Key Lab Investments that Matter to Bent Water and Lone Pine

​Yes, lab purchases can be expensive, but both Tom Madden and Aaron Reames agreed that their breweries are better off now for starting with the lab investments early than waiting.

​”Some of my partners did not, perhaps, believe that it was important to make that investment before we’ve even sold any beer,” said Reames, who is a co-founder of Bent Water Brewing in Lynn, Massachusetts. “And we didn’t even have the people that could actually use that equipment full time.”

Madden, a co-founder of Lone Pine, said he has joked that he could have bought two Ferraris instead of installing the lab that the Portland, Maine brewery has in place.

“It is a lot to put upfront,” he admitted. “I think a lot of breweries shy away from the investment required at the very beginning to really put these in place.”

Both brewery founders agreed that you can’t create a process until you have the things in place that can do the analytics.

“If you put it first, people think of it first, and your staff knows you’re taking it seriously,” Madden said. “You can drill it into people’s heads over time that it’s priority No. 1.”

Reames explained that having the lab work early gave great baselines to work from and boost quality.

“We could go back and say definitively, black and white,” he said. “That gave us a guiding principle to make a change in the team or change the process, or even just educate.”

Reames added that he feels beer gets oversimplified.

“The reason I get passionately pulled into the science of it is that there’s just so many permutations and variables,” he said, adding with new hop varietals and new yeast strains, there’s always more combinations to explore.

“To try to do that in a way that you can really see what the truth is about adding a particular hop here in the process over there under different variables and conditions,” he said, “that’s the one thing that’s really exciting to me.

“But if you aren’t doing your core process the same every single time, you can’t run an experiment that is tweaking one particular variable, to see if it’s actually enhancing the overall profile of what you’re getting in the final product. I think the biggest investment has really been in training and establishing a strong quality culture.”

​Bent Water opened with a spectrophotometer, an alkalizer, and Anton Paar density meter​s​.

“We’ve invested early on in a Nexcelom cell counter that in of itself was tens of thousands of dollars, and it’s more expensive than a hemocytometer,” Reames said about the brewery as it is near 6,000 barrels of production yearly. The brewery also invested in a seam viewer, so they could see seams down to ​1/1,000th of an inch during canning.

Bent Water brought in somebody that worked in QCQA for a pharmaceutical company to help narrow the gap of margin of error in fact.

“If you’re going to have a medicine injected into somebody, it’s zero,” Reames said, “so that background of making sure that we’re doing everything in spec is a great foundation.”

And Reames said that employees need to be trained in a culture like that, whether it’s the canning line or cleaning tanks.

“There’s a lot of training that goes into changing that culture to teach people why we have an SOP that we have to adhere to, and that we can’t actually deviate from that,” he said. “I thought it was going to be immediate back in 2016. But it was definitely a building process to make sure that everybody was adhering to the process and then also making decisions based on the data they were getting real-time.”

Madden noted that a lot of breweries just rely a lot on tasting panels and how the beer is in quality as it leaves the facility. Going beyond for Lone Pine, which planned to produce around 15,000 barrels in 2020, is what Madden says helps him sleep better at night.

“What they overlook is the fact that that beer is going to change the second it goes out your door,” he said. “What makes me sleep at night is quantifiable data. I think what a lot of people do is drink it out of the tank on the way out the door.

“But the second it sits on a shelf warm for a week, what’s going to happen to it? Or the second that it sits in a consumer’s garage for a week? What’s gonna happen to it? So being able to understand sort of the progressions based on the data that you have, I think is hugely valuable. I think it’s overlooked quite frequently.”

Photo courtesy Daniel Ebersole

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