Rising Tide Quality Program
By Missy Littlefield, Rising Tide Quality Control Specialist
When we say beer first, we mean the quality of our beer is the most important thing to us. We will not rush a beer if it’s not ready even if our distributor is waiting on it. Our beer must be True to Brand (TTB) before we package it. There are many aspects of our quality program that we do to ensure everything is TTB; this includes, sensory, yeast management, micro, sanitation, chemistry, data collection, and monitoring the beer after package. The most important part of our quality program is sensory. With a properly trained sensory staff, our senses are the most finely tuned and useful piece of equipment. Humans are capable of distinguishing between 100,000 different flavors. The first thing our staff learns upon getting hired is what all of our beers are supposed to taste like, TTB! After we get through that, we then do off-flavor training. There are several undesirable flavor attributes that infiltrate beer, like diacetyl and isovaleric acid that we do not want in our beer. One tastes like movie theater popcorn and the other tastes like cheese. Sensory doesn’t start at the beer! Sensory starts all the way at the beginning from smelling the hops to inspecting the grain and continues through the entire process.
Another very important aspect is micro and sanitation. Everything gets cleaned with strong chemicals and validated with an ATP Luminometer. ATP stands for Adenosine Triphosphate. If you can remember back from high school biology, ATP is found in all living things. This machine uses bioluminescence to detect ATP and we get an answer back in 15 seconds! After cleaning, we then sanitize before using the piece of equipment. To validate this further, every batch of beer is run through our micro program after at least 24 hours of being brewed. There are quite a few “bugs” that can contaminate a beer and cause undesirable flavors and/or refermentation. The big ones that we look out for are:
- Wild yeast/diastatic yeast
Next we have yeast management! Yeast arguably does all the work, it’s what turns the wort into alcohol. To make sure our yeast does its job, we need to closely monitor it and treat it well. On average, we reuse yeast for up to ten batches of beer. We need to make sure every generation is performing the way we want. We do this by checking the cell count and viability (dead vs alive cells.) To do this we use a stain called methylene blue. We make a small dilution of yeast, water, and the stain. All the cells will take up the blue dye and the ones that are alive, will process that blue and turn back to clear. Before we repatch our yeast into a fresh batch of beer, we make sure we have a certain number of live cells. This is important to ensure you have a healthy and timely fermentation. During a healthy fermentation, the yeast will multiply and continue to be healthy for the next batch of beer. After about 10 generations, the yeast gets tired and it can take longer to ferment a beer. That is when we get a new batch in from our yeast supplier.
Chemistry- We are so luckily in Maine to have excellent water for brewing! That being said, we still need to manipulate it slightly to get the beers we want. We add minerals to help with things like flavor, hop bitterness, and mouthfeel and lactic acid to lower the PH to the desired level. PH is one of the most important measurements that we take many times along the brewing and fermentation process. We have PH targets that we have to hit that are important for many things like extracting sugars, to a healthy fermentation, to a certain PH in package to ensure a stable product. Data collection- Every measurement taken, sensory note, to what product is being used is recorded in the computer. With this information, we not only make sure we are hitting all of our targets but if something were to go wrong anywhere in the process, we can go back and figure out exactly what happened to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Package and DO: Before we package the beer, we not only make sure it’s good sensory wise, but we make sure the dissolved oxygen levels are low. Oxygen degrades beer over time and some degrade quicker like IPAs. Hops are more susceptible to oxygen. While the beer is out in the world, we keep close senses on it. A beer library is kept for 6 months. Also every morning, every beer on tap is tasted to make sure it’s TTB. And just like that, we have come full circle, back to our most important aspect of our program, SENSORY!