Global beer maker Carlsberg is using artificial intelligence (AI) to improve the business of making its product.
The “Beer Fingerprinting Project” is a new initiative the Copenhagen-based brewery launched with Aarhus University’s Interdisciplinary Nanoscience Center, Microsoft, and the Technical University of Denmark.
Using a taste-sensor platform, the team can analyze different yeasts and identify subtle nuances in them, making it possible to quickly distinguish between the different flavors developed each day in the Carlsberg Laboratory. That’s a process that’s long been done by humans, with little to no tech involved. Having sensors identify the flavors means getting products to market much faster than ever before. Using AI will also help the company ensure higher-quality products that meet all food-safety regulations.
Carlsberg is not the first to try this. IntelligentX Brewing Co. has launched a beer brewed entirely by machine learning and algorithms. Drinkers taste the beer and report feedback to the company’s AI. That data is used to make changes and improvements as it brews the next batch of beer.
But wait. Isn’t beer-making supposed to be a kind of art form? Wouldn’t replacing human taste buds with sensors diminish that artistic side and stifle creativity in the process?
To some degree, yes. The flavor of a beer depends on how brewers choose to combine the drink’s four ingredients—water, yeast, barley, and hops. As anyone who’s ever been to a craft beer bar knows, those combinations often turn out pretty wacky results, depending on the group doing the brewing. Doughnut-bacon-maple beer, anyone?
Of course, like any other major brand, Carlsberg’s main business is to move product. But that doesn’t mean the company can’t experiment. And while we probably won’t see beer made from Hawaiian pizza anytime soon, Carlsberg has said it wants to develop “novel flavors” across all its lines, from its mainstream products to specialty and non-alcoholic beers.
Likewise, the IntelligentX founders told The Financial Times that AI is “an enabler but not a replacement for humans” when it comes to making brews. Technology, in this case, is just a means of enhancing what’s already there.
Not everyone is so excited, though. The same FT article quoted Yeastie Boys founder Stu McKinley as saying he would expect beers made with AI “to be pretty middle of the road.” And my former colleague Derrick Harris recently noted that, “For some reason, adding AI into the mix cheapens the process to me,” adding that, “this isn’t pharmaceutical research, where the right or wrong chemistry has life-or-death consequences. It’s just beer.”
Harris has a perfectly valid point, and sure, there is always a possibility that machine-made beer will turn out middle of the road. That said, a larger beer-maker experimenting with AI will give the market more insight into what you can do with technology-based food and beverage in general, and on a global scale. Whether that’s middle-of-the-road or pizza-flavored remains to be seen.