Editorial Article: Optimizing Quality Control of Beer with Cutting-Edge Water and Contaminants Analysis

SelectScience® spoke to Paul Taylor, Laboratory Manager at Murphy & Son, about the technology he uses to improve your pint

23 May 2016

SelectScience® spoke to Paul Taylor, Laboratory Manager at Murphy & Son, about the technology he uses to improve your pint


Murphy & Son 
As consulting brewers and manufacturing chemists, Murphy & Son can provide you with all of the beer processing aids you need. They have a fully equipped laboratory at their head office in Nottingham where they carry out a variety of tests and analyses both on their own products and those sent in by their customers.

Beer is one of the world’s oldest beverages, and is the most popular alcoholic beverage in the world. Murphy & Son are “a one stop shop” for all brewing ingredients and processing aids, providing a range of products for industrial and home brewers alike, as well as services such as quality control. SelectScience spoke to Paul Taylor, Laboratory Manager at Murphy & Son, about the methods and technology he is using.

“We have got two chemistry labs providing technical services”, Paul explained. An analytical lab contains an ICP, the iCap6300 ICP-OES, an HPLC, the Shimadzu Nexera, and a Thermo Fisher Scientific Gallery Plus, “which is used a lot for customer analysis”, while a quality control (QC) lab provides QC analysis on Murphy & Son’s own manufactured products. In addition, “we’ve got two microbiology labs for yeast propagation and more customer sample analysis”, Paul revealed.


Better water for a better beer

“One of the biggest samples we test here is water from breweries”, said Paul. “Water quality has a huge effect on the final product, both from a subjective flavor point of view and also from a chemistry point of view.” Paul also tests for ions such as magnesium, sulfate, calcium, chloride and nitrate, all of which “have quite a major impact on the final flavor of the beer”. Calcium is one of the most important ions in brewing, affecting everything from the mash to the final beer, whilst chloride and sulfate affect the flavor of the beer, making it fuller or sweeter.

Murphy & Son have spent a lot of time and money improving their labs, and one part of this is “buying new kit”. “Three or four years ago, we were testing water for customers using typical titrations – it was very time consuming, doing 7-8 samples a day”. The Thermo Fisher Scientific Beermaster has brought “vast improvements and allows us to run as many samples as we want in 15-30 minutes”, Paul revealed. “It has saved us a lot of time and man-power - we can just leave it running, and it allows members of our team to go and do other work that needs doing urgently.”

The Beermaster is also used to test sulfur dioxide, “which has become a very sensitive subject in the world of brewing and food in general because it’s an allergen”, and free amino nitrogen, “which is a source of food for yeast”. The iCAP 6300 is used to test over 20 elements, including cadmium, mercury, arsenic and lead, and “obviously there are guideline amounts for those”. Generally, Paul explained, “there’s not a lot in beer that can really hurt you unless you drink lots of it”, but what has really increased Murphy & Son’s workload is the increased auditing of breweries, and the requirements of products to pass “due-diligence parameters to get into certain supply chains”.

“Both commercial and home-brewing has come on a long way in the past five years”, Paul said. “Whether it’s hops or people’s knowledge of how beer is made or what to do to it to get the right flavors”, it’s a much bigger market than it used to be. Something Paul does expect to see more of is “nutritional information”. “If you buy something from the States, you are more than likely to find it’s got a complete nutritional breakdown, whereas beer from the UK doesn’t have this requirement”, but it’s something that Murphy & Son customers are starting to ask for.


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