Brewing a great beer one time is relatively simple. Doing it again. And again. And again, each time achieving the same flavor, color, aroma and mouthfeel—now, that takes finesse. To make sure we hit the mark each time, we put our beers through a rigorous Quality Assurance and testing process. Here’s how it works …
There are a number of reasons why differences in flavor, aroma and color may come about from batch to batch. Maybe the alpha acid content for a certain hop variety came in a bit higher than in the past, or climate issues, such as a drought, influenced this year’s crop of barley one way or another. Perhaps the kettle took a few minutes longer than expected to come up to heat. Whether it’s because of differences in crops from season to season, equipment or other factors, accounting for slight variances from brew to brew is something every craft brewer must do. Inside the brewhouse, it’s up to our brewers to test for and correct these variances so that we can hit our numbers properly and ensure we’re putting out a consistent product each and every time we brew a beer. But these metrics, figures such as international bitterness units (IBUs), wort gravity (degrees Plato) and color (standard reference method, or SRM), paint only half the picture in terms of a given beer’s flavor profile—answering the question, how does the beer taste, is the other half.
It’s almost impossible to fully quantify the experience of tasting beer. This is because our sense of taste and smell draw heavily on our memories and expectations, therefore, it’s very subjective. For example, when we perceive pine and citrus in an IPA, it may be because we unconsciously associate those aromas with memories we have of pine trees and citrus fruits. Similarly, if you ever went to summer camp as a kid and have fond memories of campfires, it may make you more partial to the smoky familiarity of rauchbiers. The reason for this is that our olfactory center, the part of our brain that perceives all aroma and influences taste, is nestled right next to the place where our memories are stored. If you’ve ever enjoyed a beer and thought nostalgically about that one crazy spring break in college… well then, you understand how powerful this relationship can be.
So in order for us to put forward the best possible example of our beer—to deliver the same nuanced and complex flavors that we and our fans seek out and expect time and time again—we have to develop a system to measure something subjective, like taste, objectively, so that we have something against which we can hold our expectations. That’s where our brewmasters and senior brewers come in. They know our brands, ingredients and brewing processes like the back of their hands and have been trained to identify both the right and wrong flavors and aromas at each phase of the process, which means they’re often able to adjust for variation before it happens.
In the rare instance when a beer does not turn out as expected, we have two options depending on how off it is. If it’s too far-gone, it’s destined for everyone’s least favorite bright tank, the drain. It doesn’t happen often but when it does, we’re willing to sacrifice the brew so that we don’t sacrifice quality and consistency. For an extreme example, one time a valve on our brew kettle became stuck, resulting in a batch of Prima boiling for more than two hours! There was just no saving that batch, unfortunately, as it would have been bitter past any enjoyment and certainly not have been Prima Pils. On the other end of the spectrum, if a beer is close to hitting the mark, but is not spot on (perhaps the hop profile is too piney when we want herbaciousness, or the malt character isn’t bready enough), we’ll consider blending it with a fresh batch to bring those flavors back into expectation.
The bottom line is, we want to make sure every bottle of Prima, is Prima, and because our fans count on us to do so, we take the responsibility of quality assurance very seriously. So what happens if a given batch comes out better than expected? We bottle it, of course, and raise the bar that much higher for the future! After all, a future full of delicious tasting beer, well that’s something we can all drink to.
Zach Miller; QA Tech. Victory Brewing Company