You often hear the word “quality” referenced when talking about craft beer, whether it be using the highest quality ingredients or producing very high quality beer. Quality can be used as a marketing term or as the banner for a serious scientific analysis program to promote consistent beer production. At MadTree, it is the latter.
The Quality Program at MadTree partially stems from the very foundations of the brewery in which the owners spent countless hours manipulating and charting each batch of beer brewed until a desired result was achieved. Once a recipe and process was finalized, very specific steps were repeated to make more of the desired end result. Consistency and repeatability are one of the hallmarks of MadTree’s vision to be one of the most respected breweries in the region.
But, brewing is a wild process where natural biological processes occur under the guidance of humans. The puppet master may pull some of the strings, but it is up to microbiology to dictate the outcomes. All we can do is create the best possible circumstances for success through careful measurement and analysis.
Quality in the Lab
MadTree is probably the coolest place to work in town. We have a brewery (duh), a bar, Catch-A-Fire Café, a private event space, a patio, some offices, and our own science lab! Half the fun of having a lab is all the cool looking specialized equipment used to measure and analyze beer. Current lab equipment includes: UV Vis Spectrophotometer, Fume Hood, Shaker Table, Microscope, Water Bath, Centrifuge, pH Meter, Autoclave, Incubator, Flow Meters, and more. Plus, nerd memes are plastered throughout the joint!
All of this equipment is used at various points throughout the brewing and packaging process to measure and analyze things like bitterness, color, pH, IBU, forced diacetyl, Free Amino Nitrogen, dissolved oxygen, hop alpha acid levels, yeast counts, pitching rates, and organism identification. These and other measures are captured and reviewed at 30 different points before a beer gets into your hands.
And, this is only the beginning. Measuring and analyzing at a microbiological level is fairly rudimentary and often reactionary. Much of the equipment and processes today have been used for one hundred plus years by brewers. It actually doesn’t take much in the way of space or expensive equipment to begin modest lab activities.
However, brewing science has evolved towards a molecular level of biology. It allows brewers to be much more proactive in managing the brewing process. For example, the lab recently acquired a PCR machine that can identify yeast strains quickly at a genetic level rather than waiting days for a plated sample to grow to identify non-specific strains of outlier organisms.
With the move to MadTree 2.0, the program will accelerate at a much faster pace. Beyond yeast, we will begin to analyze the raw ingredients before they are touched by the brewers. For example, we will accurately measure hop oil content in each batch of hops and review moisture levels in the malt that comes in.
The Human Side of Quality
Moving away from hard science is the sensory experience or how beers are actually tasted and perceived by people. Our palates are unbelievably sensitive to the various chemical compounds in food and drink. Sensitivities to different flavors (good and bad) vary widely from person to person making people uniquely capable of identifying different flavor compounds.
MadTree has invested significant time and resources training the entire staff (from bartenders to accountants to brewers) on off-flavors, or flavors that are not characteristic to a specific beer recipe. The training involves purchasing off-flavor kits where a base beer is dosed with capsules of flavoring compounds to produce a pronounced version of the flavor. The beers are then presented blindly, side-by-side, for evaluation and detection.
To date, MadTree employees have been trained to identify more than 35 different off-flavors, ranging from diacetyl to 4-ethyl phenol.
Interestingly, some people can be completely blind to certain off-flavors while others are hypersensitive. We now have a database of staff sensitivities so that we can go to specific individuals when we suspect there may be an issue with a beer.
Additionally, we have a fleet of skilled tasters out in the wild that can spot something that isn’t up to our high standards when they get beer from a retailer. The sensory team is also responsible for evaluating every beer that is packaged to determine if it is okay to sell or if it needs to be dumped down the drain (and yes, these painful days happen from time to time).
The running joke with the team is that the sensory program has now ruined beer for everyone. It can be difficult to simply drink a beer when you’ve been trained to evaluate every little nuance of the flavor and aroma. Luckily, there is a lot of well made beer out there so we can still enjoy knocking back a few.
Continuous Quality Improvement
This isn’t the only way to approach quality, and it certainly isn’t a perfected, final process. However, we want you to feel confident that quality is the focus of everything we brew, and it is an ever evolving process. We continue to push the quality program forward using the latest and most advanced scientific practices and well-trained palates to ensure your hard earned dollars are buying the highest quality MadTree beer every time. If you ever suspect an issue with quality, please email firstname.lastname@example.org so we can investigate.