By Andrew James, marketing director at Ellutia, Ely, Cambridgeshire
The only thing that is predictable about the craft beer industry is its unpredictability. Many cannot forecast what is in store, as craft brewers are motivated by internal inspiration and external pressures to excel amid competition. But one certainty is: this is an industry ever on the rise.
The craft brewing industry is experiencing significant growth, with more than 300 new breweries launched in the UK last year. This boom in independent breweries is considered to be a direct response to increased demand from consumers for better quality, flavour and a greater choice of locally-sourced beer.
Within the brewing process, complex mixes of compounds uniquely characterise each product, creating the individual aromas and flavours which consumers enjoy. It is, therefore, crucial for brewers to ensure their product is reproduced consistently, and for it to remain stable over its shelf life in order for it to meet expectations.
By employing a robust quality control method, craft breweries can avoid product recalls, delays and wastage, which can be extremely costly. An example of this occurred at a small independent brewery in Wales in 2017, when defects in the beer, including changes in colour and off-flavours, were spotted, forcing it to issue a recall. Situations such as this have the potential to tarnish a brand, reduce customer loyalty and lower profits.
Levelling the playing field
One way of levelling the playing field for smaller breweries is to provide quality assurance through testing. Gas chromatography (GC) is a widely-used technique in the brewing industry, used to identify changes that occur during the fermentation process that can affect the taste or quality of the end product. The technique involves separating and analysing mixtures of chemical components.
GC has long been used by larger breweries for quality assurance and quality control (QA/QC). However, for smaller breweries it has been considered cost and knowledge prohibitive. But recent advances in the technology mean there is equipment available today that is easy to use and affordable, suited for users with no or limited
chromatography experience, and which can be easily implemented in craft breweries.
In the brewing process, the majority of added compounds enhance the desired aroma and flavour aspects of beer, but trace components can contribute to off-flavours and odours. These compounds can be generated in a variety of ways, including: contaminants in raw materials used; migration into the beverage from process equipment; packaging materials; and degradation of naturally-occurring flavour compounds due to oxidation, or exposure to light or heat.
GC enables detection of minute differences in the compounds that contribute to the taste, flavour, colour and shelf life of the product. It is, therefore, crucial to accurately profile the compounds, which can span a wide range of volatility, to ensure product quality and consistency.
The part of the hop plant used for brewing is the inflorescence (that is a modified branch) of the female plant, which matures to produce a strobile, commonly called a cone. This contains small yellow granules called lupulin glands. The lupulin glands contain fragrant essential oils, as well as bitter-tasting hop acids.
The composition of hop oil contributes to the aroma of beer, making the essential oil profile of the hop samples valuable information for any brewer. The aroma compounds identified in hops are primarily composed of esters,
aldehydes, ketones, alcohols, terpenes and carboxylic acids.
GC is used to separate higher alcohols and esters in beer as well as vicinal diketones (VDK), such as diacetyl, that can greatly alter a beer’s sensory properties. In lager, they are considered to be off-flavours and undesirable, therefore their content must be closely monitored in order to achieve a clean, crisp taste.
Consistency and quality
Gas chromatography is a very powerful tool for analysis in craft brewing and can be used to give early warning of imperfections or simply to provide brewers with a breakdown of a beer’s sensory properties and chemical components. By accurately profiling the compounds that contribute to the flavour and aroma of beer, brewers can better ensure reproducible product quality.
This gives a guarantee to customers that the product is going to taste the same every time, which is crucial for brand loyalty and success in the craft beer industry.
• For more information about Ellutia’s expertise in the brewing industry, visit www.ellutia.com/markets/brewing