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The low-cost QC challenge

Material for this story comes in part from a talk by Lisa White, vice president of White Labs, at the Craft Brewers Conference in April 2005.

Brewers have many challenges when it comes to fighting unwanted bacteria such as Lactobacillus and Pediococcus, but the battle can be won on a limited budget and with limited manpower. How can you fight contamination and keep it simple at the same time? Here are a few general tips before we talk about the specifics of a QC program.

* Learn testing basics through classes or seminars at the various brewing conferences. On a more advanced level, training is available through Siebel Institute of Technology’s two-week microbiology course for brewers. White Labs also offers on-site consulting for brewing emergencies or scheduled events. Some establishments have White Labs come to their breweries on a regular schedule, such as once a year, to check QC procedures and offer practical advice.

* Develop a habit of using down time to test. Soon this will be as much a part of your routine as cleaning and mashing in.

* Use a flame and Isopropanol when possible.

The essentials for good testing practices are fairly inexpensive. You will need the following items:

Isopropanol, a cleaning agent that can be found in most drug stores; a flame source; sterile water; sterile pipets, tubes and bottles; and microwaveable media. For those with larger budgets, consider purchasing an autoclave. At White Labs, we autoclave almost everything, including media and bottles. Another solution for those with limited budgets is a pressure cooker, which many brewers use. These can be found in kitchen supply stories or on Web auction sites for less than a couple hundred dollars. At White Labs, we also sell new ones.

Now that you have some general tips and equipment knowledge, let’s move on to some of the tests that you can perform. Here are a couple good ideas:

* Forced wort test. This test measures the cleanliness of the wort chiller and hard pipe or hosing leading up to the fermentor, before the yeast is added. Obtain wort sample and place into a sterilized container. Incubate in a warm area for a few days (optimal temperature is 30 degrees Celcius. After three days, if it is clear, your brewery is safe. If it is cloudy or bubbles appear, you may have problems in your brewery.

* Environmental tests: To test the air, leave a plate out in the brewery for an hour and examine it with your eyes (no microscope necessary). If something appears on the plate, your air is not as clean as it needs to be. With training, you can learn to detect what kind of problem you have by just looking at these plates.

These are just a few easy tests that you can perform. In future issues we will look at other tests and techniques that you can use to keep your brewery safe and your beer tasting great.