Through comprehensive analysis of various attributes such as flavor, aroma, alcohol content, and microbiological purity, beer testing helps brewers maintain high standards and meet consumer expectations. It enables early detection of off-flavors, inconsistencies, or microbial contaminants that could compromise the beer's taste, stability, or safety. Additionally, beer testing supports compliance with regulatory requirements and industry standards, safeguarding consumer health and ensuring product integrity. By identifying areas for improvement in brewing processes and ingredients, beer testing also facilitates continuous quality enhancement and innovation in the brewing industry. Ultimately, beer testing aims to deliver a reliable, enjoyable, and safe drinking experience to consumers while upholding the reputation and competitiveness of breweries.


What is quality?

Quality, as defined by the Brewers Association: A beer that is responsibly produced using wholesome ingredients, consistent brewing techniques, and good manufacturing practices, which exhibits flavor characteristics that are consistently aligned with both the brewer’s and the beer drinker’s expectations. 


Unlike some aspects of brewing, quality is chosen with a specific goal in mind: to have great beer every time. This goal is only achievable through education, practice, and science. It is easy to dismiss that there is little to no consumer harm, unlike other food and beverage products, which can often lead to lax practices, the root cause of quality issues.


Ask questions like “What are the key quality criteria for our brand?” and “Who has what responsibilities toward maintaining our product quality?” Breweries continue to evolve by diversifying their product portfolios with RTD cocktails, non-alcoholic, slushy beers, and way more beyond the original concerns of quality that would come with a change in leadership, volume, and integrating adventurous yeasts, bacteria, and barrels. 


What’s the difference between quality assurance and quality control?

In brewing, quality assurance (QA) and quality control (QC) are two distinct but interrelated processes aimed at ensuring the quality of beer.


Beer in a vessel

Quality assurance (proactive) focuses on preventing issues before they occur by establishing protocols, standards, and procedures throughout the entire brewing process. This involves measures such as implementing strict ingredient specifications, standardizing brewing procedures, and conducting regular audits of equipment and facilities to ensure consistency and reliability.


On the other hand, quality control (reactive) involves testing and inspecting the beer at various stages of production to identify and correct any deviations from the desired quality standards. This includes sensory evaluation, chemical analysis, and microbiological testing of the finished beer to detect any off-flavors, inconsistencies, or microbial contamination. 


An example of how these meet:

QC: Measure the pH and adjust the mash liquor accordingly.

QA: Training to measure pH and follow-through with action if outside specifications.


Quality assurance is about preventing problems through careful planning and management, while quality control focuses on detecting and correcting issues during production through testing and inspection. Both processes are essential for maintaining the overall quality and consistency of beer.


What is Total Quality Management?

Total Quality Management (TQM) is a comprehensive approach to quality assurance and control involving the entire organization, from raw material sourcing to product delivery. TQM emphasizes a continuous improvement mindset, where all employees are responsible for ensuring quality at every stage of the brewing process.


In brewing, TQM involves various vital principles:

  • Customer focus: Understanding and meeting customer preferences and expectations through consistent quality and innovation.

  • Continuous improvement: Constantly seeking ways to enhance processes, products, and services to achieve higher levels of quality and efficiency.

  • Employee involvement: Engaging and empowering all employees to contribute ideas, identify problems, and participate in quality improvement initiatives.

  • Process optimization: Streamlining brewing processes to eliminate waste, reduce variability, and enhance product consistency.

  • Supplier partnerships: Collaborating closely with suppliers to ensure the quality and reliability of raw materials and ingredients.

  • Data-driven decision-making: Using data and metrics to monitor performance, identify trends, and make informed decisions about quality improvement efforts.

By implementing TQM principles, breweries can establish a culture of quality excellence, improve customer satisfaction, reduce costs, and maintain a competitive edge in the market. TQM fosters a commitment to continuous learning and adaptation, allowing breweries to adapt to changing consumer preferences and market demands while consistently delivering high-quality beer products.


What is Quality Governance?

Quality governance is “setting the expectation”. It refers to the framework of policies, procedures, and practices established by brewery management to ensure that quality objectives are effectively defined, implemented, and monitored throughout the organization. It encompasses overseeing and managing all quality-related activities, including raw material sourcing, production processes, product testing, and customer feedback.


Critical components of quality governance in brewing include:

A chart showing quality governance structures
  • Quality policy: A clear and concise statement from brewery leadership outlining the organization's commitment to quality and its overarching quality objectives.

  • Quality management system (QMS): A structured framework that defines roles, responsibilities, and procedures for managing quality-related activities across all departments and functions.

  • Standard operating procedures (SOPs): Detailed instructions and protocols for executing specific tasks and processes to ensure consistency and adherence to quality standards.

  • Quality audits: Regular assessments and evaluations of brewery operations to verify compliance with quality policies, standards, and regulatory requirements.

  • Continuous improvement: A culture of ongoing learning, innovation, and process optimization to constantly enhance product quality and operational efficiency.

  • Customer focus: A commitment to understanding customer needs and preferences and incorporating feedback into quality improvement efforts.


Quality governance provides the foundation for maintaining product integrity, meeting regulatory requirements, and building consumer trust. It ensures that quality considerations are integrated into all aspects of brewery operations and decision-making processes, ultimately contributing to the brewery's long-term success and sustainability.


What is a Culture of Quality?

A culture of quality in brewing refers to a shared set of values, attitudes, and behaviors within a brewery that prioritize and uphold the highest quality standards throughout all operations. It involves fostering a mindset where every employee is dedicated to producing consistently excellent beer and is committed to continuous improvement.


In a culture of quality, employees are empowered to take ownership of their work, identify areas for improvement, and proactively address any issues that may arise. Quality is not seen as the responsibility of a single department but as a collective effort involving all members of the brewery team, from brewers and quality control technicians to packaging and distribution staff.


By cultivating a culture of quality, breweries can enhance product consistency, meet customer expectations, and build a reputation for excellence in the industry. This culture becomes ingrained in the organization's DNA, guiding decision-making processes and fostering a commitment to delivering the best beer to consumers.


A chart for making laboratory investments
What quality equipment should I invest in?

The American Society of Brewing Chemists created this chart to guide purchasing decisions in growing a quality program. Please remember that it is a guide, not a rule and that selections should be based on what the brewery will use best.


When to use a third-party lab?

Brewers may use a third-party lab for various reasons, depending on their specific needs and resources. Here are some situations where a brewer might opt to utilize a third-party lab:

  • Specialized Testing: Third-party labs often have specialized equipment and expertise to perform certain types of testing that may need to be more feasible and cost-effective for a brewery to conduct in-house. This could include advanced chemical analyses, microbiological testing, or sensory evaluations.

  • Independent Verification: Utilizing a third-party lab can independently verify a brewery's quality control processes and product quality. This can be particularly valuable for breweries seeking to reassure customers or regulatory agencies of the integrity of their products.

  • Regulatory Compliance: Third-party labs may be accredited and recognized by regulatory agencies, making their test results more readily accepted for compliance purposes. This can be especially important for breweries needing to meet specific regulatory requirements for product labeling, safety standards, or export/import regulations.

  • Resource Constraints: Some breweries may lack the necessary equipment, expertise, or personnel to perform particular testing in-house. Outsourcing these tasks to a third-party lab can provide access to the required capabilities without significant investment in infrastructure or training.

  • Peak Demand or Overflow: During periods of high demand or when internal resources are stretched thin, breweries may turn to third-party labs to handle overflow testing capacity. This can help ensure timely sample analysis without sacrificing quality or productivity in the brewery's operations.


Ultimately, the decision to use a third-party lab depends on factors such as the brewery's specific testing needs, available resources, regulatory requirements, and overall quality assurance objectives.


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