I. Contamination and Spoilage
II. FDA Requirements
III. Professionalism and Quality Assurance
Contamination, Spoilage, and Recalls
Beer spoilage and contamination are among the top causes for financial loss in craft brewing. The presence of foreign bacteria or yeast can cause problems with safety, flavor, shelf-life, and other aspects of quality. Oftentimes, contamination results in the recall of entire batches of brew which can break the budgets of small breweries. In addition to the financial loss of a recall, the impact on the beer’s reputation is serious and may affect future income.
Craft beers are generally not filtered or pasteurized and therefore more susceptible to spoilage by bacteria. As craft breweries grow and produce more, the beer may be subjected to longer storage times and variations in temperature—conditions that increase the beer’s vulnerability. Quality testing becomes critical to catching contamination early, thereby avoiding the financial repercussions and embarrassment of a recall.
Save your brand, not just your dollar. As the Beall Brewery Insurance company concedes: “Even ample coverage cannot help you recover from the damage to your reputation if you put bad beer on the market.” -March 19th, 2014.
Brewery insurance companies publish guides to minimize problems in the brewery. Recommendations include (but are not limited to) methods for cleaning equipment, handling raw materials, and testing every single batch of brew from a chemical and taste standpoint.
An example of a brewery practice guide can be found here.
To illustrate the prevalence of contamination in the beer industry, we have included recent news articles. However, these are just a few cases of the multitudes reported online.
In January of 2016, Goose Island issued massive recalls of two of the brewery’s most popular Bourbon County beers. The Bourbon County Brand Stout and the Proprietor’s Bourbon County Brand Stout had shown evidence of souring due to a strain of Lactobacillus. Read more
In October of 2016, wild yeasts managed to contaminate Chicago’s Off Color Brewing Troublesome gose. A total of 400 cases were recalled due to contamination. Read more
On September 12, 2016, Left Hand Brewery in Longmont, Colorado recalled its Milk Stout Nitro with best by dates 10/16/16 to 2/28/17. This recall was due to a foreign yeast that had contaminated these batches. Read more
In November of 2016, Brock Street Brewery in Whitby, Ontario along with the LCBO, recalled their canned Blonde Lager due to contamination that caused excess pressure to build in the cans. Read more
On October 18, 2016, Revolution Brewing in Chicago, Illinois recalled 10,000-plus barrels of beer due to quality issues involving off-flavors. Read more
In September of 2016, Stone and Wood brewery of Australia recalled cans of its Pacific Ale due to potential contamination from cleaning agents. Read more
In 2015, beer spoilage bacteria was found in 10 of 50 beers and four of nine breweries tested in Houston, Texas, according to research presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology. This study was conducted by the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management at the University of Houston, and was used to identify the prevalence of contamination and refine detection methods. Read more
FDA Guidelines as of December 2016
The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) are now involved in beer testing. Like any other bottled refreshment, craft beer must be labeled with nutritional information. For beers made with hops and barley (no adjuncts), the TTB requires that alcohol content (within error of .3% v/v), and sulfur dioxide be tested. This mandate was released January 10, 2017. Additional requirements are set by the FDA and must be reported by May 2017.
Below is a statement from the Brewers Association regarding the FDA mandate (December 6, 2016):
“FDA released the rules and guidance for industry in 2015 and 2016. These rules are in place, with enforcement starting in May 2017. These rules apply for menus and menu boards at chain restaurants of 20 or more units operating under the same name. Some fresh food items in convenience store and grocery stores would also fall under the regulations. Establishments covered under the rules will need to have calories posted on menus and menu boards for each size of an item available. The establishment would have to have available upon request data for ten other nutrients–total fat, calories from fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, dietary fiber, sugars, and protein. There are exceptions for seasonal and test products allowed under certain conditions in the rules and guidance.
The ongoing discussions with FDA surround what the customer seeks for nutrient information. One theory we have proposed is that customers who care about nutrition with their beer, are concerned with calories and potentially carbohydrates only. Most of the data points for the other nutrients round to zero, but would need an appropriate basis for that claim.”
The FDA and TTB are invested in providing nutritional information for consumers. As of 2017 the requirements are still being released. However, to comply with the FDA mandate, testing should be completed before May 2017. In addition, profiling your beer now provides an advantage for future mandates.
For TTB requirements: Read Here.
For FDA requirements: Read Here.
Professionalism and Quality Assurance
As of June of 2016, there are more than 4,000 craft breweries operating in the United States. Breweries are producing unique, flavorful, and technical styles of beer in a very strong, competitive market. Flawed or contaminated beer will not suffice since a steady amount of new craft breweries are opening almost daily. A professional brewery is going to ensure that products are consistent and meet standards. Thus, quality assurance is vital and a clear advantage over breweries who do not test their beer.
Government compliance and market competition aside—your passion is for brewing. You are a devoted artisan with a certain vision for unique beer. The wort is ready, the finishing hops are in the vat, and you’ve pitched the yeast. But, how do you know the brewing process went as intended? That’s where our chemistry comes in—concrete, useable information to troubleshoot or verify your methods. Many brewers rely on instinct, or abstractions like “this tastes off”, but may be more successful using quantified test results to perfect their product. Use science to ensure your beer is both safe and tasty.