Neil Witte, Craft Quality Solutions Founder, on Quality Control After Beer Leaves the Brewery

Last Call by | Jan 2017 | Issue #120
Art by Nathan Arizona

Ever get a flat beer at a bar? They might be using a Guinness draft line for their carbonated beers and not even know it. Brewers probably don’t know their beer is being pumped through a nitro line either—and that’s what Neil Witte aims to change with his new company, Craft Quality Solutions. Sixteen years doing field quality work for Duvel Moortgat USA and Boulevard Brewing Co. has made him an expert on out-of-code beer and dirty or poorly designed draft systems. One of only 13 Master Cicerones, Witte wants to end the era of shadowy shipping and handling, and answer the industry’s call to focus on quality.

What sparked the idea for this kind of company?
The more I see craft beer developing, the more I see a need for [quality control] in the industry. … We’ve got over 5,000 craft breweries now [in the US], and the vast majority don’t have anybody [in this role]. I can’t help but think there’s a lot of brewers who would like to have someone full time in the field making sure that their beer is of the best quality and is being taken care of, but can’t really afford to have somebody out in the marketplace.

What do people find surprising about your job?
I think, for one, when you tell them you work in quality control for a brewery, or with beer, they think you’re drinking beer all the time. And you’re not. Tasting beer and sampling beer is a part of what you have to do, but it’s by no means the only thing that you do. It’s actually a lot of technical work, and it can be some dirty work, too.

What’s the worst quality-control disaster you’ve seen?
I think some of the most egregious things I’ve seen have been line-cleaning issues. …. I’ve seen a beer faucet that was constricted down to just a little pinhole of beer shooting out of the faucet when you opened it because of all the wild yeast and mold that had built up around the interior spout. … I’ve seen some pretty nasty stuff over the years.

What does being a Master Cicerone mean to you?
For one, it means that I’m really obsessive about beer. … I think one of the qualities of all the Master Cicerones … is that they all realize that there’s a whole lot that they don’t know. I think that’s the case with any subject. The more you learn, the more you realize you’ve got a lot to learn. It’s a passion. Important qualities for somebody who passed the test would be passion, obsessiveness, and a love of great food and beverage. It almost always extends beyond just beer.

Why is field quality control important?
At industry events, you hear public speakers talking about how you need to make the best beer out there if you’re gonna survive among 5,000 breweries. The main message you hear right now is all about quality. And it’s surprising to me that there’s so little attention paid to what happens to the beer after it leaves the brewery. I’m surprised that no one has really decided to focus exclusively on that segment of the industry from a quality standpoint, and I’m excited to try and fill that gap.