1660343612656 Beermug3

Bartender…there’s data in my beer

Sept. 4, 2018

With ubiquity of Industry 4.0 we’re finding it in fun environments. 

We are surrounded by pedestrian (albeit important) applications of data analytics in the manufacturing space—machine vibration, pump performance, output rates, yawns-per-shift.

But, thankfully, with the ubiquity of Industry 4.0 we’re beginning to find applications in some fun environments, specifically breweries. Data, meet beer. Bottoms up!

The good folks at Oregon’s Deschutes Brewery recently decided to get serious about their data and Tim Alexander was just the guy to help them smarten up their beer-making processes.

“The brewing industry (and specifically the craft-brewing industry) is lagging behind a little in the digital revolution,” opines the brewery-operations technology manager, who is using predictive analytics to help forecast when the key sampling points will happen in their fermentations. “It is a craft, so there is a lot of value and emphasis placed on getting experience and knowledge from tactile involvement with the process. However, there is a wide range of comfort with technology in the industry.”

I suspect that phrase—a wide range of comfort with technology—is Tim’s polite way of saying some breweries aren’t doing a damn thing with their data. And that’s OK. There were skilled brewmasters long before data scientists got involved.

Illustration by Jack Reilly

But the data teams are starting to get their feet wet. Consider the crew at the Chicago arm of Lagunitas Brewing Company, which, like Deschutes, is using data to optimize the beer-making process and employing robots to autonomously move stock from cold-storage to the shipping dock. Just as the porter style of beer was named after the guys who ported the stuff from plant to pub, perhaps we will see a style of beer named for the modern, electronic laborers. “Our Robo has hints of oil and a metallic finish.”

Digital transformation extends beyond booze in the world of vice, naturally. Smart technology is being applied to cannabis-growing, with savings generated by automated irrigation systems, should the cultivators forget to water the plants. The British American Tobacco company has partnered with IBM to digitize its global supply chain, enabling smarter inventory-management systems to optimize delivery of cigarettes to the next generation of smokers.

And artificial intelligence is being implemented by online pornographers to customize offerings based on viewers’ browsing history. Just as BananaRepublic.com will use your selection of a fashionable top to suggest a cute bottom…well…you get the punchline.

Brewing is among the oldest professions. (Not “the oldest profession” mind you, and we’ll have to wait and see how digital transformation affects that fleshy field.) So it’s a thrill to witness this juxtaposition of futuristic tools applied to an ancient craft.

And for beer-lovers—particularly the data nerds or engineers among them—it’s particularly intoxicating.

Chris McNamara is content director with Smart Industry.