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Entry level QA program

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  • Entry level QA program

    Hello PB.
    Where to start? Over time I'm trying to get better. That means having data and an objective answer for all the things I take for granted. When I started we didn't date anything because we sold everything and best before end was subjective. Like we decided when it was done. Luckily we still sell almost everything, but we are now at a size where we are not always playing around. We have regular customers for core products across packaging types. Some stuff is penned in a year ahead now and has to be. I want every customer to open one of our brews and have the beer experience we expect and worked hard to bring about. This means realistic dates. Where did it first go wrong?

    Check CO2. Check DO. Package enough of a particular keg coupler variation to see the few customers who take it like that for 6 months of consumption. Hot summer, not fully cold stored. Beer develops a sour character at month 4. First canary in the coal mine is a customer who stores his kegs in his red hot kitchen. Microscope, howdy rods and chains (coccus). Huh turns out that stored warm a lot of our products develop noticeable off flavours at 4-6 months.

    Talk to other breweries. Seems fairly common for unfiltered unpasteurised beer. I get a range of opinions from 8 weeks to 9 months. A lot depends upon product type (certainly certain things age better than others). Nobody wants small pack without at least 3 months on it. This is fine. I can do three months with cold storage. I can do 6 on most things.

    Is this new in the brewery? Has it always been like this? Has it been getting worse? We don't know. We've sample bottles kicking around. Yes everything 6+ months old which hasn't been cold stored has craftcoccus under a scope. Sensory impact varies from an improvement to noticeable if you know about it.

    We tear the place to pieces. We chlorinated caustic wash, hot caustic wash, hot acid wash, steam tanks before filling, warm PAA for 30 minutes before filling, replace all plastic, gaskets, hoses, anything that can be replaced is replaced. We seemingly still cannot produce sterile beer. Most of it is fine, some of it isn't. We've tried to destroy it, now can we live with it?

    Sample bottles taken and hot held. Regular pH, gravity and visual micro checks, averages found, appropriate shelf life determined, a system of categorising cell counts and eventual outcome starts to get more accurate with more data. I can put 5-6 months on nearly everything if stored at cellar temperature which is ... well that doesn't seem that bad for unfined, unfilted, unpasturaised real ale. Nobody wants 6 months on a cask beer. They do on keg, but then we keg the same beer and most of it is ridiculous NEIPA's which are glass cannons anyway susceptible to losing that one cool trick after 6-8 weeks anyway (hype, freshness).

    What is going on in other breweries? I understand this a contentious topic. Surely ALL BEER should be micro negative. But ... if it isn't sterile filtered or pasteurised, there is likely always going to be a few. Wise people talk to me and say "if it passes micro" but they never say that means ZERO. They just have a pass rate. People testing luminance say "anything under 1,500 is fine to use" which is like ... woah.

    I'm not like on pack 3/60 samples are micro positive (like one or two cells) and after 3 months that has risen to 9/60 and 6 months 15/60. Out of those observable pH drops are like ... 3.33 to 3.29 and they are still fairly drinkable. I don't know if I need to go any harder.

    To summarise ..

    I want to put 8-12 weeks on my cask beer.
    I want to put 12-16 weeks on my keg beer.
    I want to put 16 weeks on my small pack.

    These figures have been reached through 6 months of data. Gravity reads, visual microscopy, pH, sensory.

    Obviously sales teams want 1 year +, but that is just ...

    What are you all doing? What are your expectations? I suppose the next stage is plating and hot holding. Micro negative is micro negative right? Now just look at the packaging.