The Siebel Institute of Technology recently held a webinar outlining the essential equipment needed for building your analysis toolkit featuring Eymard Freire from Siebel and Katie Strain, laboratory services manager of Alcoholic Beverage Quality Assurance/ Quality Control and a lecturer in the School of Hospitality at Metropolitan State University of Denver.
pH meter ($$)
Every lab must have a pH meter. This measures hydrogen ion concentrations. The more acidic a solution, the more hydrogen ions it will have. As temperature changes, so does pH. It’s best to have the sample as close to room temperature as possible. If possible, purchase a pH meter with automatic temperature controls.
Calibrate the sample every day before running samples. It’s good to check the mash and wort pH after fermentation. The pH will drop in the first 24 hours after fermentation. As you are lagering and storing beer, a pH meter can help check the beer. If you see another drop at that stage, it can indicate bacterial contamination.
When running samples, degas beer samples. The carbon dioxide can interfere with the reading.
A good pH meter should cost between $150 and $400. For a demonstration of calibration and cleaning, watch the recorded webinar.
Turbidity sensor ($$$)
This sensor passes light through the sample and measures how much light is scattered, which helps identify chill haze and gauge long-term stability.
To use a turbidity sensor, incubate a degassed beer sample at three different temperatures — usually 0° C, room temperature, and 55° C. Each sample should be nearly identical. Stability problems can be identified if the samples incubated at hot and cold temperatures are different than the one at room temperature.
Degas samples for this test, too. The air bubbles can scatter the light.
A good turbidity sensor can cost between $600 and $900.
UV-vis spectrophotometer ($$$$$)
This critical piece of equipment can be used for a variety of tests including: color, taste, bitterness, and total carbohydrates.
A few tips for using a spectrophotometer:
- Use quartz cuvettes, which provide more durability than plastic or glass. Quartz is a good transmitter of UV light.
- Always let the spectrophotometer warm up for 30 minutes to an hour. This helps eliminate drift. Some spectrometers have a reference cell built in. Use the same cuvette for the sample and reference tests.
A good UV-vis spectrophotometer can cost between $1,200 and $3,500.
Distillation test ($$)
Distillation tests measure ABV. This setup can be more elaborate, depending on your needs. A couple of tips:
- If testing for ABV, degas the solution fist.
- This setup can also be used for diacetyl, which should not be degassed.
A 500-mL boiling flash may be nearly all that is required. The entire setup can cost less than $100.
Yeast propagation ($$$)
Carrying out cell and viability counts can be done using simple equipment as well. One of the most important tips is to keep this equipment very clean. Sanitation and cleaning are simply a prerequisite.
Viability is how alive the yeast is. For brewing, we’re looking for greater than 90% viability. Vitality is how old, or fit, the yeast is. You want yeast that is both viable and vital.
Equipment needs include:
- MEA preparation.Malt extract agar is a versatile media to grow all sorts of microorganisms. It’s as simple as getting together a Petri dish, 10 mL test tubes with caps, an autoclave, and a few media bottles.
- Streaking and isolation of inoculant.You’ll also need to know how to “streak” a preparation of inoculant. Streaking allows you to isolate yeast and bacteria by having fewer and fewer inoculant — therefore growing a pure colony. The materials required include an inoculating loop, MEA Petri dish, and a Bunsen burner.
- Yeast propagation.The yeast cell count can be increased through propagation to achieve the pitching rate desired. The materials needed for this step include an inoculating loop, inoculate Petri dish or slants, Bunsen burner, growth media (wort), test tubes, and media bottles.
- Yeast cell counts.Counting the yeast cell numbers as well as establishing the viability percentage present in a yeast will ensure a healthy and predictable fermentation. The materials needed in this step include: a Brightfield microscope, micropipette, distilled water, hand pump, hemocytometer, test tube, and methylene blue.
This basic setup will cost only about $2,000 for all four steps. There are a few areas where we wouldn’t recommend skimping. The autoclave, for example, should be well built for safety and accuracy of yeast propagation tests. On the other hand, media bottles can be purchased for about a $1 each.
Investing in lab equipment can help dial-in your production for excellent flavors, stability, and consistency from batch-to-batch. All equipment should be cleaned, maintained, and calibrated regularly for the best results.
To see a commercial lab setup — and demonstration of key pieces — watch this webinar.
About the panelists
Eymard Freire is the recruitment and product manager at the Siebel Institute of Technology. He is a certified Diploma Bier Sommelier from Doemens Academy.
Katie Strain, M.S., is a laboratory services manager of Alcoholic Beverage Quality Assurance/ Quality Control and a lecturer in the School of Hospitality at Metropolitan State University of Denver.