Brews News ran a story last week detailing the concerning results of a pilot study by Queensland Health. The study saw an analysis of the abv of 25 craft beers and compared the results to the ABV declared on the label.
Eighty per cent of the samples fell outside the allowable variation.
We understand anecdotally that these results have been replicated more widely in informal testing by other bodies.
Following that story, BIRA – Brewing Interlaboratory Reference Analytes – and is the brewing industry’s not-for-profit testing scheme – issued a statement noting that as food and beverage manufacturers, compliance with labelling standards is critical, especially in such a sensitive area as ABV labelling where there are real consumer safety issues at stake.
The group encouraged brewers to participate in the scheme that works to improve the accuracy and reproducibility of analytical beer testing.
We heard from a number of BIRA members and others with a keen interest in market quality of beer wanting to discuss the issue and what follows is the recording of that panel discussion.
In addition to explaining the work of BIRA, this conversation covers a wide range of issues around beer quality testing and its importance.
- Jon Seltin – Brick Lane and BIRA
- Clare Clouting – Gage Roads and IBA Quality Panel
- Greg Howell – Ferment Laboratory
- Diarmaid O’Mordha, Quality and Sustainability Manager for Endeavour Drinks
Matt Kirkegaard: Hi, and welcome to this Brewery Pro episode looking at beer quality. My name’s Matt Kirkegaard, and I’d like to welcome our panel to talk about all things alcohol and beer quality.
Welcome Jon Seltin, head brewer from Brick Lane. Greg Howell, Managing Director of Ferment Labs, Diarmaid O’Mordha, Quality and Sustainability Manager for Endeavour Drinks, and we’re hoping to also be joined by Clare Clouting, who is the Operations and Systems Manager at Gage Roads, to talk about all things.
John, perhaps over to you. Obviously, we did a story on Monday looking at some tests that the Queensland Health Department had done. As a result of that, unsolicited, the organization that you work for as well, the industry body that you work for, BIRA, issued a statement. So maybe we can start with what your response was to that story.
John Seltin: Sure, sure. Working for BIRA is a bit of a misnomer, we’re all volunteers, so it’s a small group that started a couple of years ago now and Greg and I were a couple of the founders along with Clare from Gage Roads, Thomas from Stone & Wood, VB from then Young Henry’s, now Lallemand. It’s not so much an organisation as it is an association that’s dedicated to proficiency testing, more or less.
When the news came out on your website it’s exactly the sort of stuff that BIRA is interested in. The acronym BIRA stands for the Brewing Interlaboratory Reference Analytes. It’s a real mouthful. It’s a pretty simple concept, so broadly what the association is about is promoting accuracy in analytical testing inside brewing labs, from very small breweries to larger breweries as well. The idea is that, essentially, participation in a scheme like this helps breweries understand their laboratory testing proficiency and it helps give accuracy and the reproducibility of their results, essentially.
These schemes aren’t new, they exist in many industries and across the world are many different tests, let’s say. Indeed, there’s already big, established global schemes for beer testing. What started BIRA was the fact that these schemes tended to be quite expensive, aimed at the capabilities of much larger brewers, big international brewing groups, and tended to be quite complex and a bit out of the reach of smaller, independent or craft breweries. A couple of us got together a few years ago and kicked off this lightweight, or easier to administer, and certainly much cheaper proficiency testing scheme.
Since doing that we’ve got a lot of buy-in from the craft beer industry, and quite a few members now. And Clare, our Chair, has just joined us on the call I see.
MK: Thanks for joining us, Clare.
Greg, we’ve talked a little bit around BIRA, you were involved in founding BIRA, but it came from your background in doing a very similar thing for the wine industry, I believe.
Greg Howell: There’s been an association called the Interwinery Analysis Group in the wine industry that’s been going for decades and I was invited to be involved in BIRA and I appreciate that. Some of my team at Vintessential have been involved in the Interwinery Analysis Group for many years. It’s very sophisticated now, but it started off very similarly to what BIRA is, with a handful of people interested to improve the analytical results from their members, and with a small bunch of members. But the Interwinery Group is now accredited, it is actually an accredited proficiency program. They have an annual day where they meet and have a trade exhibit with guest speakers, and I can see where BIRA can progress to.
We’re small, it’s taken us a little while to get ourselves organised, but the results that we get out are fantastic. The reports that we send out to our members, I think one thing John forgot to mention is that it’s all anonymous, so when people get the results, those tell you where they sit amongst the whole crowd who do the same tests, for example ABV. They know who they are, but they don’t know who anybody else is. It’s actually like a scatter diagram, and if you’re all concentrated in the middle, you know you’re all pretty much accurate. And if you’re on the outskirts, then you’ve got to look at what you’re doing. And that’s the whole design of the program.
It has worked very well in the wine industry. The sorts of issues we’re talking about in the craft brewing industry, we had them in the wine industry, but for various reasons that’s been cleaned up quite a while ago. I can see that we can help the craft brewers with the results, particularly ABV because it’s a regulatory determinant. There’s no reason why it won’t improve as the wine industry improve the way they go as well.
MK: Diarmaid O’Mordha, it is one of those issues. The story that I wrote, I wrote after two, two and a half years of hearing anecdotally, and becoming aware increasingly, that bodies were testing and it was becoming a concern. Ultimately, dos this matter?
DO: If ABV is out and it doesn’t meet the standard, it does matter, yes, Matt. As Greg mentioned, it is a regulatory requirement that the alcohol’s accurate withing +/- 0.3% of what’s put on the label. Outside of that it doesn’t meet the regulation and we can’t sell it.
MK: What does a company like Endeavour Drinks do in a situation like this? If you become aware that somebody is out of spec, or consistently out of spec, do you test yourselves? Or would you test yourselves?
DO: In the circumstance that we’re aware of someone that is out of spec? We’d verify it. We would then test, and if we found that the testing verified that the product didn’t meet the label, we’d have to remove it from shelf. Situations like that, you may be able to do a relabelling and put the correct ABV on the label, and also the correct standard drinks.
It wouldn’t be a good exercise, and it doesn’t really show up well if you’re supplying a drinks company a beer and you can’t measure your alcohol correctly.
MK: And I guess that’s the thing. John Seltin, how does this sort of thing happen? Is it analysing the alcohol incorrectly? Or is it not hitting the target that you aim for?
JS: It can be a range of different things. I think as the types of products that craft brewers produce become more and more diverse with lots of new styles, new raw materials, innovative brewing techniques, it can sometimes be easy to lose sight of some of the basics, perhaps, of getting some of these things right.
Some of these new techniques or new raw ingredients or brewing processes can intrinsically make it more difficult as well. One of the ones that’s been highly reported in Australia and the US and developed craft beer markets has been an issue of what brewers call hop creep. It’s essentially over attenuation of beer in pack caused by very high dry hopping rates introducing enzymes that create more fermentable sugar than what the brewer intended there to be in the product. The yeast get to work on that, the ABV goes up. These also tend to become pretty apparent because they result in high pack pressure and exploding bottles or cans. This has happened in a few high-profile cases in the US.
There are so many potential ways of getting there, and I guess it’s incumbent upon brewers and breweries to ensure that they’ve got controls in place to ensure that they’re compliant with all the relevant labelling standards and to make sure that the beer that is out there in the big bad world goes out and remains compliant with the ABV that’s published on their labels.
MK: And I guess for me, and maybe I can throw this one to Clare, given that packaging is generally pre-done and you’ve got a target ABV and a recipe that you’re following, you’ve got an idea of what you’re shooting for, some of these – in fact, 20% of these beers – were almost a full percent out. What should brewers be doing in this case? Is it something that is as simple as relabelling? Or should these be batches that aren’t put into market?
CC: I think it’s difficult for limited editions, so if you’re only going to make that beer once and you’re trying to pre-plan with your packaging, it is challenging. Sometimes it’s not until you brew something in practice that you actually understand how far it’s going to attenuate and what your outcome is, your ABV.
I would certainly expect if it’s a regular beer that’s released that you should have consistency. That’s more about practice within the brewery, and management of your curves if you’re not getting a consistent beer at the right ABV. Definitely, I do hear of breweries that pre-print packaging and it can cause issues.
I think the long and short of it is, if you’re not going to be compliant to what’s on your packaging, you can’t pack. You can’t proceed. There’s too much at stake to proceed with that. To what Diarmaid said, in some cases it is easier to label (mic cuts out) over sticker, but (unclear) we do really big runs, there’s no way we could even contemplate over-labelling. It just wouldn’t happen.
We’re big enough and we’re lucky enough to in-line pasteurise here, and even a low level will knock out any of those fermenting yeasts, so we have protection against that. But I don’t think there’s an easy answer, in answer to your question.
MK: Without knowing the cause of these variances, and I’m not sure who to pose this one to, so maybe I’ll see the hand for whoever wants to answer it, one of the things that I’ve had communication since the article came out was, “Well look, we don’t have the capacity to test. We can’t afford the equipment needed to test.”
I guess, firstly, is that a good enough answer? And secondly, is it a legitimate answer? Do you need expensive equipment to test? Greg.
GH: I’m not sure which part of your question to answer first. There are very cheap and easy ways to get the testing done, and I’ll put my commercial hand up here. I mean that’s what we do at Vintessential Laboratories. We use the brand name [unsure] for our brewing and spirits side of what we do. I think we charge 20-something dollars per alcohol test, and people can send in samples to us. We offer the packaging for the sampling, we offer free postage, so it’s actually very easy. And our turnaround time is same or next day. It’s quick and it’s cheap. And we’ve got four labs around the country. That’s the end of the commercial side of it.
The point being that there are places you can go to and get it done quite cheaply. If you want to do it yourself, it isn’t necessarily that easy if you’re a small player. There are expensive instruments on the market that are very accurate, which is what we use. If you want to do it on the cheap, you normally sacrifice accuracy, and that’s part of the issue.
It really depends on the size of the brewery, whether they can afford a decent instrument for doing it. If you’re a very small one, then that’s part of the problem. I think that’s all I had to say on that.
MK: One of the things that brewers say is that they can’t afford the expensive equipment. I guess even having an expensive alkaliser doesn’t mean that you’re guaranteed the test results anyway, because my understanding is that testing laboratories should be certified because there is a rigor in regard to testing.
GH: If I can answer that one as well, our labs are NATA accredited, we get audited every 18 months.
MK: And NATA is, for those who don’t know?
GH: We are accredited to an international standard. ISO 17025, and the Australian organization who does that, the regulator, is NATA, National Association of Testing Authorities. If you get a lab certificate from a NATA accredited lab you can be sure that it is accurate. Part of what we have to do as a NATA accredited lab is every instrument we use, we’ve got to calibrate it and we’ve got to verify that it is actually giving us accurate results, and there’s various ways you can do that using standard materials.
We calibrate the NIR instruments daily, we’ve got to record that, we’ve got to keep all our data for five years, we’re open for audits at any time for that sort of thing. That’s the level you’ve got to go to if you want to be an accredited laboratory.
It’s very easy to be sold an expensive instrument, it’s actually not necessarily that easy to use it and be sure that you’re getting it right. This is part of why you would join a proficiency program like BIRA, because we’re there to help people to understand if they are getting it right, even if they have got an expensive piece of equipment. We’re also there as practitioners and we’re very happy to give people free advice on how to improve their systems. That’s what BIRA is really there for, to help people to improve that side of things.
JS: I was just going to say, you hit on a couple of really important things. From the brewery side, yeah, it’s very expensive to buy expensive kit, but they do need to be maintained, calibrated, verified, and even then – the reason we’re all so keen to start BIRA and to get it us – is because even then you can have systematic error in your process. You can be doing the same thing wrong every time and producing very consistent results and your verification (mumbles) and proficiency testing schemes are great because that’s when those errors start to become a little bit more obvious, let’s say. It’s part of these three pillars to their instrument maintenance, or assurance, programs. That’s the purpose of what BIRA does.
I’d also add to Greg’s point that there are a number of other ways of measuring ABV. There’s other reference methods, such as distillation followed by density measurement, and other techniques. They can be cumbersome and they require expert operators and people who are trained, but not necessarily crazily expensive. They can take some time to do, but they’re well within the reach and technical knowledge of most smaller brewers.
The question of whether or not should be table stakes, that’s largely a given from most people in the industry. I’m surprised to hear that comment, Matt, and I’ve certainly never heard anyone in my professional career who’s had similar comments. I can’t think of a brewer who would ever admit something like that. Most people do strive for accuracy and take their craft incredibly seriously, and their responsibility towards not just the regulators, but the responsibility to their customers and their consumers to be truthful in what they’re selling, and to be selling a consistent, safe product, and sell what they say they’re selling.
I’m surprised to hear it, and I think it’s probably a fairly minority view, I’d certainly hope.
MK: I would hope that it’s minority, but then again, when you see some of the responses to the exploding cans is, “Well, we told you to keep it refrigerated,” I think there is an element in the industry that we make the best beer that we can.
JS: I think the other side is that we’re maturing as an industry. There’s more and more professionalism, and more and more skills and knowledge in the craft brewing industry. I think it’s evidenced by things like participation in proficiency testing schemes. We’ve got a fair few breweries in the country now, you’d know a lot better than I would of how many exactly, Matt. BIRA’s a small group, we’re just shy of 25, I think, but those 25 labs involved are all the largest in the country, and all the larger craft breweries representing – I’ve never actually done a tally of what fraction of beer produced comes through this scheme, but I’d say well over half –
MK: I might just step back, because it took me a long time as a non-brewer and a non-science background person, to get my head around what BIRA was, and the way that Greg explained it to me is that as a group you send out a standard sample to all of the participating breweries, they test it with the method that they would test their own beer, and send in the results that they’ve derived, and then those are plotted on the scatter chart so you know which number result you are, no one else does, so that’s anonymised. But then you can see how your testing, the accuracy of your testing, how it compares compared to the other members of the group. It’s essentially a way to test your testing capability.
JS: Exactly. There’s a whole bunch of statistical smarts that go on in the background as well, and I’m no statistician. Luckily, we’ve got people in the group who are way cleverer than me. The method that’s used for testing and the plots that we produce and the reports that we produce are really easy to interpret. They show how far you are away from what we call the assigned value, the source of truth, expressed in standard deviations. And you can see quite quickly and quite easily, in a way that’s super easy to interpret, your distance from the rest of the cohort in terms of your accuracy. Because of the way we use these Youden plots, as Greg was talking about, they’re specifically done for these proficiency testing schemes, they make it quite clear as well the nature of your error, whether it’s systematic, something you’re doing the wrong way each time, or whether it’s something more random.
The scheme itself, I’ve got to reiterate, it’s not for big, sophisticated labs with multimillions of dollars of instruments and dedicated lab staff, it’s meaningful and useful for, literally, every brewery out there. It’s cheap as chips. In fact, if you want to just buy beer to drink, it’s probably cheaper to buy it through BIRA than it is to go to the local shops. It’s run by volunteers, the beer’s largely donated, and the standardised samples are sent out for analysis. We all compare our results in this nice anonymous way. And over time the idea is that it helps people identify gaps in their process.
Some KPIs in our lab are set around attaining what’s called z-scores, difference to the assigned value in BIRA specifically. Everyone who works in our lab here take it extremely seriously and pay a good deal of attention to it.
MK: And it only costs $150 a year, from memory?
CC: It’s $150 for four rounds, so we do one a quarter. And I think it’s worth saying as well, even if you calculate your ABV you can join in. We’ll provide everything you need to join in to calculate it, and we have people using cheaper alkalisers like the [ARNEX 500?]. We’ve got a few different methods, all the way up to using top of the range alkalisers, so it’s really good from that perspective. And also, each quarter you’re sent two samples, so you get a Sample A and a Sample B, so to John’s point, it does help identify what the kind of issue is. Your Sample A might be in but your Sample B might be out, or they might both be low, they might both be high, and it gives you a good indication of what the issue is. There’s a few of us quality people involved, and so we’re always willing, at the end of (mic cuts out) what might be going wrong.
MK: Am I correct in saying that it will give breweries confidence in their testing results? It won’t fix quality problems in the brewery, it won’t fix the things that might be sending he beer out of spec, but it will give you confidence in your ability to test your own beer.
GH: Absolutely, that’s exactly what it’s designed to do. And I think it’s worth mentioning, we’ve kind of talked about ABV, that at last count we offer either eight or nine different tests so you can… You get the beer, you test whatever you want, so there’s bitterness, colour, pH, CO2. You can do as many or as few as you want on that one sample. The other thing is, often there’s enough sample left over, and what we do in our labs is we keep those samples, and then we use them as what we would call a standard material, so we can always go back and use them to check that what we’re doing is still spot on because we know what the value from that particular beer sample is.
It’s much broader than what you first indicated. For $150 for four rounds, it’s actually great value. Some of these breweries donate all the beer, so currently it’s very cheap to run. When we get to hundreds of members it may be dearer to run and we may have to buy some, but again, it’s still a very cheap way to understand that your lab results are good.
CC: We used to be part of a proficiency program out of the UK and it was ten times the cost of the BIRA easily. And it didn’t always include craft beer. It was quite often your mainstream lagers and ales, so when we got together all those years ago to put this together, it was very much with the intent of making it and building it around the craft industry. Making it affordable and inclusive so that everybody could be involved.
JS: The nature of some craft products makes them slightly difficult, or slightly different to test, perhaps, than mainstream lager beer. We content with hazes, different density ranges, different alcohol ranges than what you’d typically find in some of the products in these international large proficiency testing schemes. It’s a little bit more localised as well, and it does matter. You don’t just tip a bottle of beer into one of these instruments and it spits out a number. There’s a lot in sample preparation and in the training of the people who are running these processes as well, and some of those things are really specific to the types of beer that are being produced. There are some real tricks to the trade to running these things accurately, to get accurate results. We help with that in BIRA, I think.
MK: Clare, just out of interest, at Gage Roads, how do you test? And how often do you test?
CC: we have got one of the more expensive alkalisers. It’s got to be coming up to at least 12 years old now. We take care of it (mic cuts out) as long as we possibly can because they are expensive. We test all the way through the ferment, obviously, and into bright beer tank, and then the start of every run. We test it in package. We also test the last package as well, so we’re doing it quite frequently here, just because we’re doing such huge runs as well compared to some breweries. We might do a run of 20, 30 thousand Single Fin cartons, and so you want to make sure that before you embark on that kind of volume that everything is tickety-boo.
Where we’re lucky as well, going back to John talking about attenuation and various things, is we’ve often got more than one batch and we’re then blending them together, so that gives us a lot of benefits with regards to manipulating the ABV. I really do feel for the smaller breweries, it is difficult, and also, I think one of the things we’ve talked about here is risk assessment. We’re going to run a beer and we’re going to do something new, we might incorporate fruit, or recently we used tea in a beer. We really sit down and think about how that might affect the final product, what the likelihood is to get post-package fermentation, what that’s going to do. I think you can’t underestimate, particularly using fruit and things that are going to contain sugars, really thinking out the process before you pack that beer into a can.
MK: It’s funny you say that, because that’s one of the things, speaking to brewers who work for multinational breweries – for want of a better term – you speak to them and the finger’s often pointed at them for not being innovative, but when you speak to them they can’t just go down to the local farmer’s markets and buy a bag of finger limes or go to the grower, “Can I have x kilos of finger limes,” because they want to test them all for exactly that reason.
CC: Absolutely, and that doesn’t fit in with their business model. It’s really important that our industry’s creating, and that’s what brings so many people into independent beer, it’s such a vibrant, exciting space. I think where we have to be aware of is when you put something into a can, it’s a whole lot different to kegging something and serving it at your venue. It’s really difficult to capture that product back or manage it when there’s an issue. Having secondary ferment in a can is a lot more of a safety issue than picking up that your keg in your venue’s getting some funky notes. That’s a lot more manageable.
For me, the first step that any company should be taking is really risk assessing and thinking very carefully about the product they’re going to make, the risks associated with it, and then what mode of packaging, or how they’re going to deliver that to the consumer safely. Before you do anything else, I think that should be the first point of call.
MK: John, I might ask the same question to you. How do you test at Brick Lane, and how often do you test?
JS: Very similar to Clare. We test a lot of things all the time, it feels like. I generally see all the bills for all the fancy new instruments that our lab’s buying. This week’s been an expensive one, actually. When it comes to ABV, very similar to Clare. We test all the way through fermentation. We test green beer prior to filtration, we test bright beer and that’s, let’s say, the release test to packaging. We test the first cans off the line to ensure that they’re in spec, and then we test the last cans and finished goods as well. We have a sampling process where we get a bunch of finished goods into our workflow at the end of the week and test those.
A whole bunch of these are really time bound as well and represent hard gates for us. For example, a beer just simply won’t be released to the packaging department unless it’s in specification in the bright tank. Likewise, the filler won’t run unless the first packs off the filler are in spec in ABV as well.
Speaking to colleagues at larger international brewers as well, they’ve seen it all. It can be amazing things. You’d think that with all that safety net there, with all those tests that we do run that certainly we make it impossible, or very unlikely for anything bad to happen. If you speak to anyone who’s had long careers in beer, there’s all sorts of things that can go on.
That’s why I think quality systems and a systematic approach to it are so critical. The risk clearly goes up a lot the more you make. If you are making a palette of cases, or hand-bottling a certain amount of bottles, you’re more or less in control of them, you still have both a legal and a consumer obligation to getting it right just as much as the big guys do, but obviously the cost of getting it wrong goes up exponentially as well, contingent on your size. That’s why you tend to find these nicer bits of kit and these very skilled people to run them in larger breweries, because those companies understand the cost of getting it wrong.
MK: If I was a small brewer, Gage and Brick Lane are two of the bigger craft breweries in the country, and you’ve got the luxury of those alkalisers and you can have that constant testing, you’ve also worked for much smaller breweries. What was your approach when you were working for them?
JS: It wasn’t dissimilar, to tell you the truth. We didn’t have as many nice things and we didn’t have the people whose job it is just to run them and become real amazing experts at it, but certainly any brewery I’ve ever been that has always understood the importance of this, the fact that it’s non-negotiable. It’s a legal requirement and it’s a requirement, I think about it almost as an obligation to peers in the industry to get it right, you know what I mean? It can undermine the legitimacy of all the hard work we do in craft beer to make sure that everyone knows that it’s good and quality and something you can trust.
MK: Could you explain how you did test when you didn’t have all of the nice bells and whistles?
JS: I’ve worked in really tiny little breweries in the past, and medium sized ones as well, and we went and used – for normal style beers – we’d often do calculated ABVs, like Clare was talking about, where we measure density change of a product over time. If they were products we were doing all the time we’d trust that as a way of doing it, and verify it against a reference method, which we used distillation as a reference method. Quite often and quite quickly I realised that it’s a bit of a false economy in the amount of time it took us to do this and setting these things up and running these tests, it tended to be much easier to get someone like Greg to help us out with it because they’re busy places and the cost is really so low in comparison to your time and effort in doing it yourself.
We’d do a combination of, in the very small places, calculated ABVs verified internally with a reference method, usually distillation and density measurement of the distillate, and then we’d often also do external verification. It’s not uncommon to have small breweries that don’t maintain big quality systems to still be audited on these things by local government food authorities, or in the case of your story of Queensland, by Queensland Health.
This is all by customer groups, like Diarmaid and the like, so it’s not an uncommon thing to have to face. I think even the smaller breweries have a number of methods there, from the old school distillation and density measurement to looking at gravity shifts and applying a formula. Always it’s just so cheap and easy as well to get some external verification through a NATA accredited lab, and then also to verify your own methods by participating in something like BIRA in a proficiency testing scheme. If you get those things right, you’ve got more confidence in the accuracy of your results.
CC: I come across quite a few breweries that send to places like [muffled] or they’ll pop in here so they can keep an eye on how they’re going, but it’s important to trend as well, and that’s one of the beauties of, if you’re a member of BIRA, or even if you’re sending them offsite, you need to keep a record of those and map out where you’re travelling, rather than just treat them as a one-off and then forget about it if it complies. That’s the beauty, over time you’ll see how accurate you are and if there’s any kind of pattern like you’re regularly going over then you’ll be able to pick up on that.
MK: Diarmaid, was there anything you wanted to add on that?
DO: I want to voice my support for BIRA. I think it’s such a great service they’re giving to the industry. I’d love to see more brewers get on board. I think, for the price, $150 for the year, a withdrawal for one of our stores is $78 if you have to pull from one store. Work it out for the number of stores you’re in, it does add up unfortunately, but that is the price for a withdrawal. The cost to cover us in executing it.
Back to getting it right, the fact that we’re looking at something so mandatory, and yet we have a question over it, it does baffle me a bit. I’d like to see this issue from the testing, so I’d like to get more background on that and understand it a bit more. I think going forward we really want to see anybody that has a concern about their capability reaching out to the guys at BIRA. Over time they’re going to, the first couple of samples they’re going to submit, they’ll learn where they stand. If you’re not cutting the mustard it’s a good wakeup call to figure out how you do do it correctly, and then continue working with them. And I think that’s, to Greg’s point, that’s where the wine industry was 10, 20 years ago.
You build a capability up and then suddenly it comes, and the industry does improve. Beer is that enabler for this.
MK: Greg, anything else you’d like to say?
GH: There was one point, we’re talking about regulations here, and meeting them correctly. The other thing that certainly we see in the wine industry is the standard drinks legislation. If you’ve got a standard drinks statement on your package, you say there’s 1.4 standard drinks in it, that purely comes as a calculation from your ABV. So if you’ve got your ABV wrong, you’ve got your standard drinks statement wrong, and that’s a real concern from a health and safety point of view from a consumer. That’s a different regulation, obviously, and a different regulator, but it’s another important aspect of it. But it’s, again, totally related to the accuracy of your ABV measurements.
MK: Terrific. Any last comments from anybody?
JS: I have one super quick one, and it’s a bit of a spanner in the works right at the end of the conversation. There’s also a point, Clare’s already made it, I’ll just reiterate it, that quite likely these beers were great, and probably compliant with their labels when they left the brewery. Fully understanding the risks of the formulations of your products before they go out there, and how those products will change over time, is important also. That’s particularly the case nowadays when there’s a lot of different types of novel yeast strains out there, a lot of different types of processing techniques, a lot of additives or adjuncts that can be used to flavour or modify the beer in some fashion or another.
Before going down the path, understanding the stability of the product as well, and understanding that you’re not in control of it, and expecting a customer or a consumer to keep it refrigerated the whole way is also not really the right answer and not really a realistic and honest way of approaching it. I think it’s an important thing as well. BIRA can be very accurate and can get the breweries and its participants whipped into excellent shape in their measurement, but also need to be thinking of the stability of the beer once it leaves the brewery as well, so it doesn’t come back in the future.
MK: I’ll link to BIRA, obviously, for anyone who wants to find in the show notes. I’ll also link to you, Greg, at Vintessentials. Are there any other resources that we should be letting people know?
CC: The IBA’s going to start putting together some documents and items for the members on the member section of the website, so keep your eyes posted for that. I think, also, we’ve got a Quality Mashup, virtual one, planned for the 20th of April, which we’re probably going to talk a little bit more about this and then the techniques and options available.
MK: Clare, John, Diarmaid and Greg, thank you very much for joining us at very short notice, and thank you, John, for prompting this discussion.