Most lab people born in a year beginning with “19” will have encountered lab equipment with a sprawling footprint or testing procedures where preparation steps seemed to go on forever. Thankfully these days equipment is getting smaller, sample prep is getting simpler, and time spent in the lab is increasingly efficient. Alcohol testing for beer, more specifically craft beer can still be painful and slow, which is why I jumped at the chance to trial FOSS’s new beer analyser; The BeerFOSSTM FT Go.

It was 2017 when I attended BrewCon in Adelaide that Jon Seltin of Bricklane Brewing pulled me aside with a couple of other industry QA people and suggested over a pint or two that we collaborate on a proficiency program specifically aimed at Craft Beer. After all, the only ones in existence at the time were expensive and focused on mass produced beers like Stella Artois and John Smiths. Laboratory testing in the craft industry threw up challenges that many of the macro brewers didn’t encounter either due to the types of beers they produced or their bulging QA budgets.

Our industry dry-hopped their beers, produced small batches and in some cases barely filtered. The majority were not pasteurised, and still aren’t. When it came to alcohol measurement most independent small brewers got by with a hydrometer and medium breweries had to make the call between a semi-affordable digital density meter or an expensive bench top density meter and analyser.

Advances in affordable alcohol measurement…..

In the early years of our newly formed craft beer proficiency scheme, BIRA , more affordable alcohol testing options became available. But when it came to Craft, it still wasn’t a straightforward lab process. Our penchant for producing hazy beers, beers with fruit, and even more recently craft zero-alc beers continued to make the business of alcohol measurement complicated and sometimes convoluted. Cue the BeerFOSS…

FOSS have had a notable presence in wine industry laboratories for a long time and now they’ve decided to join the beer measurement party!

What interested me in the BeerFOSS?

  • It’s a mid-priced option for alcohol measurement: Affordability is a key issue for the small to medium brewery and historically the number of options within this cost bracket have been very limited.
  • The BeerFOSS uses FTIR (Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy): this technology is a kind of “cousin” if you like to the NIR (Near-Infrared Spectroscopy) technology used in many benchtop analysers. FTIR uses a wider range of infrared light (2500-25,000nm) compared to NIR (0-2500nm). This means the ability to better identify and differentiate between different types of molecules including alcohols which can be directly measured.
  • The BeerFOSS requires NO filtration and NO de-gassing: One of the major selling points for the BeerFOSS is that it claims that samples from all stages of brewing; wort through to package, do not require filtration or degassing. A process that can be both time consuming and fiddly for breweries.
  • The BeerFOSS also measures pH, Real Extract and Calories: Ok, this one got me excited. When I saw this I immediately thought “This has to make the daily gravs easier” and with the impending FSANZ mandates to labelling alcoholic beverages with energy and carbohydrates, being able to measure kCal has to be an advantage.
  • The BeerFOSS is suitable for measuring LO-NO Beers: Currently there isn’t an affordable or low prep method for measuring low alcohol beers. The BeerFOSS can measure down to 0.5% abv.

The Trial….

The BeerFOSS demo unit was delivered end of November 2023, I arranged with a local WA medium sized brewery to base the unit at their site so they could use it in their day-to-day operations and give me their thoughts.

I set it up and had my first test running in under an hour. Interestingly, the unit has two reservoirs inside its interior for distilled water and cleaning solution. Turns out the BeerFOSS is a very self-sufficient little unit. It cleans itself and also performs zeros automatically. At the brewery we were trialling at, the reservoirs were around 50% full after a full week brewing and packing, so it was a pretty low maintenance experience. The BeerFOSS has a waste tube which directs post-testing liquid to a handy securely lidded 2L container.

BeerFoss

The testing was pretty straight forward, as advertised there was no degassing. The unit was supplied with little plastic lidded containers (that reminded me of old camera film containers). These could be used with a small plastic re-usable filter insert for ferments and worts, no waiting, you just pop it in and you’re ready to go. You would really have to be trying hard to mess up testing a sample on this piece of equipment.

The unit is completely touchscreen and as easy to navigate as an Apple. If you’re the kind of person who generally chucks away the manual and “figures out” how things work, you’ll have no issues navigating this unit. The BeerFOSS is pretty direct with it’s on-screen messaging when it needs a zero or a clean. There’s a very well laid out testing menu where you select the brewing stage your testing i.e. wort, ferment, beer and even seltzer.

You can enter a sample name against your test so you can re-visit your results easily if you need to. Plus if you’re the type of Quality Manager/ Head Brewer who likes to check everything outside of work hours (no judgement here; it takes a type A to recognise a type A) then you can actually hook the BeerFOSS up to WIFI and download your results.

So, by now you’re probably wondering how long the test took from start to finish………3:18 minutes on the dot, pretty much every time over the 80 samples I ran. Just enough time for me to crack the can for the next sample and record down it’s details.

Putting BeerFOSS Through its Paces….

The biggest question I wanted to answer about the BeerFOSS was can it really:

  1. Handle all styles of craft beer
  2. With Zero degassing
  3. With no lengthy filtration
  4. And deliver an accurate pH results.

To start the ball rolling I called on a few of WA’s best and most diverse breweries, a non-alc producer in the eastern states and the team at BIRA. Resulting in a collection of 34 different products ranging from non-alc pale ales through to 11% imperial stouts. I included double hazy IPAs, fruited sours, mango beers and a German style I’d not heard of up until this point.

I prepared every sample according to the FOSS instructions: no degassing and inserting the re-usable filter into the sample container if there was a likelihood of pulp or large particulates.

BeerFOSS

Right from the outset the BeerFOSS demonstrated excellent repeatability, producing identical results for samples analysed multiple times. This consistency remained when samples were re-analysed after a week.

Compared with the common methods used in our industry such as high accuracy benchtop analyser, mid-priced NIR analysers and calculation using digital density meters the BeerFOSS exhibited low deviation.

Additionally, analysis of BIRA samples yielded results within the acceptable range.

The Good, the Not-So-Good, and the Surprising ….

Spoiler alert: I really liked the BeerFOSS. I like the price; I like the simplicity, I like waiting only 3:18mins for my results, and I especially like the integrated low maintenance aspect of it. I can also tell you that the brewers who used it during the month-long trial also loved it.

Whilst the financial argument for buying one of these units is going to vary brewery to brewery here are the things I see as positives when it comes to return on investment:

  • Less time preparing and measuring alcohol, extract, and pH = more time adding value in the brewery,
  • Accuracy and repeatability regardless of style and abv,
  • Low maintenance, low footprint, low consumables, and minimal servicing,
  • Pretty much anybody can use it issue free,
  • Wi-Fi enabled with good data management and traceability.

Some potential barriers could be:

  • Samples should be between 15-20°C for reliable accuracy,
  • No sample carousel means each sample must be manually loaded and unloaded,
  • To buy this unit requires a reasonable chunk of money compared to a density meter and pH meter (however from a glass half full perspective it’s around half to two thirds cheaper than a high accuracy benchtop unit),
  • It is a benchtop unit, it needs to be located in permanent spot and not transported around the brewery. Somewhere dry, flat and out of direct sunlight is suitable, which doesn’t limit breweries too much.

In conclusion, if you’re thinking about taking the leap and upgrading to an analyser it’s unlikely that you’ll be disappointed with the BeerFOSS. I’m thrilled that the industry has a mid-price option that overcomes all the challenges associated with testing craft beer. I can’t wait to see where FOSS goes next with this unit.

For more information about BeerFOSS in Australia you can contact:

Richard Speight at FOSS

Mobile:
E-mail:
 +61 (0)456 861 155
rspeight@foss.com.au

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