QC Tracking: How Are You Thinking of Shelf Stability?

The QC side of craft beer is really where Tom Madden thinks is where separations happen in the industry.

“I thought we were kind of crazy just over-investing in something,” the co-founder of Maine’s Lone Pine Brewing told a group of reporters late last year in an online chat. “Because if it’s going right, nothing goes wrong. Right? We’ve been fortunate we haven’t dumped a batch in over a year now because we’re keeping an eye on things. So it looks like these things aren’t really paying off, because our processes are down.”

Working on QC as well is Massachusetts’ Bent Water. Co-founder Aaron Reames said he believes if a brewery is packaging product for distribution, it needs to make sure that they’re looking at “Time-from-Terminal.”

“If people look at it from time-from-packaging, [quality] does change,” he said.

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Bent Water will do sensory, but Reames said they also make sure that they’re doing analytical analyses over that time as well.

“One particular beer, we’re totally focused on a couple of different properties 12 weeks out from time-to-terminal that I want to kind of see is either stabilized or enhanced,” he said. “Because the reality is the beer’s going to be several weeks old by the time they (consumers) get it in many cases. So we’re trying to not just focus on what’s fresh and coming off the tank, but actually what somebody’s experiencing between week four, or five …six. Whatever it may be, and then we carry it out.”

The goal is to actually take that favorable sensory rating and extend it out as far as possible by being thoughtful about any changes or modifications made in the process.

“We push the team to be more acute in the way that they think about some of these things,” he said. “We even wargame a little bit on scenarios that could be what happens if we have something where we change a variable but it doesn’t show up until Week 13, do you know where the beer is at, and how you would get back?

“Because it’s expensive to bring the beer back, but I’m gonna be the first to make sure that we do it just because you’ve got to walk the walk. Individuals that have been in the industry have been successful for decades the first thing that they talked about is the importance of quality. If it’s a high-foot traffic taproom format and if there is a problem, you just take it off the tap and you switch it out. But when you’re in a package and you’re going out millions of cans every year out the door there’s very little margin for error for sure.”

It’s one thing to take the data, he said, but breweries need to look at it and use it immediately. “Not after the fact,” he said, “but real-time. That is something that we needed to make sure that everybody uses across the board. Whether it’s somebody that works in warehousing, even to drivers and making sure they double-check on things when we’re dropping it off at the store: package dates, aging reports, things of that sort.

“Everyone now, company-wide, regardless of role understands that there’s data that’s important to them. It’s important to us that they should be evaluating on a regular basis.”

Photos courtesy Daniel Ebersole

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