Oct 13, 2015


By Grant Goad

The craft brew movement is booming. According to the Brewers Association, a national trade group, the overall craft beer market in the U.S. reached $19.6 billion in 2014, with nearly 22 million barrels representing 11% of the overall market.

And common lab equipment has played a critical role.

The fermentation tank isn’t the only piece of equipment you’ll find at a modern brewery. Microscopes, hydrometers, and even flow cytometers play an integral part in the brewing of great beer.

In order to produce a consistent, flavorful product, brewers use a variety of scientific tools to maintain quality across batches.

Quality Control in Brewing—Lab Equipment

Beer begins life as a mixture of grain, water, and hops known as wort (pronounced “wert”). Yeast is then added, which excretes alcohol as it eats the sugars in the grain. Hops are added later for flavor.

Testing the ingredients, wort, and beer throughout the brewing process—from counting cells in yeast to measuring dissolved oxygen in beer—is the only way to ensure a quality product.

The following instruments make up the backbone of the brewer’s QC lab (in alphabetical order):

Alcohol meter—Larger craft breweries may use a dedicated alcohol meter to measure the alcohol content of their beer.  An example is the Alex 500from Anton Paar, a lab-grade analyzer that measures alcohol content, calories, the degree of fermentation, and other parameters. The instrument is made specifically for brewers.

Analytical balance—In conjunction with a malt sieve screen, the analytical balance is used to weigh the filtered malt and determine its consistency, which can affect a beer’s flavor and quality.

See our current selection of used analytical balances. >

Dissolved oxygen (DO) meter—While oxygen is important to the initial brewing process, excess oxygen levels in the final product can ruin a beer’s flavor and reduce shelf life.

View our current selection of used dissolved oxygen meters. >

Flow cytometer—Flow cytometry is a fast and accurate method for counting cells in yeast. While new flow cytometers can be expensive, buying used can be a good option for brewers on a budget.

See our current selection of high-quality used flow cytometers. >

Hemocytometer—The hemocytometer is a glass slide marked with gridlines that allow for cell counting. It’s used in conjunction with a microscope and cell-staining dyes to count live vs dead cells and determine yeast health.

Hydrometer—The hydrometer is used to measure the gravity, or the density compared to water, of the wort. This helps to determine if the fermentation process is occurring at the desired rate.

View our current selection of used hydrometers. >

Microscope—Microscopes are used, in conjunction with a hemocytometer and cell-staining dyes, to count live vs dead cells in yeast.

View our current selection of high-quality used microscopes. >

pH meter—The pH meter is used to check the pH of water used to brew beer, wort pH, and the pH of the beer itself. Changes in beer’s pH can indicate the presence of bacteria, which can affect flavor, and even spoil the beer.

View our current selection of used pH meters. >

Shaker—Along with an Erlenmeyer flask, the shaker is used to agitate wort and yeast. Gravities of the results are taken to determine when fermentation should finish, ensuring that the process isn’t stopped before all sugars are consumed.

View our current selection of used shakers. >

For more information on craft brewing, take a moment to visit the Brewers Association website.

Check out this article on setting up a craft brewery quality assurance program.