The Brewers Association (BA) Quality Subcommittee created the Quality Priority Pyramid to provide a broad overview of the structure of a formal quality program. The pyramid is a visual representation of essential features and the order in which they should be put into practice. Items at the base are a quality program’s foundation and should be employed first. Items towards the top should be approached after the foundation has been established. The following are details about each tier of the pyramid.
Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs)
GMPs are the minimum standards that breweries are required to implement by law. These standards must be defined and established before any beer is brewed. The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) requires that records be kept for incoming materials and that their use throughout production is traceable. Documentation is critical for quality control and assurance (QC/QA), because it allows comparison of practices to standards. Written records identify how to correct processes that do not follow GMPs. These areas should be evaluated in a brewery’s GMPs:
- Plant and Grounds
- Equipment and Utensils
- Sanitary Facilities and Controls
- Sanitary Operations
- Process and Controls
The quality subcommittee compiled a checklist, organized by the above categories and tailored to the craft brewery environment, entitled Good Manufacturing Practices for Craft Brewers.
Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP)
From the U.S. Food and Drug Administration: “HACCP is a management system in which food safety is addressed through the analysis and control of biological, chemical, and physical hazards from raw material production, procurement and handling, to manufacturing, distribution and consumption of the finished product.” HACCP implementation is not currently mandated for breweries, but its concepts are critical to ensure that the production of beer will not harm consumers. Identify points of potential contamination throughout the brewery and establish procedures to control them. As part of the analysis, consider the following:
- Identify critical control points (CCPs)
- Establish limits of CCPs
- Establish a corrective action plan
- Keep detailed records
- Glass quality
- Glass inclusion during packaging
- Package explosion due to under-attenuation
- Caustic or other chemical inclusion
Action plan for a recall
- Where is the beer?
- How do you get it back?
- What do you do with it?
Brewing quality beer consistently does not happen by accident. Setting clear standards for the traits of a particular beer is integral to a quality program. These will include recipe, intended flavors and aromas and physical attributes of the final product. Sophisticated analytical equipment can be helpful, but is not necessary. Identify the parameters you can measure and set standards accordingly. What cannot be measured with equipment should be analyzed by an in-house sensory program.
Process Control and Analysis
Establish Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for key production processes. SOPs should be treated as living documents and updated regularly for accuracy. Each SOP should have a corresponding checklist to help operators achieve process consistency and completeness in their daily work. Experienced staff should review SOPs and checklists to verify execution and confirm document relevance. Establish SOPs for:
- Cleaning and sanitation
- Brewhouse (wort production)
- Maturation and conditioning
- Laboratory procedures
Analysis should be done routinely to verify that products are within set parameters. Process control points should be defined and action plans should be implemented to correct deviations from standards. Physical and microbiological analysis should be done to verify process control. If in-house equipment or skills are insufficient, consider outsourcing analysis to an independent laboratory.
Shelf Life and Stability
After thorough methods for the first four levels of the pyramid are established, managers and operators should focus on shelf life and stability. Once standards are set by the quality program, most daily work ensures product quality in the following areas:
- Reducing oxygen ingress
- Microbiological stability
- Haze control and colloidal stability
- Flavor stability
- Product freshness
Preventative Maintenance and Special Projects
Once a solid quality program is established, breweries can focus on preventative maintenance and special projects. The finest quality programs in the world have robust maintenance plans and project management procedures. Scheduling maintenance will result in higher quality processes and reduced down-time. Consider scheduling:
Replacement of gaskets and seals in
- Fermenters and brite tanks
- Packaging equipment
Breweries of every size need to establish a quality program and set priorities within that program. For an in-depth guide to establishing a quality program and an example quality manual, see Quality Management: Essential Planning for Breweries.