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Top 5 Ways for a Nano Brewer to Get Started in Quality Control

All photo and images are courtesy of the author Amy Todd

Starting a quality program can be overwhelming. There are so many different directions you can go in, and then there’s the training and cost of equipment. It’s hard enough opening a brewery, let alone setting up a lab. Luckily, getting started doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated. Here are the top five things a nano brewer can do to get started with quality control and quality assurance.

1.      Organize Paperwork and Use Batch Codes

Start by organizing all your paperwork. Write everything down on your batch records, use brewing software or Googledocs to keep everything together. Write down mash temperature, pH, gravity readings, when you added what and how much. If you deviate from your plan for whatever reason, write down what actually happened and why you made the change. Make notes when you try something new. Troubleshooting will be easier if all this information is organized and easy to read.

Include the lot numbers of all your ingredients. If your supplier issues a recall you’ll want to know what batch those ingredients went into. Have a unique batch ID for each of your beers. Make sure you include a date code and batch number on your packages, including kegs. If you need to do a recall you won’t have to recall everything, just the one batch.

2.       Cell Counts

Cell counting and viability testing is one of the best things you can do to improve the consistency and quality of your beers. You can get everything you need for cell counting for under $500. To count cells make a 1:100 dilution of your yeast slurry and put a drop on a hemocytometer; a specially designed slide with a chamber and counting grid. You then count how many cells are on your slide and calculate how many yeast cells are in 1mL of yeast slurry. You can then calculate how much yeast you need to pitch into your main batch based on volume, type of beer and starting gravity.

Performing cell counts and adjusting the amount of yeast you use based on results is one of the best things you can do to improve the quality and consistency of your beers. When you don’t add enough yeast, they get stressed out and overworked. This can lead to off flavors and inconsistent fermentations. Adding too much yeast can also lead to off flavors and affect your fermentation rates.

3.       Sensory

Start a sensory panel. Get everyone involved and start by tasting and smelling your beers along with ingredients. Get some off flavor spiking kits and train on off flavors. Come up with true to brand descriptions for all of your beers. A sensory panel will help with off flavor identification, trouble shooting in the brewhouse and making sure your beers taste how they’re supposed to.

4.       pH and Gravity Tracking

Make sure your hydrometers are calibrated and make a graph of your daily gravity readings. Every batch should follow a consistent fermentation curve for that beer. This can be the first step in identifying a process that could be improved. See how fermentation compares to last time you made that beer, and if you need to make changes next time to make it more consistent.

While you’re taking gravity readings, take a pH reading as well. The pH should also follow a consistent curve throughout fermentation. A lower than normal pH can be an indicator of a problem in the brewery.

5.       Outside Testing

Get the ABV, color, IBUs, final and starting gravity tested at least once by an outside lab so you know where your beer actually falls compared to your calculations and gravity readings. Recheck on a quarterly or yearly basis to make sure you’re brewing consistently. The more data you have, the easier it is to look for trends.

Whether you’re just starting out or have been in the game for years, now is the perfect time to focus on quality. Start with these simple steps and you’ll make a huge impact on the quality and consistency of your beers. For a more in-depth read on Starting a Quality Control Program, visit here.