Studies supporting the use of mechanical mixing in large scale beer fermentations

Brewing fermentations have traditionally been undertaken without the use of mechanical agitation, with mixing being provided only by the fluid motion induced by the CO2 evolved during the batch process. This approach has largely been maintained because of the belief in industry that rotating agitators would damage the yeast. Recent studies have questioned this view. At the bench scale, brewer’s yeast is very robust and withstands intense mechanical agitation under aerobic conditions without observable damage as measured by flow cytometry and other parameters. Much less intense mechanical agitation also decreases batch fermentation time for anaerobic beer production by about 25% compared to mixing by CO2 evolution alone with a small change in the concentration of the different flavour compounds. These changes probably arise for two reasons. Firstly, the agitation increases the relative velocity and the area of contact between the cells and the wort, thereby enhancing the rate of mass transfer to and from the cells. Secondly, the agitation eliminates spatial variations in both yeast concentration and temperature, thus ensuring that the cells are maintained close to the optimum temperature profile during the whole of the fermentation time. These bench scale studies have recently been supported by results at the commercial scale from mixing by an impeller or by a rotary jet head, giving more consistent production without changes in final flavour. It is suggested that this reluctance of the brewing industry to use (adequate) mechanical agitation is another example where the myth of shear damage has had a detrimental effect on the optimal operation of commercial bioprocessing.