“If you can’t afford to dump beer, you can’t afford to run a brewery. This is nonnegotiable.” — Jeremy Danner, Ambassador Brewer, Boulevard Brewing Co. @Jeremy_Danner, June 9, 2016
Pouring away beer as a homebrewer can be annoying, given the amount of time and care that are generally put into brewing the beer, fermenting it, and then cooling and maturing it. But, it’s not worth drinking something that is a) flawed and b) not enjoyable. It’s also how you learn. Maybe leaving the dry hops in for two weeks is too long… Maybe underpitching isn’t a good idea…
For commercial brewers, however, recalling or dumping beer is not only painful given the invested manpower, ingredients, etc., as those raw materials have to be purchased again and the beer re-brewed, but also given the non-sale and potential knock on effect on reputation. But what is worse, sending out beer of a debatable or compromised quality or recalling it?
So far this year, two Chicago breweries have had to recall beer: Goose Island for its Bourbon County Coffee Stout and Barleywine, and more recently, Revolution recalled a significant amount of beer, 10,000 US barrels of packaged beer, due to concerns over off flavours. In the case of Revolution, ‘clean’ IPAs and pale ales were tasting like Belgian beers, i.e., phenolic. Lexington, Kentucky based Alltech also had some quality issues to contend with, and withdrew beers from sale.
What about in the UK? Magic Rock went into great detail discussing all the changes that were made at the brewery with last year’s expansion. This included owning up to some sulphur dioxide issues in Shredder, which were resolved, and Rhubarbarella, which was recalled. (Marble also recalled Te Arai and Damage Plan bottles earlier this year due to quality concerns; I would link to the post but the website is under construction.) In July 2015, Wild Beer Co. alerted its consumers to the ‘ropey‘ character of that year’s Shnoodlepip, and in November, Yadokai, but both improved given more time in bottle.
Other than that, most recalls seem to do with glass shards or very small pieces in bottles of various beers over the past five years, including Budweiser, Brasserie de Saint-Omer, Corona, and Wells and Young.
Perhaps the difference is actually admitting publicly to destroying or recalling a batch. I can’t think of another food product or beverage that frequently gets sold despite its questionable quality. A loaf of bread that’s completely burned or undercooked doesn’t get sold anyway. A bakery that consistently sells flawed bread or manky cakes doesn’t stay in business — or does it?
Do we need to know? Obviously, bottles with glass shards require public awareness and a quick recall. But brewing flaws? You might dislike a lactic tang in your Imperial Stout, but someone else might enjoy it? Will the public notice? Or is it more important to be transparent with customers, offer refunds, and an apology? Social media has made customer and company interactions a lot more convenient. Instead of having to write a letter to document a problem with a product, or picking up the phone, consumers can tweet a picture of said product — and thus make their problem very public. Reactions to these forms of ‘outing’ can vary, but it’s easy to see why this way of communicating with a business might turn confrontational very quickly.
So, batches can and will go wrong, and that is simply part and parcel of the brewing process. All costs have to be accepted and perhaps being proactive, such as the above examples dealing with product quality issues helps mitigate any long-term damage to the brand.
How about when huge companies have to recall products? Mars‘ Dutch plant had to issue a recall for its chocolate bars earlier this year, due to a possible contamination with plastic. Samsung’s spontaneously combusting Galaxy Note 7 problem was compounded because the recall didn’t manage to repair the device — forcing the company to discontinue the product and apologise publicly.
Ouch, with a touch of schadenfreude, perhaps. Jeremy Danner is right, of course. If you are committed to quality, you have to be committed to dumping beer that does not live up to your quality expectations, no matter how much it smarts. You owe it to your customers and yourself.