Genetic analysis for beer

Non-alcoholic, gluten-free, cherry, bamboo, ginger, pizza, marshmallow, caramel, lime-flavored beer… Brewers’ imagination knows no bounds as they strive to outdo each other in trying to impress us and shock our taste buds with unusual combinations. The development of the craft brewing industry has led to the emergence of companies that offer brewers a variety of services – in particular, laboratory studies for their products. Invest Foresight discussed these services with Gleb Dorogov, Development Director at BeerGenomics, a genetic analysis service for beer.

Quality control

The craft beer market in Russia is quite young but dynamic – it grows by about 25% per year. Last year, according to some estimates, craft beer production reached 80 mio liters. For comparison: the annual growth of the global market is about 10%. However, as the craft beer market in Russia is just emerging, it is naturally running into many pitfalls, ranging from issues with the production process to costly analytical equipment. But Russian brewers are interested in long-term development; they value their customers and recipes. To make craft beer into a business, brewers carefully select their suppliers and equipment, and optimize production.

BeerGenomics is a project by the BioSpark lab reportedly founded by Alexander Merkel, research fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Microbiology. The current  director, according to Rusprofile, is Lomonosov Moscow State University chemistry graduate Gleb Speshilov. The laboratory is part of TechnoSpark, a large venture company and technopark based in Troitsk and founded by several private members, including Andrei Merkel, Denis Kovalevich and Pavel Polishchuk, with the financial support of the Rusnano Fund for Infrastructure and Educational Programs. BioSpark specializes in developing tests for industrial microbiology. The developers argue that brewers cherishing their reputation must thoroughly monitor the quality of their ingredients and products; however, it would make no business sense to build a full-scale lab at a medium-sized brewery.

“BioSpark monitors international companies applying genetic solutions to various industries and creates its own technologies. Genetic tests are not only made for paternity testing or identifying inherited diseases. Their applications can be much wider. Right now our company already has solutions for the oil industry, lawns, greenhouses and, finally, brewing,” Gleb Dorogov explains.

Tests for beer mugs

“At a large production facility, both raw materials and the finished product undergo microbiological control. We decided to offer microbiological tests as an outsourced service, which even small breweries can afford. There are such services in Europe and the US, and we thought that Russian brewers would need them too. Our startup was created about a year ago; we came up with the idea two years ago. The title, BeerGenomics , reflects the key technology that we use: detecting pathogenic bacterial using genetic testing,” Dorogov said.

Due to the NGS analysis and the new-generation sequence analysis technology, it is possible to detect not only concrete microorganisms in the sample, but their exact number. Such a test will help producers decide whether the raw materials or beer is safe to use.

As with any lab tests, the sample should be put in s sterile container and sent to the lab. One mug of beer, 0.5 l, will be enough for a full test. Experts at BeerGenomics believe that each batch of beer and raw materials must be tested.

Say goodbye to mold

Why should not only beer, but also all raw materials at all stages of production be tested? According to BeerGenomics, it is necessary to control the quality and safety of the product. For instance, before the fermentation, the wort can contain various contaminating agents that could be unsafe for the production facility or the consumer. It can be anything ranging from fungi, mold and E. coli to salmonella, listeria and many other undesirable microorganisms and components. To prevent contamination and properly detect it, brewers conduct an express testing that provides accurate information on the presence of bacteria in the test sample as well as their count.

According to Dorogov, craft breweries are more interested in such laboratories. Home brewers who make small volumes of products find such professional tests unprofitable, while large brewing plants have their own laboratories.

“Our activity is aimed at craft breweries that cannot afford to purchase equipment for a proper laboratory and hire employees for regular inspections. According to various sources, as of today, there are between 500 and 1,500 craft breweries in Russia. Most of them use their own recipes and brewing methods; however, they do not have their own research laboratories,” Dorogov says.

A one-time testing at BeerGenomic costs RUR 1,950 ($30), while the price for a series of tests is lower. BeerGenomics is launching pilot projects together with brewers to finalize the product, and then will take the service to the market. Hopefully, this will make craft beer safer and enhance its quality.

Russia’s craft brewing market is developing rapidly: over the past decade, the number of breweries has increased hundredfold, and lab testing services are becoming more relevant and popular – particularly in conditions that require product quality standardization.

By Natalia Sysoyeva

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