Fun With Lab Equipment!
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Lab Manager Lauren Appleman has the best toys in the brewery, and she recently added two new ones — the Anton Paar DMA 4500 with Alcolyzer and the Anton Paar CBox — to her arsenal of sciency weapons.
We got together with her over Google Meet this week to talk about them.
“You’re kinda forcing me right now to think about the science of all this stuff,” she says, “and in the regular day-to-day, I’m like, ‘I don’t know how it works. It just does.’”
She’s being a little self-deprecating — she definitely knows how it works, she simply never has to think about it.
So, what do they do? Basically, they make better beer.
This bad boy is all about density.
Skipping back many, many years to your physical science classes in middle school and high school, you may remember that, essentially, density is a ratio that explains how heavy something is relative to the amount of space it takes up: density equals mass divided by volume.
A few examples: the air around you is not very dense, so it has a low density, 0.07967 pounds per cubic foot. Gold, on the other hand, is very dense, with a density of 1,206.1082 pounds per cubic foot.
“Water, we know, has a specific density,” Lauren explains. “It’s essentially equal to 1, but if we’re getting technical, it’s .9982.”
And the DMA4500 can get that accurate.
Since beer is, essentially, a solution of alcohol and water, as we know the densities of both alcohol and water, being able to calculate the density of, say, The Bog, will let us know the ratio of those two liquids in the beer, which, in this very rudimentary thought experiment, gives us our ABV.
“With a known alcohol percentage,” Lauren explains, “what we’re measuring in our beer is relative to that.”
We know what the density of a beer with a 3.9% ABV should be at each point throughout the brewing and fermenting process, so when we measure the density at each of those stages, we know how far off we are or how much longer we need to let the beer ferment.
We’ve always calculated the density of our beers, but the DMA4500 gets us much more accurate readings.
“Before this, we were using another Anton Paar device that’s more for homebrewers and smaller brewers,” Lauren explains, “so we should have outgrown that very quickly, but it works really well.”
We were using an Anton Paar EasyDens: a neat little gadget — it connects through Bluetooth to your cell phone –, but, at this point, we deserved something a little more sophisticated.
“It works on the same principles,” Lauren said, “but it only goes out to three decimal places, as opposed to the DMA4500, which goes to five, so we get a higher degree of accuracy.”
A basic measurement of the density of a solid — like Archimedes in his bathtub — begins with displacement: you can determine the volume of a supposedly golden crown by weighing the crown, then submerging it in water, measuring the rise of the water, and subtracting those two numbers — that gives you the volume of the crown. Then, you’d take the mass of the crown and divide it by its volume, and, if the ratio is different than 1,206.1082, then the king knows that the crown isn’t pure gold and he’s got some murdering to do.
For a liquid, it’s done the other way around: we start with a known volume of liquid, drop an object of known density into it, and where it comes to float in the chamber will give us a (not very accurate) measurement of the liquid’s density.
The DMA4500 doesn’t do either of those things. What it does… is so weird!
“It sounds like black magic,” she says, “but it’s super scientific.”
Essentially, it has a vibrating, oscillating, U-shaped glass tube that we put the beer into, turn the sucker on, and get a reading.
“We know the volume of the tube — we’re always going to put the same volume of beer into it — and it oscillates at the same speed, so it’s based on the movement of the liquid within the tube,” Lauren says.
Since the volume of beer in the tube always remains the same, as the tube vibrates, the DMA4500 knows that denser liquids will make the oscillator move slower than less dense liquids, and it gains a measurement from that.
…so freakin’ cool…!
The EasyDens basically did it the same way, but it simply wasn’t as accurate.
“That little bit of rounding can make a difference,” Lauren says.
And, when it comes to measuring the amount of alcohol in an alcoholic product, that little bit of rounding could possibly mean the difference between being in compliance with the law and being out of compliance — and being out of compliance could mean that they shut us down.
The TTB — the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau; the people who regulate us — allows us a ± .3% variance between what we print on the can and the actual ABV of the liquid.
We’re still working to determine what our five-decimal targets are, but it’s still early with this machine.
“We installed this last week,” Lauren says, “so we’re still learning the best ways to use it. There really can’t be any bubbles in this thing at all. It’s kind of a nightmare for things that have carbonation to them.”
But impurities in beer can throw off the readings, too, so we’re still working with the machine to get accurate results.
“Like a hazy beer, which a lot of our newer styles tend toward,” she says. “So, we have to de-haze the beer, de-carb the beer, make sure it’s going in as flat as possible to ensure that we’re getting a good reading.”
As you might imagine, there’s a lot of math here. Luckily, we got the DMA4500 with an Alcolyzer — basically, a little doohickey that converts density to ABV — so Lauren doesn’t even have to break out a calculator.
“With the density meters, we can use the calculations and figure out what the ABV is, as long as we know our starting gravity and our final gravity,” she says. “The Alcolyzer will give you a number, no calculations needed.”
The Alcolyzer that we got can calculate the ABVs of literally any alcohol: spirits, wine, beer, cider.
“We got the souped-up version,” Lauren says. “It does it all.”
Lauren really does get the coolest toys.
“It’s more expensive than my car,” she laughs, but, then again, almost all of her equipment is more expensive than her car.
“It’s one more step in becoming one of the leading breweries in — well, I think we already are one of the leading breweries in New Jersey, so we’ll say on the East Coast,” she says. “It’s easy to make beer. It’s hard to make good beer consistently.”
And the DMA4500 and Alcolyzer will allow us to do just that.
“It’s great because it’s going to get everything in spec and help us to streamline our processes,” she says. “From the start of the brew, it’s going to help us with our efficiencies and make better beer.”
“Oxygen is kind of a double-edged sword as far as brewing goes,” Lauren explains. “On the hot side and in the beginning stages of fermentation, you want oxygen in there because oxygen is good for yeast, but post-filtration you do not want oxygen because it is detrimental to the flavor and stability of your beer.
“And carbon dioxide, when you crack a beer, you want it to have that nice fizzy sound, you want it to have those nice bubbles — but not too many bubbles… and not zero bubbles.”
So, the CBox can tell if the beer in our tanks and in our cans are at the desired levels of CO2 and O2. We’d previously been using a gehaltemeter — even the names of the equipment she uses are awesome! –, and this one works on the same principles.
“It would measure it in the brite tanks,” Lauren says, “but we could not do it in cans. The nice thing about the CBox is that it uses a much smaller amount of liquid. So, with a 12-ounce can, you can still get a level on the individual can.”
And we need to get levels in both the tanks and the cans because we can lose a little bit of CO2 or gain a little bit of O2 in the transfer from the brite tank to the can — and, again, we’re looking for consistency.
“The can’s not a closed system,” she says. “The canner fills up the can and we put the lid on and it gets sealed. In that process, you can lose a little bit of carbonation.”
The CBox actually takes the levels in the sealed can.
“We got another device that came with it called the PFD filling device — I don’t know what that stands for,” she says.
We looked it up. It’s the Piercing and Filling Device, and it does exactly what it sounds like: it pierces the can, seals the hole, and transfers the liquid in a closed system from the can directly to the CBox.
“It’ll fill up a small chamber,” she explains, “and when it reaches a certain point, it goes through a series of condensing and expanding. All of these calculations with temperature, volume, pressure — the Ideal Gas Law — we can figure out the carbonation level of that can.”
That’s so cool!
“Yeah,” Lauren agrees.
And, like the DMA4500, the CBox does things we’ve already been doing, it simply does it more accurately and faster, and, most importantly, it wastes less beer.
“Wasted beer is a shame,” Lauren says, completely unnecessarily. And she unnecessarily continues, “You don’t want oxygen in the package because no one wants a beer that tastes like cardboard.”
Ultimately, the CBox will ensure that you’ve got the best possible product in your hand.
“It’ll make sure that the product we put out is going to last as long as possible and, basically, be as good as the day it leaves our facility.”