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Making a better beer with chemistry

Making a better beer with chemistry

Lager or ale? Pale ale or stout? Specialty beer, or basic draft? This week, to celebrate the International Beer Day on Friday, August 7th, I have chosen to write about a subject near and dear to me: how to make a better beer! Like many others, at the beginning of my adult life, I enjoyed the beverage without giving much thought to the vast array of styles and how they differed, beyond the obvious visual and gustatory senses. However, as a chemist with many chemist friends, I was introduced at several points to the world of homebrewing. Eventually, I succumbed.

Back in 2014, my husband and I bought all of the accessories to brew 25 liters (~6.5 gallons) of our own beer at a time. The entire process is controlled by us, from designing a recipe and milling the grains to sanitizing and bottling the finished product. We enjoy being able to develop the exact bitterness, sweetness, mouthfeel, and alcohol content for each batch we brew.

Over the years we have become more serious about this hobby by optimizing the procedure and making various improvements to the setup – including building our own temperature-controlled fermentation fridge managed by software. However, without an automated system, we occasionally run into issues with reproducibility between batches when using the same recipe. This is an issue that every brewer can relate to, no matter the size of their operation.

Working for Metrohm since 2013 has allowed me to have access to different analytical instrumentation in order to check certain quality attributes (e.g., strike water composition, mash pH, bitterness). However, Metrohm can provide much more to those working in the brewing industry. Keep reading to discover how we have improved analysis at the largest brewery in Switzerland.

Are you looking for applications in alcoholic beverages? Check out this selection of FREE Application Notes from Metrohm:

Lagers vs. Ales

There are two primary classes of beer: lagers and ales. The major contrast between the two is the type of yeast used for the fermentation process. Lagers must be fermented at colder temperatures, which lends crisp flavors and low ester formation. However, colder processes take longer, and so fermentation steps can last for some months. Ales have a much more sweet and fruity palate of flavors and are much easier to create than lagers, as the fermentation takes place at warmer temperatures and happens at a much faster rate.

Comparison between the fermentation of lagers and ales.

Diving a bit deeper, there are several styles of beer, from light pilsners and pale ales to porters and black imperial stouts. The variety of colors and flavors depend mostly on the grains used during the mash, which is the initial process of soaking the milled grains at a specific temperature (or range) to modify the starches and sugars for the yeast to be able to digest. The strain of yeast also contributes to the final flavor, whether it is dry, fruity, or even sour. Taking good care of the yeast is one of the most important parts of creating a great tasting beer.

Brewing terminology

  • Malting: process of germinating and kilning barley to produce usable sugars in the grain
  • Milling: act of grinding the grains to increase surface area and optimize extraction of sugars
  • Mashing: releasing malt sugars by soaking the milled grains in (hot) water, providing wort
  • Wort: the solution of extracted grain sugars
  • Lautering: process of clarifying wort after mashing
  • Sparging: rinsing the used grains to extract the last amount of malt sugars
  • Boiling: clarified wort is boiled, accomplishing sterilization (hops are added in this step)
  • Cooling: wort must be cooled well below body temperature (37 °C) as quickly as possible to avoid infection
  • Pitching: prepared yeast (dry or slurry) is added to the cooled brewed wort, oxygen is introduced
  • Fermenting: the process whereby yeast consumes simple sugars and excretes ethanol and CO2 as major products

Ingredients for a proper beer

These days, beer can contain several different ingredients and still adhere to a style. Barley, oats, wheat, rye, fruit, honey, spices, hops, yeast, water, and more are all components of our contemporary beer culture. However, in Bavaria during the 1500’s, the rules were much more strict. A purity law known as the Reinheitsgebot (1516) stated that beer must only be produced with water, barley, and hops. Any other adjuncts were not allowed, which meant that other grains such as rye and wheat were forbidden to be used in the brewing process. We all know how seriously the Germans take their beer – you only need to visit the Oktoberfest once to understand!

Determination of the bitterness compounds in hops, known as «alpha acids», can be easily determined with Metrohm instrumentation. Check out our brochure for more information:

You may have noticed that yeast was not one of the few ingredients mentioned in the purity law, however it was still essential for the brewing process. The yeast was just harvested at the end of each batch and added into the next, and its propagation from the fermentation process always ensured there was enough at the end each time. Ensuring the health of the yeast is integral to fermentation and the quality of the final product. With proper nutrients, oxygen levels, stable temperatures, and a supply of simple digestible sugars, alcohol contents up to 25% (and even beyond) can be achieved with some yeast strains without distillation (through heating or freezing, as for eisbocks).

Improved quality with analytical testing

Good beers do not make themselves. For larger brewing operations, which rely on consistency in quality and flavor between large batch volumes as well as across different countries, comprehensive analytical testing is the key to success.

Metrohm is well-equipped for this task, offering many solutions for breweries large and small.

Don’t take it from me – listen to one of our customers, Jules Wyss, manager of the Quality Assurance laboratory at Feldschlösschen brewery, the largest brewery in Switzerland.

«I have decided to go with Metrohm, because they are the only ones who are up to such a job at all. They share with us their huge know-how.

I can’t think of any other supplier who would have been able to help me in the same way

Jules Wyss

Manager Quality Assurance Laboratory, Feldschlösschen Getränke AG

Previous solutions failed

For a long time, Jules determined the quality parameters in his beer samples using separate analysis systems: a titrator, HPLC system, alcohol measuring device, and a density meter. These separate measurements involved a huge amount of work: not only the analyses themselves, but also the documentation and archiving of the results all had to be handled separately. Furthermore, Jules often had to contend with unreliable results – depending on the measurement procedure, he had to analyze one sample up to three times in order to obtain an accurate result.

A tailor-made system for Feldschlösschen

Jules’ close collaboration with Metrohm has produced a system that takes care of the majority of the necessary measurements. According to Jules, the system can determine around 90% of the parameters he needs to measure. Jules’ new analysis system combines various analysis techniques: ion chromatography and titration from Metrohm as well as alcohol, density, and color measurement from another manufacturer. They are all controlled by the tiamo titration software. This means that bitterness, citric acid, pH value, alcohol content, density, and color can all be determined by executing a single method in tiamo.

Measurement of the overall water quality as well as downstream analysis of the sanitization process on the bottling line is also possible with Metrohm’s line of Process Analysis instrumentation.

Integrated analytical systems with automated capabilities allow for a «plug and play» determination of a variety of quality parameters for QA/QC analysts in the brewing industry. Sample analysis is streamlined and simplified, and throughput is increased via the automation of time-consuming preparative and data collection steps, which also reduces the chance of human error.

Something to celebrate: The Metrohm 6-pack (2018)

In 2018, Metrohm celebrated its 75 year Jubilee. At this time, I decided to combine my experience as a laboratory analyst as well as a marketing manager to brew a series of six different styles of beer for the company, as a giveaway for customers of our Metrohm Process Analytics brand, for whom I worked at the time. Each batch was brewed to contain precisely 7.5% ABV (alcohol by volume), to resonate with the 75 year anniversary. The array of ales was designed to appeal to a broad audience, featuring a stout, porter, brown ale, red ale, hefeweizen, and an India pale ale (IPA). Each style requires different actions especially during the mashing process, based on the type of grains used and the desired outcome (e.g., flavor balance, mouthfeel, alcohol content).

Bespoke bottle caps featuring the Metrohm logo.
The 6 styles of beers brewed as a special customer giveaway to celebrate the Metrohm 75 year Jubilee.

Using a Metrohm Ion Chromatograph, I analyzed my home tap water for concentrations of major cations and anions to ensure no extra salts were needed to adjust it prior to mashing. After some of the beers were prepared, I tested my colleagues at Metrohm International Headquarters in the IC department, to see if they could determine the difference between two bottles with different ingredients:

Overlaid chromatograms from IC organic acid analysis highlighting the differences between 2 styles of the Metrohm 75 year Jubilee beers.

The IC analysis of organic acids and anions showed a clear difference between the beers, allowing them to determine which sample corresponded to which style, since I did not label them prior to shipping the bottles for analysis. As the milk stout contained added lactose, this peak was very pronounced and a perfect indicator to use.

Metrohm ion chromatography, along with titration, NIRS, and other techniques, allows for reliable, comprehensive beer analysis for all.

In conclusion, I wish you a very happy International Beer Day this Friday. Hopefully this article has illuminated the various ways that beer and other alcoholic beverages can be analytically tested for quality control parameters and more  fast, easy, and reliably with Metrohm instrumentation.

For more information about the beer quality parameters measured at Feldschlösschen brewery, take a look at our article: «In the kingdom of beer The largest brewery in Switzerland gets a made-to-measure system». Cheers!

Read the full article:

«In the kingdom of beer – The largest brewery in Switzerland gets a made-to-measure system»

Post written by Dr. Alyson Lanciki, Scientific Editor (and «chief brewing officer») at Metrohm International Headquarters, Herisau, Switzerland.

The man behind Metrohm: Bertold Suhner

The man behind Metrohm: Bertold Suhner

On April 1 in 1943, Bertold Suhner founded Metrohm, in Herisau, Switzerland. Besides being our founder, he was a scientist, a sportsman, a painter, a pilot, and a philanthropist. We owe him a great company, and we are proud to serve the world with our legendary Swiss made instruments and application know-how – then and now.

Who was Bertold Suhner?

Bertold Suhner is mostly known for founding Metrohm. That makes sense—after all, Metrohm is the second largest employer in the Swiss canton of Appenzell Outer Rhodes and a successful global business. It’s impossible to overstate Metrohm’s importance for the Appenzell region and for analytical chemistry. However, reducing Suhner to Metrohm alone wouldn’t do him justice. His versatile interests and talents made him much more than an engineer, and his dedication to the community and the environment made him much more than the head of a company.

Bertold Suhner, founder of Metrohm.

Suhner was born in Herisau in 1910 as the son of a successful entrepreneur. After finishing school, he left his rural home region for Zurich. Here he studied mechanical engineering at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, which is one of the most renowned universities in Switzerland and in the world. But Suhner never lost the connection to his hometown Herisau. So, after having graduated, he returned to take up work at his father’s company. After some years, when Suhner was 33, he decided to start his own business. In 1943, Suhner and his friend Willi Studer founded Metrohm. Together with their team, they planned to manufacture measuring devices for high-frequency engineering and telecommunications.

Metrohm Headquarters in Herisau, Switzerland: 1943 and today.

A stoic leader

Suhner’s leadership style was paternalistic: though always open to ideas and ready to lend an ear, it was still he who made the final decisions. Not everyone always agreed with Suhner, including his co-founder Willi Studer. The two friends did not choose an easy moment in history to found their company; World War II was raging, and both money and materials were scarce. But the employees supported the company, and were eager to join forces and create something meaningful. Perhaps it was this test of stamina during the initial difficult years which laid the foundation stone for the later success of the company.

When the company debts exceeded the share capital by multiple times in 1947, Suhner decided to take steps to rationalize the company. Despite the difficult situation, he refused to take out further loans; the company would have to sink or swim on its own merits. As a matter of principle, Suhner refused to be dependent on banks. This dispute caused Willi Studer to leave the company after just four years, but it also established the sustainable business philosophy that is still alive at Metrohm today.

 

Willi Studer, co-founder of Metrohm.

Belief turns into success

Bertold Suhner, however, continued to believe that the company had a chance of succeeding. He took over the management of the company on his own, and shaped it according to his own vision. From the start, the company focused on organic growth rather than quick profits. Business strategies were never aligned to peak periods; instead, the company endeavored to grow slowly but surely. «My aim was always to keep the size of the company manageable, and create a solid base rather than just growing regardless of cost,» Suhner said. Over the course of its nearly 77-year history, this strategy is what has helped Metrohm to survive three recession periods.

The Metrohm workforce in 1953. Today, we have grown from a handful in the Appenzell region to thousands of employees around the globe.

Bertold Suhner responded to the trust demonstrated by his workforce by holding them in exceptionally high esteem: right from the start, he regarded them as more than mere employees. In 1968, when the company celebrated its 25th anniversary, Suhner wrote a text which summarized how he viewed his team:

«A single person can never take full credit for making a company successful. It is always teamwork that leads to success.»

Bertold Suhner

Founder, Metrohm AG

The Metrohm Foundation

Suhner retired from the operational management of Metrohm in 1968. However, he remained active in the background for several years. At the age of 72, Bertold Suhner stepped down from his position as CEO of Metrohm. However, he wanted to ensure that the company continued to exist in line with his vision; Metrohm was to remain an Appenzell-based company, and never lose its innovative spirit by merging or being sold off to a large corporation. As Suhner had no children, he needed to find another way to safeguard the future of the company.

When he retired completely from Metrohm in 1982, he founded the «Metrohm Foundation» together with his business partners Hans Winzeler and Lorenz Kuhn. All company shares were then transferred to the nonprofit foundation. By initiating the Metrohm Foundation, Suhner was able to ensure Metrohm’s independence even after his resignation, while at the same time doing good for the local community. No longer dependent on profit-hungry shareholders and the pressure they exert, this enabled Metrohm to focus on its values and high quality standards – particularly with regard to the way in which people are treated.

Bertold Suhner (left) with Lorenz Kuhn, then head of marketing and distribution at Metrohm.

When the nonprofit Metrohm Foundation was created, supporting cultural and community projects became a fixture in the company: as sole shareholder of the Metrohm Group, the Metrohm Foundation is able to invest dividends in community projects. The choice of projects supported by the Foundation reflects the strong roots of the company in Eastern Switzerland. Today, the Foundation is one of the most important funding institutions for educational, cultural, and community projects. Amongst other things, it funds a chair for «New Materials» at Zurich University for Applied Sciences, and also supports the Association of Swiss Science Olympiads.

A Jack of All Trades

Despite his dedication to Metrohm, Suhner always found time to pursue other interests, and he had many of them. He may have been an engineer by profession, but his heart always beat for the nature and the natural sciences. He spent a lot of time in the mountains, mountaineering and skiing—both cross-country and alpine. Suhner also taught himself to play the organ and to paint. Matching his strong bond with nature, he painted landscapes in watercolors and in oil.

Perhaps it was these activities that ultimately defined him—much more than his academic achievements or his role at Metrohm. Even with regard to hiring new employees, he said:

«When I am faced with the task of selecting an employee, I am far more interested in his human qualities than in his technical knowledge. The hobby he pursues in his leisure hours is more important to me than what sort of education he enjoyed or what his testimonials contain. Of course specialized knowledge is essential, especially in a technical concern, but it is useless if it is not allied to human qualities.»

Bertold Suhner

Founder, Metrohm AG

After stepping down as the CEO of Metrohm, Suhner discovered his passion for mineralogy. This had started out as a collection of minerals and gemstones, but ultimately became his second career. Suhner’s thirst for knowledge made him take his new «hobby» so far that, at the age of 73, he obtained a Ph.D. from the University of Basel for his dissertation on the topic of infrared spectroscopy in mineralogy.

The philanthropist and environmentalist

Suhner always had strong ties to his hometown, Herisau, and to the Appenzell region at large. After Metrohm’s breakthrough, he had the financial means to give back to his home region. Cultural, environmental, and nonprofit causes could always count on his support. He even initiated a foundation for cultural purposes, the Bertold Suhner Foundation.

In this period of his life, Suhner became more and more convinced that humankind was causing damage to nature that was beyond repair. He tried to stop this and became active in the protection of nature. He again initiated a foundation specifically for his new cause: the Bertold Suhner Foundation for Nature, Animal, and Landscape Protection.

It’s not really surprising that Suhner pursued nature conservation with the same vigor that he had applied to all of his earlier undertakings, including Metrohm. But his unwillingness to compromise in environmental questions drove a wedge between Suhner and many of his friends and former colleagues, in particular those from political and business circles. In 1988, Suhner died from his worsening asthma at age 78. At that point, he was largely socially isolated.

Bertold Suhner: the person

Suhner never strove for financial wealth, recognition, or popularity. He always stuck to his principles, even if they were inconvenient, uncomfortable, or unpopular. You could call him a hardliner. But even though this sounds as though Suhner was fighting against the community, the contrary was the case: he was a dedicated philanthropist and environmentalist. He always tried to do what was best for society and for the environment.

What set him apart from others was that he didn’t shy away when this became uncomfortable.

Bertold Suhner (1910–1988).

Bertold Suhner built Metrohm around his ideas of independence and sustainability, and despite his departure from the company nearly 30 years ago, I still see Metrohm as a microcosm that is ruled by his values. Suhner’s strong values and his refusal to compromise didn’t always win him popularity prizes. But it’s probably safe to say that, without them, Metrohm wouldn’t be where it is now, as one of the world’s most trusted manufacturers of high-precision instruments for chemical analysis.

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Post written by Dr. Alyson Lanciki, Scientific Editor at Metrohm International Headquarters, Herisau, Switzerland. Primary research and content contribution done by Stephanie Kappes.