Tapping Artificial intelligence for your next beer at Oktoberfest

 |   K Raman, Managing Director, Microsoft Malaysia

By K Raman, Managing Director, Microsoft Malaysia

RamanI’d like you to think about how satisfying it feels to lift the cap off an ice-cold bottle of beer. After a long day. When the sun has been merciless. When you sink into the sofa and put your legs up and lean back with a cold one. Or with a hot plate of satay and curry puffs. How good would that would feel?

Asia Pacific is home (thanks to our unique history) to some of the greatest beers. From San Miguel to Tiger Beer. From Bintang to Beerlao to Chang, Hite and Speights, our region boasts a wide range of brews, both commercial and craft, with spices and just plain ol’larger.

Malaysia on the other hand only started brewing beer in 1968, thanks to the establishment of Guinness Anchor Sdn Bhd, a partnership between Guinness and Malayan Breweries Limited. Carlsberg Brewery Malaysia Bhd subsequently entered the Malaysian market in 1970 and to this day, these are the only two breweries in Malaysia. Having said that, the practice of making craft beer has become increasingly popular in Malaysia, paving the way for a more localized, Malaysian tasting beer.

With that in mind, in this month of Oktoberfest, let’s look at the process of brewing beer. Brewing one batch of beer, isn’t a problem. How about brewing beer 365 days a year, managing variations in key ingredient quality and seasonality, timing or weather conditions? How can a brewery ensure a consistent product, every single day?

Danish brewing giant, Carlsberg knows that artificial intelligence can help. Tapping (pun intended) on artificial intelligence as the foundation of the Beer Fingerprinting Project, Carlsberg is hoping that leveraging on cloud and machine learning, in conjunction with advanced sensors and analytics, will help their researchers map out and predict flavors faster.

The lab began working with Aarhus University, Denmark’s leading research institution to develop sensors with the Technical University of Denmark. The sensors will work out how to implement flavors in different fermentation scenarios. And with Microsoft to analyze the signals from the sensors using artificial intelligence solutions, it will also measure the flavors and aromas created by yeast and other ingredients.

Carlsberg creates hundreds of small microliter brews and beers, in such small volume it’s not feasible to taste and test them all. As such, researchers rely on sensors to deliver data that can tell them whether the yeast is will be usable later in large-scale beer production. At the same time, the ability to recognize the chemicals and flavor compounds to predict what a beer will taste like goes a long way in helping their research improve.

Ultimately, the goal is to map a flavor fingerprint for each sample and reduce the time it takes to research taste combinations and processes, which will help the company get more distinct beers to market faster.

Looking beyond the big brewers, there’s Jason Cohen, who wants to help microbrewers craft better beer. The problem that Jason wanted to solve was relatively simple: the flavors in beer batches didn’t always turn out the way he wanted.

Jason’s company, Analytical Flavor Systems, uses an app called Gastrograph to collect tasters’ impressions of up to 24 different flavor characteristics. Cohen then throws artificial intelligence and machine-learning into the mix to turn data about what people taste (this can also apply to wine, chocolate, coffee and spirits) into data that companies can use to create more consistent products. Cohen notes that microbreweries have more variation than they want to admit, not only can his software service identify dozens of beer styles in seconds, it can also help detect bad beer, where the hops are stale.

Interestingly, Cohen’s original research was founded in tea, but as he relied on university students as tasters for data collection, the lack of familiarity with tea made for slim pickings for data collection. He shifted to using beer tastings, and voila! Data collection was no longer a problem, as free beer proved to be a very attractive draw for students.

Beer brewers and drinkers aren’t strangers to finding ways to use technology to make a tastier tipple, as in the case of a high-tech countertop dispenser and the use of sound waves to help users achieve the perfect pour. For those truly passionate about their beer, it’s important to remember that the right application of technologies like artificial intelligence can empower brewers and aficionados to achieve more, whether in finding insight into what makes a beer tastier, or to predict which flavor profiles will work best in the market.

For me, the real opportunity is in using science to bring the art of brewing beer to new heights and I’m looking forward to the possibilities that artificial intelligence enables. As always, please do remember to drink sensibly and responsibly. As they say, in spirit of Oktoberfest, prost!