This Beer Tech’s For You
How Technology is Changing Brewing Operations
Do you enjoy a fresh, perfectly chilled brew on a warm summer day, with just the right amount of foam and carbonation? You’re not alone—beer is by far the most popular alcohol beverage in the U.S., with 6.4 billion gallons consumed each year. This satisfying beverage has taken a long road of evolution to be the well-rounded liquid filling your glass. Whether you are crafting your own, imbibing in local microbrews or have a favorite major brand, Big Data, Machine Learning, Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are transforming the face of brewing for operations of all sizes.
Beer is one of the oldest alcoholic beverages known, with evidence dating back 9000 years to the Middle East (along with grape wine of the region), and rice wine in China. Historically, women around the globe were the primary beer makers, until industrialization took over. It was a skill my German grandmother brought with her to the US. from “the old country.” Her home brewing activities were stifled a bit when she inadvertently blew up her basement auxiliary kitchen in the 60s, bottling the lager too early in the fermenting process. Thankfully, no one got hurt, but the lower level of the home never lost its slightly hoppy aroma. Home brewing is still a popular hobby today.
Small batch artisanal brewing companies would barrel into the bar and retail scene, finding a following among home brewers and beer connoisseurs. These microbreweries seemed to pop up everywhere in the U.S. during the 1970s.
Industry technology has evolved vastly over the past few decades, supporting the smallest personal or craft beer operation to the largest commercial brewery. Yet brewing remains a complex process, some attributing to an art form, some emphasizing science and technology.
Innovations in Homebrewing
Have you thought about learning to brew your own beer? In the last decade, there have been several notable technology advances in home beer brewing. Here are a few examples:
- Automated Brewing Systems: Automated brewing systems have gained popularity among home brewers, simplifying the brewing process and ensuring consistency. These systems typically feature temperature controls, timers, and programmable settings to automate various stages of brewing. One example is the BeerDroid from Brewart, which allows users to create pub quality beer at home at the touch of a button. The company also sells a Brewflow keg and dispense system that doesn’t require CO2.
- Smart technology: The introduction of Bluetooth-enabled connected brewing devices enables users to monitor and control the brewing process remotely through mobile apps. All-in-one brewing systems, like the Grainfather, use smart technology in a compact and integrated solution for home brewing, allowing for a lot of customization over fully automated systems.
- Electric Brewing Systems: For those that want more control of their recipes, electric brewing systems might be a good option. They still have ease of use and efficiency, but allow brewers to select and purchase their grains from anywhere. Systems use electric heating elements to warm the brewing vessel, eliminating the need for open flames or gas burners. The Anvil Foundry Brewing System is one electric brewing system that has garnered positive reviews. Improved temperature control, crucial for achieving desired flavors and fermentation results, comes with an Anvil system, but stand-alone devices. like the Tilt Hydrometer, can also be incorporated into a system a home brewer puts together themselves.
Friends express many reasons for making their own beer. Part is because it’s a fun hobby, applying some experimentation and creativity, with a frosty reward at the end. Probably the most significant is the taste of a fresh small batch of beer that a home brewer has taken time to perfect. My friend Dan makes a “Black and Dan,” his take on a bartender’s Black and Tan. He pours a nutty home-made amber ale in the bottom of the glass, and floats a rich dark stout on top. My brain thinks the brew is like autumn, a dessert and a holiday combined. It’s also very social to invite friends over to a home beer tasting, and you’ll have plenty of brew on hand to stave off supply chain shortages, a quarantine or zombie apocalypse. After purchasing the equipment, you’ll save money too, making a fine quality beer for as little as 66 cents a glass.
Do you know the top beer manufacturers in the world? Here are the five largest beer companies, their major brands and corporate base of operations. Keep them in mind for your next trivia night!
- Anheuser-Busch InBev, (Budweiser, Bud Light, Corona, Stella Artois and others), Belgium
- Heineken (Heineken, Amstel, Tecate, Red Stripe and others), Netherlands
- China Resources Snow Breweries (Snow), Hong Kong
- Carlsberg (Carlsberg, Kronenbourg and 140 other brands), Denmark
- Molson Coors (Molson, Coors, Miller and 90 other brands), United States
Selling beer in today’s hyper-competitive market presents many challenges for medium and large beer manufacturers, including supply chain, production and other operational issues. Fortunately, large operations can deploy advanced technology solutions, such as AI, Machine Learning, IoT and Big Data.
The pandemic was not the only time manufacturers have experienced supply chain issues. Climate change, technological advancements, and changing consumer preferences can also reshape beer supply chains. Brewery software and innovative IoT technologies assist in better inventory management, quality control, and delivery.
AI and Machine Learning have made significant contributions to efficiency and effectiveness of breweries. AI improves beer production, enabling customization of alcohol content, flavor, color, aroma, and product development more efficiently and rapidly.
According to MIT, Machine Learning is a subfield of artificial intelligence that gives computers the ability to learn without explicitly being programmed. In one example, this technology was applied creatively to the end goal of beer manufacturing: consumption. In analyzing biometric data collected by video surveillance of people watching beer being poured, AI and Machine Learning accurately predicted which beer a customer would prefer before they tasted it.
Carlsberg and Microsoft joined forces on the “Beer Fingerprinting Project,” using machine learning to map and predict beer flavors based on ingredient characteristics, reducing beer development time. Sugar Creek Brewing Company partnered with IBM to optimize its beer production system using AI.
Plant automation, enhanced by machine learning, is desirable in the brewing sector for product development because of its speed, efficiency, and consistency. Breweries incorporate the latest IoT technologies, such as RDIF tagging, GPS shipment tracking, programmable logic controllers, and sensors to automate beer production. With real-time monitoring and Big Data-driven decision-making, IoT drives efficiency, productivity, quality, and safety for large manufacturing operations.
The Craft Beer Industry
Even though beer from medium to large manufacturers dominate store shelves and bar taps, microbreweries focus on the niche of unique craft beverage experiences created through small, flavorful batches, often with high alcohol content.
Software plays a significant role in the craft beer industry’s evolution, as manufacturing processes continue to advance. Using AI and machine learning, software such as IntelligentX understands individual preferences and matches them with supply chain and production constraints to identify people with similar tastes. The software’s Automated Brewing Intelligence algorithm, enabled the creation of the world’s first AI-brewed beer.
Microbreweries must also focus on their supply chain issues, keeping track of and understanding when and how much each component will be available. AI and Big Data analytics costs have come down, making them affordable for smaller operations. This enables better tracking, helping to evaluate and interpret essential data to reduce overall beer production costs.
More technology advances are becoming available at a smaller scale, helping with everything from production and product tracking to increasing efficiencies and safety in smaller brewery operations.