By: Emma Kerman, Beyers Chemical Account Manager
If you’re in the brewing community, there’s a good chance that you’ve heard of, if not performed, a “sniff test”. The sniff test is one of the few methods used to test for VDKs like diacetyl. It’s very common amongst microbreweries and home brewers because it doesn’t require significant time or access to the equipment needed for the standard ASBC methods, and it still provides a quality control measurement to determine the end of fermentation.
If you aren’t familiar with the sniff test, the basic premise is to take two samples of beer, heat one of them up, and check to see if the unheated sample smells more buttery than the heated one. If the samples smell different, there is still diacetyl and possibly the odorless precursor alpha-acetolactate in the beer and fermentation should continue. If the samples smell the same, you can assume that all of the alpha-acetolactate was converted to diacetyl and got fully metabolized by the yeast, signaling the end of fermentation.
While this method is quick and essentially free, it is very informal and can be quite unreliable. The olfactory organs can vary so much from person to person, some people can’t even detect diacetyl at all! It can also easily be impacted by something as small as the common cold. In addition, the sniff test can propose physical health risks. There’s a medical condition associated with diacetyl inhalation called popcorn lung, also known as obliterative bronchiolitis (OB). It was first discovered in popcorn factories where workers were constantly exposed to the diacetyl added to enrich the popcorn’s buttery flavor. OB occurs when there is damage to the lungs smallest airways and that damage is irreversible.
That’s where the Beyers Chemical Co. VDK+ Test Kit comes in. Our proprietary test strips accurately test for VDKs in only 15 minutes, don’t require fancy equipment or lab training, results are comparable to the standard ASBC methods, and don't require any direct inhalation which helps keep brewers safe. Making them a perfect quality control option for both commercial and home brewers!
Resources on Obliterative Bronchiolitis:
1. CDC - Flavorings-Related Lung Disease - NIOSH Workplace Safety and Health Topic. (2017, October 03). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/flavorings/default.html
2. J.S. Fedan, J.A. Dowdy, K.B. Fedan, A.F. Hubbs, Popcorn worker's lung: In vitro exposure to diacetyl, an ingredient in microwave popcorn butter flavoring, increases reactivity to methacholine, Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, Volume 215, Issue 1, 2006, Pages 17-22
3. Palmer, Scott M., et al. “Severe Airway Epithelial Injury, Aberrant Repair and Bronchiolitis Obliterans Develops after Diacetyl Instillation in Rats.” PLoS ONE, vol. 6, no. 3, 2011, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0017644.