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Victory & Tech Firm Team Up to Detect Beer Spoilage Bacteria

The list is long of the perfect accompaniments to beer: hot dogs, pizza, peanuts, and pretzels, to name just a few.

Most definitely not on that list: pediococcus and lactobacillus. Consider them beer buzzkills.

These are types of bacteria that often hitch a ride into breweries aboard grain. If they make their way into the beer itself, they can spoil taste by producing lactic acid, a chemical compound most commonly associated with sore muscles after exertion and first refined in 1780 from sour milk.

Whatever its role, brewers have little use for it. That's why Victory Brewing Co., with headquarters in Downingtown, has entered into a partnership with Invisible Sentinel Inc., a Philadelphia life-sciences company specializing in rapid molecular diagnostics for the food and beverage industry.

"We believe this is really going to be a paradigm shift for the [beer] industry," said Nick Siciliano, CEO and cofounder of Invisible Sentinel, a seven-year-old University City start-up working to speed up detection of pediococcus and lactobacillus. That would reduce spoilage incidents, production costs, and delayed product releases.

Victory, which opened in 1996, sells beer in 34 states and several countries, and is on track to produce 125,000 barrels of suds this year. Zach Miller, quality lab technician, said the significance of the test that Invisible Sentinel is developing for the brewery is "paramount."

"The bottom line is we'll be able to have a lot more confidence in sending out a product that we know is not tainted," Miller said.

Invisible Sentinel's Veriflow brewPAL will provide diagnostic results on a beer sample within four hours, replacing a process currently used in the industry that typically involves a seven-day turnaround.

"By that time, . . . if we find out there is infection in the beer, that beer can be well out the door," Miller said. "It would be a full-blown recall situation, which gets very expensive."

That has never happened at Victory, he said. In his 31/2 years there, the presence of pediococcus and lactobacillus has been detected once, at the end of fermentation. The remedy: 100 barrels of beer dumped down the drain, Miller said.

Running contaminated batches through a sterile filter can get rid of bacteria, but also strips out aroma and flavor compounds, he said.

"That experience was enough to tell us we needed some better results," Miller said of the disposed-of batch.

Victory's president and brewmaster, Bill Covaleski, said he met Invisible Sentinel's Siciliano and cofounder Benjamin Pascal at a brewery open house and concluded that "they really knew their stuff in terms of microbiological detection."

Applying that expertise to beer "was the logical next step," Siciliano said Monday from Sonoma County, Calif., where Invisible Sentinel is partnering with Jackson Family Wines to develop a rapid diagnostic to detect brettanomyces, a yeast considered by some to be a wine taste-spoiler.

Like that yeast, the bacteria Invisible Sentinel is helping Victory detect do not present a serious health hazard.

"These are normal gut bacteria, the same stuff in yogurt - probiotics," Miller said. "They can mess with our gastrointestinal tract and lead to some unpleasantness there."

Sort of like a hangover.

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