Chicago’s Revolution Brewing has issued a recall of six of its top selling beers packaged between early August and mid-October due to off flavors the company is attributing to a wild yeast contamination. The affected beers include flagship Anti Hero IPA, as well as First City Pale Ale, Cross of Gold Ale, Mosaic Hero IPA, Eugene Porter, and Unsessionable Imperial IPA. In all, Crain’s reports that more than 10,000 barrels of beer are subject to the recall, but by now most of it has been—harmlessly—consumed.
WHY IT MATTERS
From an aerial perspective, this is the latest in a growing line of noteworthy recalls from prominent breweries around the country. Following the Bourbon County fiasco suffered by Goose Island last year, Revolution’s misstep is the second high profile contamination to come from the Windy City alone. That, of course, isn’t a condemnation of anything Chicago beer makers are up to—contaminations happen. And, as always, it’s nice as a consumer to see Revolution getting ahead of it and owning the mistake publicly.
To wit, the company wrote on its website: “To ensure the overall quality of our beers, Revolution is in the process of removing all questionable beer from our system, including the destruction of identified beers at our brewery, removal of these brews from our distributors’ warehouses, and return of the beer from retail locations. With fresh beer being packaged starting this week, our distribution network will begin working to replace beer immediately.”
From a more granular perspective, though, the contamination might signify a growing pain for a company that has been candid with the struggles associated with undergoing a massive expansion. Revolution Managing Partner Josh Deth says the brewery is taking a number of measures to make sure this doesn't happen again.
"First of all, we’re sending samples to an independent laboratory to have our contaminant DNA sequenced," Deth tells GBH. "This will help us determine exactly what we’re dealing with and how best to test for it going forward. Certain contaminants are screened with different methods and this will help to ensure our quality methods are best suited to detect any possible problems going forward. The lab medias we have been using are focused on finding beer spoiling bacteria and did not detect this wild yeast contaminant, so we need to change up our methods and add additional tests to cast a wider net. Not only will we increase our lab screening, but sensory testing by our brew team throughout the entire process."
Excluding the AB InBev-owned Goose Island, Revolution is the largest craft brewery by volume in Chicago, recently expanding capacity to 150,000 barrels to grow even further. In a talk with Brewbound last month, Donn Bischel, Revolution director of sales and marketing, suggested the company would sell north of 75,000 barrels in 2016. That’s top-50 volume and nothing to scoff at. But Bischel also conceded, falling a bit on his own sword in the process, that with the excess capacity, the company should be selling more than 100,000 barrels. But competition is fierce and tap handles change over these days with fervor. So the company has looked to expand into new markets like New York to find new drinkers. With expansions like this come benefits, of course, but also new challenges.
"Fortunately, as we grow we have more resources to devote to QC," Deth tells GBH. "But the challenge is to ramp up our human resources as well as our hardware and techniques in line with our overall growth."
As for the contamination, Revolution blamed a wild yeast that worsened over time and imparted flavors more typical to Belgian-style ales in the affected beers. While these things are fairly commonplace, it’s worth noting that Revolution doesn’t really make any wild beers. Often, these contaminations arise when a brewery houses production of wild and non-wild beers under one roof, hence the trend of breweries opening secondary facilities dedicated entirely to wild fermentation so as to avoid these issues. Regardless, as it pertains to this issue, the company said it “was not identified in time by our quality control methods.” How those quality control methods change as a company grows likely varies from operation to operation, but as a company’s beer reaches more and more drinkers in more and more markets, it becomes that much more important to steer the ship straight.
The full recall packaged dates below:
Anti Hero IPA: 8/5-10/11
First City Pale Ale: 8/11-9/26
Cross of Gold Ale: 8/23
Mosaic Hero IPA: 8/16-9/8
Eugene Porter: 8/3-10/6
Unsessionable Imperial IPA: 9/27-10/7
Revolution Brewing recalls six of its best selling beers [CRAIN'S]