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Philly Startup Using Science to Make Better Beer

Across the country, breweries are opening at an almost ridiculous pace. As taps and shelves fill up with ever-more obscure brands and labels, drinkers have to ask themselves one question:

How do I know the beer I’m buying is going to be good?

Once you get past finding a style that suits you — some prefer IPAs, some like stouts, others enjoy lagers — the main culprit of “bad” beer is spoilage.

A Philadelphia science startup is trying to help. In partnership with Victory Brewing, where initial testing was done, University City-based Invisible Sentinel has developed a new tool to help brewers ensure that no bad beer leaves their building.

With a small footprint and low cost, the Veriflow “brewPAL” uses DNA replication techniques to make testing your beer for contamination almost as easy as a home pregnancy test (which is exactly what it looks like). It gives results in record time — three to four hours, instead of the usual two to three days — which means breweries have a better chance at catching bad beer before it goes out to distributors.

What the new system does is so unique and interesting, in fact, that four new breweries have just signed on as partners, including local beer-makers Yards and Weyerbacher. Cult-favorite Russian River is also on board, as is Montana-based Kettlehouse Brewing.

The brewPAL device is basically a science lab shrunk down to tabletop size. When there are “off” tastes in your glass, it’s usually because one of a couple of common strains of bacteria (not the the kind that makes you sick, but the kind found floating around everywhere in the air) got into the beer back at the brewery. The quicker brewers find out about contamination, the more chance they have to eliminate it. If they don’t find out soon enough, breweries sometimes have to dump whole batches, or scrap entire pallets.

Upshot: quicker detection results in lower cost of doing business for breweries. In addition to ensuring better quality of beer, the new system could translate into better prices on the retail end.

Speaking of price, the other bonus of Invisible Sentinel’s new system is that cost of entry is low. When it’s released this spring, the whole kit will likely run $10,000 or less, which means that even fledgling breweries can opt in. Many breweries don’t build a lab until at least their second or third year, and then they have to hire people to run it.

“What’s really nice is that you don’t have to be a trained microbiologist to do this test,” says Victory CEO Ron Barchet, noting that he and partner Bill Covaleski didn’t build a lab until their fourth year in business.

“[The brewPAL] is not a panacea,” he continues, “but the speed and simplicity make it a revolutionary step.”

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Kristen Fitch

Senior Director, Marketing