News travels about bad beer: Expert

Just one bad beer can cause irreparable damage to a brewery’s reputation, beer quality expert Dick Cantwell has warned Australian brewers.

Cantwell, the quality ambassador for the US Brewers Association, said there are various excuses commonly made by brewers as to why their quality systems are not up to scratch.

“The most obvious one is that it costs too much to set up a lab,” he told the Australian Craft Brewers Conference in Brisbane.

“The next one probably is that the personnel isn’t available to take on the job.Then there’s the security of the notion that pathogens can’t survive in the beer.”

He said there are also “excuses arising from arrogance”, quoting somecommon refrains from brewers:
‘I already know I make quality beer. Besides, my beer sells so fast it doesn’t matter. Not only that, but this is ‘craft’. A certain amount of variation batch-to-batch is OK, it’s even desirable. It’s what separates us from the factory brewers.’
But Cantwell warned that “noticeable variability will eventually erode customer satisfaction, confidence and loyalty”.

“Dumping a single batch of beer often costs more than the piece of analytical equipment that might have prevented it,” he said.

Brewers Association quality ambassador Dick Cantwell

Brewers Association quality ambassador Dick Cantwell

“Remember that financial cost is only part of the story. There’s the loss of your reputation to consider, and those long memories.

“Word spreads. As hardworking and attentive as our customers are, in the interests of discovering new and exciting beers that their friends might not have had yet, they are also kind of lazy at revising their opinions.

“One bad beer in today’s crowded landscape, and the brewery that made it can suffer irremediable harm to its reputation.”

Cantwell said that while it may difficult for small brewers to allocate funds for a dedicated lab person, many are already halfway to establishing some form of quality system.

“If you number your batches and write things down on brewsheets in order to pay your taxes and track your production, you’ve got embryonic quality systems in place. Taking notes and tasting your beer along the way is already established,” he said.

For the arrogant brewers who believe everything they are making is “awesome”, Cantwell had a very simple message.

“Get over yourself. Production pressures to make more of your ‘awesome’ beer will eventually have you at least considering cutting a corner or two, or releasing a beer that you’re not 100 per cent sure about,” he said.

“Your beer ‘selling as fast as you can make it’ is a circumstance very easily changeable, should word get out that you make bad beer.”

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