A Brewing Analysis: Can small breweries maintain BIG flavor?

In today’s world, we all share one similarity: the desire to be different. While there’s still very much a need to feel included, we want to do so as individuals. We’ve seen this idea of being unique grow beyond the individual person into the business world. In more progressive cities, chain restaurants and mass-production stores are taking a hit to local, handcrafted-type businesses. People want specialized products and services, and they want to know where they’re coming from and who is supplying them.AdobeStock_65772435_Craft beer sold here.jpg

The craft beer industry is one that has exploded in growth over the last few years as a result of this concept. According to the national Brewer’s Association, in 2015 alone, craft beer producers claimed $22.3 million of the overall $105.9 billion national beer sales. This may not seem like much, but it was a 12.8% increase from 2014. So while there are still quite a few Budweiser and Miller Light drinkers out there, the rising numbers of craft breweries and their sales tell a story which aligns with the idea of the growing “think local, buy local” trend.

Craft breweries’ main advantage is in their small size. It fits the trend. They are flexible enough to make small batches of a variety of brews, and let’s face it, we Americans love to have options. However, that same advantage presents a disadvantage: consistency and quality control. We all love that brewpub with constantly-changing taps because it allows us the freedom to try new flavors, but no one likes a beer that just tastes bad. Differences in palates are one thing, quality is another.

Just like the big beer players in the world, the small breweries also have certain steps they must take to ensure a tasty product out of the tap. All players in the brewery industry, no matter the size, are responsible for running tests to measure components like alcohol content, calories, salt and sugar levels, expected shelf life, and most important, beverage safety. Here’s the catch: instruments used to analyze all of these factors can be rather pricey for a two-man micro brewery that began in someone’s man cave.

CG-Product-Photo-VAPODEST-front-1farbkorrlinks-400x400.jpgIs there a solution? Yes, and ironically, it involves the idea of power in numbers…just in time to debate the “smaller and more specialized business is the way to go” trend. Typically, the larger national breweries have in-house laboratories to ensure consistency and quality control. The smaller breweries have begun thinking bigger, but only in considering how to be most cost effective when it comes to alcohol analysis. A cooperative mentality has developed in certain areas of the country to help the ‘little guys’ continue to produce big flavors on a small budget.

An example of this is The Accelerator, a small-business incubator located in New Windsor, NY, focused on ‘bringing manufacturing back to the mid-Hudson Valley.’ The Accelerator offers a number of resources to small businesses among various industries, but it recently opened a lab specifically geared toward alcohol testing. The Vapodest, an automated steam distillation system manufactured by Gerhardt Instruments, is an example of an alcohol analysis instrument that small craft brewers can utilize as an associate of The Accelerator. Many who plan to take advantage of this new service shared their excitement with the Times-Herald Record at The Accelerator lab’s grand opening at the end of 2016. "Having a lab like this for people making things on a small scale is tremendously important," said Ann Marsh, assistant cider maker at Angry Orchard in Walden. "It's a game changer for a lot of people."       

It’s safe to say “thinking local” pairs with “thinking thrifty” like Fontina cheese pairs with a pilsner. However, some protocols like alcohol analysis cannot be cut at the expense of risking beverage quality and safety. Hopefully, we will see this trend of cooperative testing grow at the rate of craft brews so we can continue to enjoy big flavors from small breweries.

Thirsty for more information?

Learn more about services The Accelerator offers HERE!

Celebrate the big taste of craft brews by pairing with a tasty artisan cheese HERE!

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