Lager in the laboratory
MSU Denver’s Beer Industry Labs allow craft brewers to test new recipes while providing students with industry-relevant experience.
James Crank, brew master at Big Rapids, Michigan’s Cranker’s Brewery, found himself in a predicament last year: He needed to lose weight, but he loves beer.
He changed his lifestyle and committed to the ketogenic diet, which focuses on low-carbohydrate, high-fat foods to boost the body’s metabolism. As part of his commitment, he set out to brew a low-carb, low-calorie India Pale Ale.
Craft brewer Crank needed a laboratory that could test his creation to verify its nutritional content so he could inform health-conscious beer drinkers it was truly a “no regrets or guilt” IPA.
Then, Crank learned about Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Beer Industry Labs’ Quality Analysis and Quality Control Lab, a state-of-the-art facility operated by Federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau-certified scientists. The lab tested his beer and delivered the data required to launch Cranker’s Brewery Keto IPA with key stats displayed proudly on the labels of its 12-ounce bottles: 7.2% alcohol by volume, 60 International Bitterness Units, 3.3 grams of carbs and 156 calories with no added sweeteners, extracts or corn syrup.
“These people are true professionals. They know what they’re doing,” Crank said of the QA/QC Lab. “They’re quick, they’re efficient, and they’re a real pleasure to work with.”
Housed in MSU Denver’s School of Hospitality, the Beer Industry Program’s $3.7 million Beer Industry Labs include the new QA/QC Lab, which allows brewers, vintners and other beverage makers to test their products for alcohol content, nutritional content, water quality and other ingredients. Combined with the University’s Sensory Analysis Lab, it can also provide brewers with insights into a product’s flavor profile.
The QA/QC Lab is the latest addition to MSU Denver’s vanguard Beer Industry Program, which provides students with the comprehensive tools they need to navigate the modern beer-brewing landscape at any level or in any state.
“(Beverage analysis) can get cost-prohibitive pretty quickly,” said Scott Kerkmans, director of MSU Denver’s Beer Industry Program. “With this setup, brewers don’t have to sink hundreds of thousands of dollars into equipment and hiring of chemists or microbiologists.”
The lab was launched last April at the Craft Brewers Conference & BrewExpo America as part of a promotion for its partnership with the Siebel Institute of Technology, a Chicago-based vocational school that has educated brewers for more than 140 years. As part of the partnership, Siebel refers its students and alumni to MSU Denver for testing services.
As the QA/QC Lab adds brewery clients from Colorado and beyond, the University earns revenue for lab services and students gain critical industry experience, said MSU Denver Beverage Analysis Lab Manager Katie Strain. Students routinely run commercial samples as part of the Beer Industry Program curriculum, she said, and as the lab grows, their participation is ramping up.
“We’re unique in that we offer high-quality analytical services, but it also benefits the students,” she said. “I think that’s what separates us from other labs in the state. And our location on a college campus provides a lot of great resources like the Chemistry Department.”
Enter chemistry whiz Ethan Tsai, a beer-brewing operations professor and acting director of quality control for Tivoli Brewing Co., an MSU Denver industry partner that brews its award-winning suds in an on-campus, 30-barrel brewhouse. Tsai left the school’s Chemistry Department to teach in the Beer Industry Program and work alongside Strain in the QA/QC Lab, which can help beverage entrepreneurs understand where there may be a flaw in their product, he said.
“We want to be able to have that type of control over the consistency of product where it is boring. When we do our jobs well, it’s boring as hell,” Tsai said.
Tivoli Brewing Co. uses MSU Denver’s QA/QC Lab on a daily basis, said Stephanie Rayman, Tivoli Brewing Co. general manager and director of marketing.
“It’s a great resource – it’s nice having (the lab) across from us. It really controls the quality of our beer that we’re putting out on the market,” she said.
The QC/QA Lab is also open to students and faculty who may want to test out their own home-brew creations. Students get a 25% discount on lab services, while faculty members get 10% off.
The lab’s successes with breweries such as Cranker’s underscore the incredible, unique hub of innovation and experiential learning that the Beer Industry Program is brewing, Tsai said.
“We have a program that is a phenomenal incubator for not just brewers but any people who want to be involved in the craft-beverage community,” he said. “I’m really excited and proud of the work all of our faculty does to provide students with this kind of incredible opportunity.”