New Lab can Improve Quality, Consistency for Breweries

A partnership between the Maine Brewer’s Guild and the University of Southern Maine, will create a new quality control lab available for all New England area breweries to up their game on a chemical level.

Getting accurate ABV, SRM and IBU levels, or testing remaining fermentables and many more higher-level technical aspects, will all be done through the new QC2 Lab on the USM campus, run by the undergraduates of the university. A lot will be done with equipment that very few area breweries would be able to afford on their own.

Any member of a brewery will also be able to get versed in how to start their own labs said Maine Brewer’s Guild executive director Sean Sullivan.

“The goal isn’t to replace what we feel brewers should be doing internally,” he said. “Those that have not built a lab yet can benefit from this, but also learn to do the tests themselves and build up that confidence.”

Brewers can test their beer two ways. They can come in and use equipment after being trained through courses at USM set up just for them. If they haven’t taken the courses or they don’t have the time, they can drop off a sample and check whatever boxes off they want to have tested by the students.

Sullivan pointed out the the need for quality checks and assurance for the craft beer industry, especially for New England where new breweries are growing exponentially.

USMLab

“We are getting growth now with consumers coming in trying craft beer,” he said. “The second wave of giving them quality and consistency will determine success. Quality and consistency is going to be the key driver. We want to give every Maine brewer and beyond [the ability] to be a sustainable business in the long run.”

USM associate professor of chemistry, Dr. Lucille Benedict, met with many brewers last week during the inaugural New England Brew Summit and was happy with the support for the QC2 Lab.

The first pilot class for brewers will include three to four workshops over the fall semester at USM. Benedict said she had hoped to get three volunteers. More than 15 volunteered and she had to narrow it down to five brewers for the class.

Benedict’s classes have worked with Allagash Brewing in the past and it led to the creation of this project.

“I wanted to find something that I thought my students would enjoy testing,” she said. “It grew into a research project identifying compounds that [Allagash] identified through a sensory panel and we did the chemical piece for it and we were able to identify some pieces that they had not yet been able to identify through sensory. So that was nice to be able to see your work helping out the brewery.”

The work for students is two fold. It gives them the experience with instruments they need to know to use to improve themselves for possible graduate work in research and it also bonds them to possible future employers right in the immediate area.

“It’s the students running the show and they will have that great 1-to-1 of working with brewers,” Sullivan said. “Anyone who pays attention to job boards knows the demand is out doing the supply for QA/QC.

“Maine doesn’t have a lot of economic bright spots, but beer presents huge opportunities for this new economy that we are heading towards,” he added. “We are looking forward to having them be home-grown talent here [at local breweries], but I’m sure some will end up all over the country.”
The lab is being funded by grants for the initial start up, but with the ability to hold classes and workshops for brewers, along with service fees for testing that the lab will be self sustaining financially in the future.

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