Saturday September 8th, 2012 marked a sad day for Los Angeles Ale Works. We officially dumped our first batch of commercial beer, Gams-Bart, down the drain. For us the decision to dump the beer was both complicated and simple. The batch represented our first ingredient and labor investment for our company’s product. When we found out that it had gone sour, there was really nothing we could do. We knew that we would not be able to sell the beer as is and would not want our flagship beer to be something that we did not believe in 100%. That part was simple. Letting the batch cost, extensive time, effort, momentum, and physical beer go down the drain was difficult. During this process we’ve had many people ask us questions about our plans and also offer suggestions. Here are the most common questions and our answers.
Q: Why would you dump a beer?
A: We dumped a beer that does not meet our standars. Throughout our home brewing experiences we have brewed many beers and acquired many medals. We did not feel that this beer represented our efforts accurately. While it’s sad to see it all go down the drain, it would be even more unfortunate to give the beer to you, the consumer.
Q: Why not barrel age?
A: This is a question we get a lot. Sure, you can salvage a beer with a barrel. Barrel-aging and souring can round out some of the harsh notes brought on by whatever ruined the beer in the first place, but a barrel will not fix everything. The bad beer is still the base beer, so in the end you have a barrel-aged, bad beer instead of a good beer that was intentionally barrel-aged or soured.
Q: What is the process for dumping a beer?
A: In order to dump a beer you need to get approval from both the ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control) and the Board of Equalization. Depending on the amount you are dumping they may or may not schedule a representative to witness the dump. This approval process is to prevent breweries from claiming a dumped beer on their insurance and then selling it on the side. It’s an ethics issue.
Q: Did you have insurance?
A: Yes, but as nice as insurance is, it does not cover everything. Our insurance did not cover our batch’s situation.
A: It’s difficult to know exactly what happened as there are a number of factors that could be the root cause. We suspect that it had something to do with the initial yeast pitch as there was a 4-5 day lag between the pitch and when fermentation started. A second batch of viable yeast was needed to get fermentation going. In that lag time, anything could have affected the beer.
Q: How can you prevent something like this happening to your batch?
A: Taking sufficient notes, being careful, making sure your ingredients are fresh, reducing possible environmental contaminants, and most importantly, not imbibing too much during the brew day will help to keep your batch headed in the right direction. You really can’t be too careful when it comes to sanitation. It’s better to be too careful than not careful enough when massive quantities of beer are on the line.
Q: What did we learn?
A: I’ll think twice before complaining about a 5 gallon batch going bad. Our insurance is standard, but if you are contract brewing, you are putting your beer in the hands of the contract brewery. Paying a higher premium for extra coverage may not be a bad idea.
Q: What actually happened?
A: We are currently submitting our beer to White Labs for a full analysis. We should hopefully have more information when we get the results back from them.
Los Angeles Ale Works – Dumps first batch