By Andrew James, marketing director, Ellutia


The craft brewing industry is steadily maintaining its upward curve, and in Europe alone the market will register a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of almost 13% by 2022. Therefore, it is essential that with the rising number of microbreweries and other distribution channels, vendors ensure adopt quality control (QC) measures.

One such way is ensuring quality of product, starting with the malt it is made from. Malt is the key ingredient in beer that helps to produce the starch and enzymes necessary to produce the fermentable sugars, before the yeast then turns into alcohol. Furthermore, malt also provides the colour and flavour compounds, both of which contribute to the final make-up of the beer.

It is, therefore, very important to test the malt for any toxic chemicals, given it has such an important role in the final look and taste of the beer. N-Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) is a toxic chemical that can be produced when nitrogen oxide and amines in germinated barley react in the brewing process. Many recently used techniques can minimise the formation of such nitrosamines, which catalyse the production of NDMA. However, low levels of these carcinogenic compounds still remain. Thus, all malt used in the brewing process must be analysed for its nitrosamine content.

What happens in the malting process?

Most beers around the world are made from three natural ingredients: water, malted barley,and hops. Together with yeast, these ingredients are used in a centuries-old brewing process. Although wheat, rye, oats, millet, sorghum, rice, and corn have all been used for brewing, barley is the preferred grain for beer.

Malted barley gives beer its colour, malty sweet flavour, dextrins to give the beer body, protein to form a good head, and perhaps, most importantly, the natural sugars needed for fermentation. Once the barley has been sourced, it is then taken to the malting lines to be processed to malt. Malted barley is the source of the sugars (principally maltose) which are fermented into beer. The malting process allows the grain to partially germinate, making the seed’s resources available to the brewer.

Testing for toxic chemicals

Brewers are faced with the risk of the production of N-Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) during the malting process. NDMA is a potentially dangerous compound which is formed in malt when nitrogen oxide from pollution in the air reacts with certain amines in germinated barley when it is kilned. High levels of NDMA can pose a number of risks to human health including, liver damage. Therefore, NDMA is now part of the malt specification for many brewing labs, meaning it is compulsory to test malt for any remnant of the harmful chemical.

Malting operations fully meeting the requirements of this specification will be able to demonstrate to customers and other interested parties that best practice in malting operations have been followed and food safety and quality hazards are effectively controlled.

The use of a gas chromatography (GC) in combination with the thermal energy analyser (TEA) detector is commonly used for the determination of NDMA. Large breweries have long used GC for quality control and quality assurance, but it has not been financially viable for craft breweries, until recently. Through recent advances in technology, there is easy-to-use and affordable equipment available, suited for users with no or limited chromatography experience for brewing analysis in craft breweries.

The TEA has been an industry standard for nitrosamine analysis since its
introduction, thanks to its incredible sensitivity and almost infinite selectivity for nitrogen containing compounds. Within the brewing sector, complex mixes of compounds uniquely characterise each alcoholic beverage, creating the individual aromas and flavours consumers enjoy. Whilst the majority of added compounds enhance the desired aroma and flavour aspects of a beverage, trace components can contribute off-flavours and odours, such as nitrosamines within the kilning process. TEA detectors are used widely in the brewing industry, particularly since the craft brewing sector has been experiencing significant growth due to soaring consumer demand around the world.

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