Humans have been brewing beer for more than 5,000 years, and the process has only grown more complicated since its beginnings. Now, two students are seeing if an AI is up to the task.
Christopher Fusco and Jash Vira are interns at the University of Adelaide’s Australian Institute for Machine Learning. The two worked closely with Barossa Valley Brewing to develop a neural network capable of designing its own craft beer.
Typically, beer contains four main ingredients: malt, hops, water and yeast. However, the smallest variations in those ingredients, as well as changes to times and temperatures during the different stages of the brewing process, can result in completely different tasting beers.
The first steps of Fusco and Vira’s process was to gather 260,000 existing craft beer recipes online. The neural network the two would create would study these recipes and learn how to make beer from them.
Teaching an AI how to make beer was only part of the work for the two. The next part was for the two to teach the AI how to make good beer. To do this, the two created a mathematical formula using statistics from the existing recipes the team found.
The formula measured how popular different beer recipes were, using variables such as how many times the recipe was viewed online and how many people said they had made it.
“By getting statistics on these variables, we were able to judge the significance of each variable, this also helped us deal with any possible biases that could have occurred in the data,” Vira said.
This formula allowed the AI to give its own recipes a popularity rating.
“We generated 200,000 new recipes, and then we trained a neural network to pick the best ones and rank them,” Fusco said.
The AI’s recipes had 60 points of data, or features, that it could alter to create its brew. It weighed different brewing options such as changes in quantities of ingredients, yeast fermentation temperature, boil time and predictive indicators for bitterness, color and alcohol content.
Fusco and Vira’s neural network produced 30 potential beers, and the experts at Barossa Valley Brewing were tasked with picking the best one.
The result is the Rodney AI²PA, named in honor of Rodney Brooks, an Australian roboticist and co-founder of iRobot.
“The willingness to experiment and create interesting and premium beers has been a foundation of the brewery for 16 years. So, to largely place this process in the hands of AI, was in a word, terrifying,” said Denham D’Silvia, the founder of Barossa Valley Brewing. “Beer is traditionally a very hands-on process, and even more so for a small craft brewery like Barossa Valley. When you’re a smaller craft brewery you can’t compete on scale, so you have to be different and clever.”
D’Silvia’s partnership with Fusco and Vira has shown him how accessible AI can be for small companies.
“It’s really important that small and medium enterprises embrace the opportunities that AI offers. Craft producers need to get involved to ensure AI incorporates the art which makes us special,” D’Silvia said.
The Rodney AI²PA by Barossa Valley Brewing will be available for limited retail sale from mid-January 2022.
The students aren’t the first to put AI to the task of brewing beer. In 2016, IntelligentX began brewing a line of AI beers. IntelligentX constantly gathers feedback from its customers and updates its brews based on that feedback.