Accurate testing critical for beverage producers

For Bench Brewing Company, accurate analysis of their craft beer is “paramount” to maintaining consistency in quality and the regulatory standards on which they and their customers rely.

Yet, expertise and equipment to do such analysis are specialized, so having a trusted and reliable applied research partner to conduct such critical testing has been more than valuable for their brewery, says Sarah Casorso, head brewer & director, brewing operations for Bench Brewing, an experiential craft brewery located in Beamsville, Ont.

Casorso, and many other craft brewers, depend on the Research & Innovation division’s Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre. All beverage analytical services are conducted by trained research staff, such as Kelly Byer, the research laboratory technologist responsible for the Centre’s analytical testing services.

State-of-the-industry precision equipment, such as the lab’s Anton Paar Beer, Wine and Distilled Spirits Analyzers, are employed for beer, hops and other beverages, says Byer.

“We are committed to helping brewers, hop growers and other beverage companies consistently produce beverages that meet regulatory and quality standards,” she notes.

Niagara College is one of the only analytical labs in Ontario to provide such testing for the hops and craft beer industry.

Bench Brewing frequently submits samples for alcohol by volume (ABV) testing on all their beer, in addition to bitterness analysis (IBU) on occasion. Each year when they harvest their estate hops, they submit samples for analysis, which includes alpha and beta acids and moisture, says Casorso.

“Working with the Niagara College beverage analytics services has been critical to the quality and consistency of our beer,” adds Casorso. “They have been extremely flexible when we have needed rushed samples and the results are always completed in a timely manner. They always seem to go above and beyond and take a real interest in giving us the best service as possible.”

“Working with the Niagara College beverage analytics services has been critical to the quality and consistency of our beer.” ~ Sarah Casorso, Bench Brewing

The requisite for precise testing is just as critical for many of the hop growers who trust the experts at Niagara College, as their craft brewer customers depend on reliably accurate analysis.

Hayhoe Hops has looked to the CFWI Innovation Centre to test its hops for the past five years. The family farm, just south of Aylmer, Ont., typically sends a few samples from across their harvest of each of their three varieties, says owner Scott Hayhoe, who, along with his brother Todd, opened the farm in 2014.

“It’s hard to overstate how important accuracy is to us. Brewers are skeptical of switching to a new local supplier so we can’t have any problems with our end product. Kelly and her team provide a vital service for our farm,” says Hayhoe.

“Even if there’s variability between tested hop lots, with the research team’s accurate testing, brewers can account for the differences and adjust their recipes to end up with batch-to-batch consistency,” he explains.

“Since we know their testing is reliable, we have also been able to use the results to better learn and time our picking schedule.”

Beverage Analysis at CFWI

Samantha Stinellis (foreground), former research assistant and graduate of NC’s Culinary Innovation and Food Technology program; and Kelly Byer, research lab technologist responsible for the Centre’s analytical testing services, conduct testing using the Anton Paar beer Analyser.

The Centre has recently established new Quality Assurance Packages, which provide ongoing analysis at a lower price to further assist industry partners.

“These allow for the analysis of the same, commercially-available product, over the course of a year at a substantial price discount,” explains Byer, adding that the package also contains an ongoing report, so past results get included in every subsequent analysis – making historic comparisons effortless.

“Many beverage producers are starting quality assurance programs, and routine analysis is an important part of that. This is our way of helping industry partners produce high-quality beverages,” adds Byer.

As well, members of the Ontario Hops Growers Association (OHGA) and Ontario Craft Brewers (OCB) receive 15 percent off analysis services. Modelled after the program with OHGA, a newer partnership with OCB allows members to “opt in” where their results will be stripped of personal data and aggregated for an annual report for the OCB, to help the industry track how craft beer is meeting important regulatory, food safety and quality parameters.

“The discount to members of OHGA was the initial reason we chose Niagara College, but the timely service and reliable accuracy is the reason we continue to use their services,” says Hayhoe.

“We see year-to-year our resin levels peak and crest as we typically hit the optimal pick day somewhere within our harvest window of each variety,” he explains, adding that getting the report every year helps hone its sensory analysis in the field as well as showing the nuances of each variety at harvest time.

“This information impacts our decision making for future harvests. Getting real data year after year has been a great way to have confidence in our decision making and ultimately has helped us end up with a better product,” adds Hayhoe.

Getting real data year after year has been a great way to have confidence in our decision making and ultimately has helped us end up with a better product.” ~ Scott Hayhoe, Hayhoe Hops

The research team, which includes students hired and trained as research assistants, has completed more than 600 hop tests since the fall of 2016, helping almost 100 different growers. Since 2017, they’ve analyzed more than 200 beverage samples, from approximately 30 different breweries, cideries and kombucha producers.

While beer and hops analysis may be the most popular service, the CFWI Innovation Centre will be expanding analytical services for the entire beverage industry in early 2021, including cider, wine, mead, kombucha and distilled spirits, thanks to the R&I’s new Beverage Centre of Excellence. Part of an entire research floor of the new 49,500-square-foot Marotta Family Innovation Complex at the Daniel J. Patterson Campus in Niagara-on-the-Lake, the new facilities will focus on beverage research, pilot-level processing, and analytical testing, thanks to equipment funding from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI) and the Ontario Research Fund.

The process of accessing the analytical beverage services is straightforward, with all relevant information listed on the R&I website. It allows industry partners to easily see the services offered and pricing and then submit their information through an on-line form.

These technical service projects conducted at the CFWI Innovation Centre are made possible by the Technology Access Centre (TAC) grant. The TAC grant, funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), enables small- and medium-sized businesses to advance their products, processes, and services through access to specialized technology, equipment, and expertise.