One year anniversary of the Beer Lab: reflections and the future of brewing science

sean presenting poster

Today marks the one year anniversary of my humble little beer lab.  Looking back at one year, it’s been a wild ride, full of blood, sweat, and luckily no tears…mostly sweat.  The beer lab started with a wild curiosity for brewing science and learning some of the tests that I anticipated breweries and homebrewers might want.  Not knowing anyone in the brewing industry, I sent out around 100 brochures (a shout out to my wonderful wife who helped me design these!) to nearby breweries…and received about 7 or 8 responses, some from people who were interested in the beer lab and some who actually wanted me to do some tests!  Some of these early customers (and now friends, you know who you are) I’m deeply grateful for, as it made my little dream closer to a reality.  I’m also incredibly indebted to my friends at Sound Bio who house my beer lab (without them this would not have happened!).

So a year in, despite still struggling to pay the rent and bills, I’ve managed to gain over 20 customers (even a few homebrewers!), with even a few who wrote me very nice testimonials, including one from Imperial Yeast.  One thing that’s very fulfilling about what I do is helping breweries and homebrewers solve problems because they are sometimes not easy to figure out without lab testing.  Another thing that is really cool and something I didn’t expect going into this endeavor was how excited some breweries were to work with me.  We put our heads together and made some collaboration brews (cheers to Lowercase Brewing and Mirage Beer Co!).  See some photos below of me brewing a grapefruit IPA at Lowercase (left) and a mixed ferment beer fermented with kveik (Norwegian farmhouse yeast) using locally harvested juniper branches at Mirage (right).  The grapefruit IPA came out awesome and the kveik is still aging in the barrel so will hopefully be done next year (fingers crossed).

Another highlight from the past year was being invited to run a yeast workshop at Sound Homebrew Supply.  I got to talk to 40 homebrewers about yeast for a few hours, with even a few short demos, and had a blast running it!  Along those same lines, I introduced my DIY contamination test kit for detecting acid-producing beer spoilers at a Micro Homebrew event.  These homebrew shops have been very supportive of what I do and a huge thanks to them!  Also thanks to the organizers of Homebrew Con 2018 and SynBioBeta for letting me present my work at these conferences!

A new development in my lab is another one I did not anticipate from the beginning: yeast propagation.  Earlier this year I learned about and started playing with some farmhouse yeast strains from Norway (“kveik”) and other countries (a shout out to Svein for sharing these with me, Milk the Funk brewing community for sharing information, Lars for introducing these to the world, and to the traditional farmhouse brewers for sharing!).  These yeast are remarkable in their ability to ferment quickly, produce amazing tasting esters (fruity flavors), have no off-flavors at high fermentation temperatures, and can tolerate high ethanol concentrations which means you can use them to make high gravity beers!  One tasty brew I made with a kveik isolate was a hazy IPA that had some interesting tropical fruit flavors (see the label I made for this homebrew below).  I realized that more people needed to know about these strains so decided to offer them at small scale.  We now offer four unique isolates of kveik and other farmhouse strains from our Mysterium Yeast trade name.  We’ve now sent out homebrew pitches to several homebrewers and just did our first pro pitch that will be on tap tomorrow!

So what does the future hold for the beer lab?  I honestly don’t know but I’m working on trying to ramp up my brewing science game to bring higher tech solutions to the brewing industry.  At the very least, this means better testing for beer spoilers and quality control in general.  I am very open to feedback and am continually trying to improve my processes so please get in touch if you are interested in working with me.  Some ongoing and future projects include strain barcoding to uniquely identify strains within the same species, evolutionary engineering, synbio, and ???.  You’ll have to tune in to find out because even I don’t know.  Cheers to the brewing community for all their support and let’s hope I can survive another year!

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