Could data be an untapped ingredient in beer production?
- Emphasizing that data are the fifth component in creating beer, a former craft brewery engineer has established a software firm in San Diego called The 5th Ingredient to more systematically track information on beer production, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.
- Pulkit Agrawal, the company’s 24-year-old founder and CEO, worked for Ballast Point Brewing Co., where he learned how important data can be to successful beer production. After Agrawal left Ballast Point last year to consult for other breweries, he told the San Diego newspaper he was shocked at how many of them were following data via spreadsheets, whiteboards and notepads.
- Breweries can track more than 100 different data points, Agrawal said, including pressure, temperature, pH, alcohol level, sugar content, yeast properties and batches of grain. While all of that information can help to keep tabs on quality, he said it can also trim expenses and increase efficiency.
Big beer companies can use all the help they can get these days. U.S. consumption rates have declined for five years running, and consumers have turned more toward Mexican imports, craft beers, wine, spirits and even low- and no-alcohol beverages. While using more data and technology might not head off those trends, it could help boost production efficiency.
Medium-sized and large beer makers may be more likely to consistently implement and apply data-gathering software, but it could be the smaller ones that need it the most. According to The 5th Ingredient's website, its Beer30 software program replaces paper logs, spreadsheets and whiteboards with tools "for predictive, proactive, process improvement." It also allows operators and managers to "track all batch data from grain-to-glass" through a monthly subscription based on a brewery's size and needs.
The program does this through an online dashboard offering real-time data tracking, retail account mapping, inventory control, process graphing, batch comparison and packaging line reports, the company said. So far, The 5th Ingredient counts Protector Brewery and Latchkey Brewing of San Diego and Smog City Brewing of Los Angeles in its client base.
There are other software firms focusing on breweries, such as Orchestrated Beer in Oregon and Ekos Brewmaster in North Carolina. However, Agrawal said their programs are more oriented to business management functions than to production.
"A lot of people aren't happy with what’s available in the market right now because it's complex — it's not developed with the brewer in mind," Agrawal told The San Diego Union-Tribune. "That’s the key difference. These two software programs are designed for the accountant in mind. Ours is designed for the brewer, the operator, the owner."
His startup software firm plans to initially target local breweries, which makes sense since there were at least 154 breweries nearby this past summer, according to the newspaper. These smaller outfits could make good use of more practical data, and wisely applying what they learn may make the difference between surviving in the competitive craft brewing industry and closing the doors.
If more systematic data-gathering helps the smaller guys with their operations, it could attract attention from the brewing giants if they see the advantage and suspect that there might be ways they could trim costs, enhance efficiency and ensure consistency in their products. Given the state of the U.S. beer industry today, chances are that using data as a fifth ingredient couldn't hurt.
- The San Diego Union-Tribune Ex-Ballast Point engineer launches software startup — The 5th Ingredient — for craft breweries