DNA testing is more than just a gimmick for daytime TV talk shows or reruns of CSI. Breweries can use DNA testing to prevent undesirable bacteria from ruining perfectly good beer.

The Verge reports that Santa Rosa, California’s Russian River Brewing Company—a brewery held in particularly high esteem by craft beer fans—is among the first to start using this method.

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Photo: Untappd/Tom V.


While Russian River is best known for its revered double IPA, Pliny the Elder, the brewery also produces sour beers that require harnessing the bacteria Pediococcus and Lactobacillus. These bacteria are necessary to make sours, but can leave a very undesirable sour taste in other beer styles if they’re left to go crazy.

Russian River keeps completely separate production lines for the different styles of beer, and even has workers go home, shower, and wear different clothes before going between brewing lines. All this helps prevent cross-contamination, but you can’t see bacteria, and it’s all around us every day.

As Russian River quality control operations manager Mike Guilford told the Verge, “It’s not like yeast, where you can take a look at it and say ‘okay there are 10 per mil[lileter] or like a million per mil. Bacteria is really small, and can move around.”


Victory Brewing’s director of brewing operations, Adam Bartles, adds: 

“One of the reasons it’s such a difficult problem is that it’s so difficult to catch it, and to prevent it. These bacterias, once they start producing acid, there’s no rectification — you can’t neutralize the sourness.”

Enter a new rapid DNA testing kit called the BrewPal. It specifically targets harmful strains of Pediococcus and Lactobacillus bacteria, using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing. Basically, it checks for small pieces of the offending DNA strands, rather than searching for the whole thing. That speeds up the process considerably: More traditional “plating” tests can take up to two weeks, while PCR testing takes less than three hours.

BrewPal isn’t the only game in town, but Guilford says it made the most sense to Russian River because other PCR systems both cost a lot more and take considerably longer to process samples. A full system costs under $5,000, while some of BrewPal’s competition can run $30- to $40,000.


The time factor may be even more important than the initial cost to breweries. A test that takes hours instead of weeks makes a huge difference in terms of catching rogue bacterial colonies before they ruin everything.

Guilford explains, [pullquote]”Every time you can turn [around] that tank, fill it up, and empty it, that’s another batch of beer you can sell. Anything in the line that holds that up pushes everything off. If you lose one turn, you’ll lose thousands and thousands of dollars.”[/pullquote]

DNA applications are becoming increasingly important in the food and beverage world, with some Swiss companies even using special DNA markers to stop distribution of counterfeit cheeses. Next time we take a sip of a really good beer, we’ll definitely raise a glass to science.

[via The Verge]