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Science Friday: Meet the Ninkasi Quality Team

Jul 10, 2015 Comments (0) Science Friday: Meet the Ninkasi Quality Team

We're going to kick off Science Friday with findings from a completely unscientific, nonexistent poll:

100% of craft beer fans do not enjoy poor quality beer.

While we haven't technically conducted the research behind this assertion, we feel completely confident standing behind this statement. Especially as very big craft beer fans ourselves.

So, we've established that no one wants bad beer. Great, let's all just brew good beer! Problem solved, right? 

Wrong. You see, the tricky thing with quality and beer, is that brewing high quality beer is just one small part of ensuring that the highest quality beer actually reaches all of you craft beer fans. There are many factors that go into this: ingredients, consistency, storage, light, and dozens and dozens of tests (to name a few). Which is why we assembled an entire team of science and beer rockstars to focus on one thing and one thing only: QUALITY.   

We'll spend a lot of time with these guys and gal on the blog, filling you in on the work they do and what you can do as a consumer to make sure you're getting a QUALITY brew, but first we want to introduce you to our Quality Team! 

Ben, the Fearless Leader

Educational background: I started out as an agriculture major at Virginia Tech when I soon realized not growing up in FFA made it tough for me excel. That and the birth of craft beer that is.

Beer background: I started out twenty years ago stacking kegs at a small brewery in Baltimore after graduating with my Bachelor’s in chemistry. Since then I have been in many roles in the industry, in addition to cellar and quality manager, including: Microbiologist, New Product Development, R&D Chemist and Maltster.

What made you want to work at Ninkasi? My friends in California and Oregon were raving about Tricerahops and how it’s the best beer out of Oregon. I was also hoping to get out to this “beer mecca”. When I came to visit the first time, I knew this brewery is where I wanted to be. It was a chance for me to use tools I had previously developed and learn some fresh lessons from the talented people here.

What exactly do you do on the Quality Team? I'm the Quality Manager. Which means, when I'm not in meetings, I'm usually doing a lot of data analysis and problem solving on quality related issue on anything from pallet wrap problems to off flavors in the beer itself. I also moonlight as the lab’s dishwasher. This is important because it satisfies my compulsiveness ;)

Why do you love spending every day making sure beer drinkers have the highest quality brew in front of them? Because I know firsthand that the best thing at the end of a long day of work is a wonderfully made craft beer. Conversely, I know that the biggest letdown could be if that beer is not what you were expecting. If I can help prevent this from happening ever, then I have done my job.

Highlight of working in craft beer: Every time I realize that I get paid to do what I absolutely love doing.

Three words to describe the Ninkasi quality team: Earnest Dedicated Skilled

If you could have any super power, you’d choose: Alchemy: turning anything into liquid gold (beer).

In the next life, you’re coming back as a piece of lab/sensory/brewing equipment, it would be: That’s easy, a fermenter. The magic that happens in those things is almost supernatural. To be able to be able to contain the process of fermentation day in and day out would be awesome.

Best beer you drank this past week: BOSS HOP!!!

Where can we find you when you’re not at the brewery? I’d either be out hiking or running or at home fanning my pregnant wife to keep her cool in this brutal summer heat.

We’ll dive deep into plenty of quality content in the future, but what’s one quick quality tip for craft beer fans? Be aware of your conditions so you know what to expect. Are you buying out of the cooler or off a dusty shelf? What is the code date/shelf life? Also, hype and price don’t compare to quality and freshness.

 Jared, the Sensory Champ

Educational background: B.S. Mathematics, B.S. Food Science and Technology, Chemistry minor all from Oregon State University.

 Beer background: Worked in the brewing lab at OSU while in school, after graduation did a short stint at Big Boss Brewing in Raleigh, NC then did some time in the lab/sensory at Firestone Walker before coming to Ninkasi.

 What made you want to work at Ninkasi? My appreciation for beer grew with the company.  While at OSU I was drinking Ninkasi shortly after they first started making beer.  I drank the beer regularly before leaving the state but always kept tabs on what they were doing as a company and the products they were putting out.

What exactly do you do on the Quality Team? I'm the Sensory Technician. Which is important because there are a lot of compounds you can measure in beer, but there are also a lot of compounds that you can't measure that greatly affect flavor and taste. And the only way to make sure the beer still tastes and smells great is to have a group of people sample it. 

Why do you love spending every day making sure beer drinkers have the highest quality brew in front of them?  Beer is one of those things that can either enhance or detract from almost any experience.  A subpar beer can taint a good meal and distract from an engaging conversation.  An amazing beer, however, can make a good meal great and can spur conversation and sharing of beers.

 Highlight of working in craft beer:  The people and community.  I have made many life-long friends across the country working in beer.  There are not very many other industries where sharing a workplace or meeting at a conference can turn into that kind of friendship.

Three words to describe the Ninkasi quality team:  Caring, sassy scamps.

If you could have any super power, you’d choose: Teleportation.

In the next life, you’re coming back as a piece of lab/sensory/brewing equipment, it would be: Probably a GC/MS or HPLC or any sort of chromatographic analysis machine (editor's note: we didn't understand those words either, material for a future blog post!).  They have an enviable ability to separate compounds in beer (even those in extremely small amounts) and identify and quantify them.  That would be pretty awesome.

Best beer you drank this past week: Crooked Stave – Petite Sour

Where can we find you when you’re not at the brewery? Most likely in my garden or out having a beer somewhere.

Oregon is a freakin' awesome place to work and play because:  The weather is wonderful (even when it is raining) and there aren’t many places you can go from home to the coast to the mountains to the desert and back home in one day.

We’ll dive deep into plenty of quality content in the future, but what’s one quick quality tip for craft beer fans? Check the code date!  Almost all craft beer has a code date stamped somewhere on the bottle, can, or case.  Make sure you are buying the freshest beer possible and buying/keeping it cold!

Shannon, the Lab Ninja

Educational background: BS in Nutrition from Illinois State University; MS in Food Science/Nutrition from University of Illinois; Certificate in Professional Brewing Science from South College, Knoxville, TN.

Beer background: Tasting Room Server at Triptych Brewing in Champaign, IL. Brewing apprenticeship at Saw Works Brewing in Knoxville, TN. Brewing Assistant at Highland Brewing in Asheville, NC. I worked mainly on the 3 bbl pilot brewing system at Highland making small batch beer.

What made you want to work at Ninkasi? Ninkasi has a great reputation even in the Midwest and East coast where it is very rare to find! I like Ninkasi’s appreciation of big, hoppy beers and dedication to making unique one-off beers that keep you coming back for more. I respect that the company leaders are very involved in the local community. Ninkasi also offers more employee benefits and perks than most craft breweries.

What exactly do you do on the Quality Team? My role is of the QA/QC Chemist which means I do most of the analytical work. My main responsibility is to ensure that our beers are within target on things like ABV, Bitterness Units, Color, pH, DO, and CO2.

Why do you love spending every day making sure beer drinkers have the highest quality brew in front of them? As a craft beer lover, I know firsthand how disappointing it can be to order a new beer and have it fall flat, or even worse, have a bunch of off-flavors rendering it undrinkable. I believe if you are going to go through all of the trouble of brewing, packaging and marketing beer, than quality should be the focus in each step. It makes my job meaningful and satisfying to know that I can be a part of making great beer.

Highlight of working in craft beer: The free, delicious beer of course!

Three words to describe the Ninkasi quality team: Agog, boisterous and indefatigable.

If you could have any super power, you’d choose: Healing powers.

In the next life, you’re coming back as a piece of lab/sensory/brewing equipment, it would be (and why): The Anton Paar alcolyzer because it gets to drink every day without consequences.

Best beer you drank this past week: Victory at Sea by Ballast Point

Where can we find you when you’re not at the brewery? Hiking, chilling with my dog and practicing photography.

Oregon is a freakin' awesome place to work and play because: A plethora of great breweries + an endless variety of outdoor adventures = heaven.

We’ll dive deep into plenty of quality content in the future, but what’s one quick quality tip for craft beer fans? Carry a koozie with you at all times or find a shady spot when you are out drinking on a sunny patio. When UV light strikes beer it breaks down the isohumulones from hops and  through a series of complicated reactions which I will forego here, forms the infamous 3-methylbut-2-ene-1-thiol which makes your beer taste skunky! 

If you are one of the 100% of craft beer fans who prefers quality beer, stay tuned for more information from our Quality Team! 


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