Welcome to the first edition of the Scandinavian Brewers Review in the ‘New Age’! Our launch of the online platform has been effectuated, and you can access this via the significantly upgraded website at https://scandbrewrev.dk/ – indeed a giant leap forward. And let me say that I hope that you will be just as thrilled and pleased with the change as I am. In my role as your technical editor, I now see a much brighter future ahead for our magazine – more readers, more advertisers, more news, more life and an ‘interface’ that is now up-to-date. But I covered all this in the previous editorial – in No. 4/2017 – and I shall obviously not go over it again. Instead, we’re bringing a guide to the new website and to the online version of the SBR in a separate article in this issue. As the title of my editorial indicates, I have chosen an entirely different topic for it, namely the issue of research for non-lager brewing and breweries. Or, sadly, I should probably have said the ‘Lack of…’ in the title, because, seen broadly, the status of brewing research not directed directly at big breweries producing standard lager beer is that it is virtually non-existent.
The inspiration for this editorial came from a press release issued by the Brewers Association, the American organization for small, independent craft brewers. At first glance, I was undividedly pleased to see that the BA had allocated significant funds for research looking into topics (the list is shown below) of specific interest to craft brewers. No doubt that the results of this research will eventually benefit us all or at least a lot of brewers. But the question is, of course, why is this so unique? Why is there not research activity all over the globe looking into topics that are challenges to craft brewers and those companies that supply us with our raw materials?
Here’s the (gently edited) press release from the Brewers Association:
Brewers association announces 2018 research grant recipients
The Brewers Association – BA is pleased to announce the recipients of its 2018 Research and Service Grants Program, designed to further the development of a healthy and sustainable raw materials supply chain. This year, 17 grants totaling $432,658 were awarded to researchers and organizations across the country. Since the inception of the grant program in 2015, the BA has provided more than $1.2 million in funding for 60 projects— addressing public barley and hop variety development, hop disease and hop aroma—as well as supported affiliated national and state-level grower organizations.
2018 grant recipients
- Creation and Development of Better Germplasm Lines for All-Malt Barley Varieties (Partner: USDA-Agricultural Research Service, Aberdeen, ID)
- Breeding for Barley Contributions to Beer Flavor (Partner: Oregon State University)
- Stable and Sustainable Dryland Production of High Quality Malting Barley (Partner: Montana State University)
- Mapping Malt Quality Traits to Facilitate Marker Assisted Breeding and Development of Winter Malt Barley (Partner: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University)
- Building a Winter Malting Barley Market for the Great Plains (Partner: University of Nebraska)
- Utilizing a Multi-State Dataset to Support Coordinated Breeding of Local Malting Barley ( Partner: University of Minnesota)
- Improving Malting Quality in Two-Rowed Barley by Reducing Grain Protein Content Through Marker Assisted Backcrossing (Partner: University of California, Davis)
- Enhancement of Winter Hardiness in Two-Rowed Barley Varieties for the Craft Brewing Industry (Partner: University of Minnesota)
- Eastern United States Spring Barley Nursery (Partner: North Dakota State University)
- Metabolomics of Hot Steep Malt Extracts and Integration with Sensory Data (Partner: Colorado State University)
- Nitrogen Application Timing Effects on Nitrate Accumulation in Hop Cones, Yield and Cone Quality Factors (Partner: USDA Agricultural Research Service, OR)
- Assessing the Genomic Impact of Drought and Heat on Hop Growth and Production (Partner: USDA Agricultural Research Service, OR)
- Mapping Novel Loci for Powdery Mildew Resistance in Hops (Partner: University of Minnesota)
- Developing Economic and Environmental Focused Hop Nitrogen Recommendations for Temperate Climates (Partner: University of Vermont)
- Hop-Derived Dextrin-Reducing Enzymes from Dry- Hopping ( Partner: Oregon State University)
More information about the grant program can be found at brewersassociation.org.
Further inspiration came from the fact that I have recently, in my capacity as professional craft brewer, been contacted by a group of good people who have the ambition to look into the first topic on my little list below – thus in fact a very modest way proving me wrong when I claim that these things are not happening. But again, this initiative is standing sadly on its own and is in screaming contrast to the need for lots and lots more of similar research. Let me just, of the top of my head, list a few topics that I know will interest a very large proportion of the tens of thousands of craft brewers worldwide:
- Techniques for producing high quality No- and Low Alcohol beers with craft brewing technology
- Why do sour beers not stale like ‘sweet’ beers?
- Breeding hop varieties suited for cooler climates
- Hop varieties and flavor stability
- Cold (dry) hopping techniques and their impact on hop aroma- and flavor profile
- Bottle conditioning techniques, their sensitivity to alcohol and hopping level, and their impact on beer aroma and flavor profile
- Barrel ageing techniques and their impact on beer character
- Controlling wort fermentability with ‘modern’ highly diastatic malts
- Etc., etc., etc…
I actually only got started, and I’m sure that you, dear reader, could add several relevant topics to this list without a problem.
Why are these topics, relevant to those thousands of craft brewers struggling with them on a daily basis, not being looked into by researchers and brewing scientists? The answer is, of course, as it almost always is: Money! The institutions doing applied research demand funding. In our region – at least in the Scandinavian and Nordic countries – there is a little bit of public funding available for projects benefitting small businesses. As the ‘New Nordic Beer Network’ initiative demonstrates, I have myself benefitted from some of these funds. But it remains peanuts and drops in the ocean, compared to the research taking place with specific relevance to ‘the big guys’ – flavor stability of lager beer, higher yield and better quality of barley for producing lager malt, factors improving the head retention of lager beer, etc.. Some of the big breweries even have so much ‘muscle’ (and a history that implies this) that they themselves have complete research facilities and their own ‘in-house’ scientists working on these topics, e.g. the Carlsberg Research Laboratory. But even those that ‘have not’ have the money to co-fund research projects at independent research facilities – such as the VTT in Finland, the Institute of Brewing and Distilling in the UK, Doemens, VLB and Weihenstephan in Germany. These are partly funded by their members, the big breweries, and partly by public funds, grants, etc., however their choice of specific projects is not driven by what the industry at large is requesting, but what specific ‘donors’ are willing to co-fund. These days nobody co-funds projects that do not fulfill their own specific requirements, and the craft brewers of this world have little interest in these topics. And they have no money to co-fund those projects of relevance to themselves. As the old saying goes, ‘He who pays for the music gets to decide the tunes’.
How may this rather fundamental challenge for craft brewers everywhere be overcome? Well, waiting for the craft brewing industry and the institutions it supports to become as financially strong as the Brewers Association in the USA is probably not the way forward. Firstly, in many countries outside the US, craft brewers have chosen to organize through the same associations as their bigger colleagues – Denmark and Norway are examples of this – so expecting these associations to fund craft specific-research is not realistic. Further, the very small size of the many craft breweries outside the US also, in practice, prevents the generation of profits of a magnitude that – however these were to be channeled – would fund as much as one of such projects. Our only chance, as I see it, is to put pressure on our politicians to make more public funding available for the kind of research we need. As our number grows all over, so does our importance in terms of the direct economic impact on society in terms of the taxes we pay, the jobs we provide in our breweries and the business we provide around us with suppliers, distributors, retailers, bars, etc. Also, the prospects of increasing export revenues as we keep growing as a segment of the industry is a good argument. This gives us more leverage with the politicians, and we have excellent people in our national Brewers Associations who are very capable as far as lobbying goes.
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Technical Editor, Scandinavian Brewers’ Review