Business is booming for many of Nebraska’s microbreweries, including Blue Blood Brewing Company in Lincoln.
“We are so busy, we cannot even keep up and it’s just increasing every month,” Jonathan Knerr, lead brewer, tells Nebraska Radio Network. “Nonstop – as soon as we clear out a fermenter, we’re brewing that same day to put back into that fermenter, so it’s constant.”
With that quick turnaround, Knerr and others in his role strive for consistency.
A key factor in keeping quality up and constant is the yeast, which was the main focus of a workshop this week in Lincoln.
Organized by the UNL Food Processing Center, the event’s goal was to help brewers understand the science of beer production in order to improve the beer they are producing or create new offerings.
Knerr says he signed up because he does not have a science background and wants to make sure he is doing the best he can.
“See if there’s little random things we don’t know, because there is a lot of science to brewing,” he says. “So, the more we learn, the better off we’re going to be.”
Hops grower Scott Schmalken also attended, to learn about how the ingredients interact.
“We try to keep a high-quality product. Understanding everything that goes into making a beer helps us understand all the variables,” Schmalken tells Nebraska Radio Network. “Once we understand all the variables going into a beer, we can create a high-quality product as well, with hops.”
Schmalken is the agronomist with Midwest Hop Producers in Plattsmouth, Neb., which is growing along with the state’s micro-brewing industry.
Yeast is as important to brewers as it is to bakers, so it is no surprise the workshop focused so much on this key ingredient.
Kara Taylor, analytical manager with White Labs in San Diego, specializes in yeast and lectured on the topic to the nearly 50 attendees.
She says it is important to keep yeast healthy, so it can convert the sugars into alcohol.
“It’s also responsible for all those flavors that we really like,” she says “so by keeping that yeast healthy and in control, we’re able to make better flavors and to also control those flavors to more consistent levels.”
Taylor says a common mistake brewers make is not looking at their yeast up close.
“And seeing if it looks stressed or if there’s any bacteria, potentially, in that culture. You can learn so much by just looking at it under a microscope and getting to sort of know your house cultures.”
Many consumers are looking for a better tasting beer or one with an unique flavor, which, Taylor says, is driving the industry’s growth.
Nebraska currently has two dozen established microbreweries, according to the Nebraska Craft Brewers Guild.