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Skylar Watson

"The biggest communication problem is we don't listen to understand. We listen to reply"

Outcome Metrics in a Microbrewery

In the early stages of co-founding a microbrewery, there was a lot of focus on process improvement. How can we reduce material and operation cost while maintaining consistency for consumers? Identifying the outcomes above was only the beginning, we needed to understand how to get there; a journey we were eager to venture down.

The most important aspect of our business operation was maintaining the consistency of our product. To better understand how to produce a consistent product it’s helpful to understand what may vary between production cycles. One may argue the most critical aspect of the brewing process is the ingredients itself. Brewing a batch of beer requires four essential elements; hops, malt, yeast, and water.

Ensuring hop consistency across batches is easily measurable. Each recipe contains a bittering level also known as an IBU (International Bittering Unit.) Keeping our malt and yeast uniform was also an easy task to accomplish thanks to the precision and attention all significant maltsters and yeast labs give to their product.

Water, now that was a bit of a different animal. Depending on where you live in the country (or even the location in your city) will determine the quality of water you’ll receive. Our town had three water pumps all of which had slightly different water chemistry; the changing season had an impact on the water as well. The local water utility may change where it was drawing the water, and without us calling them we wouldn’t know.

At this point, we had established an outcome, customer consistency. We also knew that water (which makes up 95% of beer) might vary between each batch produced. To accomplish our desired outcome, we began altering our water chemistry by introducing water salts to our brewing process. The adjustments in water became an output metric and the first surrogate for our outcome.

Introducing the water additions had a significant impact on our final product, not only did we achieve the desired outcome we were looking for we also managed to improve the overall taste of the beer. Through enhancing our brewing operation, we noticed a few things impacted the number of salts required (boil off, water loss, etc.) Tracking these metrics allowed us to retain the consistency we were having before while allowing for increased scalability. The loss of water became an additional output metric within our surrogate chain.

To better control the modifications in the water, having the same water profile for each batch became important. As mentioned above there was no certainty in what we received. However, if we could guarantee our brewing water didn’t have any minerals, then that would ensure consistency across our product during the changing seasons without the hassle of checking the local water reports. As a proof of concept, distilled water became the source for all test batches moving forward. We began working with local water companies to determine a scalable solution once we discovered that controlling the base water was a viable option. Managing our source water became our third and final output metric in our surrogate chain.

The series of outputs in the surrogate chain above are all influenced by a single technical practice, custom water profiles. The custom profiles used aligned with the style of beer made being made. For example, our Oktoberfest style contained water chemistry that matched that of Munich Germany.

Implementing technical practices without understanding its impact is a contributing factor of waste in many organizations. By identifying outcomes for the brewery, we were able to follow the surrogate chain to practices that helped grow a successful business.