The future is beer

The team at Barossa Valley Brewing: Denham D’Silva, Tim Bakker, Mat Barr, Jolin Davison and Michael Nietschke make a toast to their new AI generated beer.

A big, hoppy, floral India Pale Ale with a lot of length is how Barossa Valley Brewing owner, Denham D’Silva describes his brewery’s latest product, AI²PA Rodney.

Chances are, if you’re a fan of Barossa Valley Brewing’s style of beers, you’re going to like it, and not just because Denham thinks so. 

It’s because a computer learnt how to generate the ideal recipe for it.

In an Australian first, Barossa Valley Brewing, Tanunda partnered with the Australian Institute of Machine Learning  (AIML) in Adelaide to create a craft beer unlike any other.

Analysing hundreds of thousands of existing recipes and millions of data points, a neural network created by two University of Adelaide computer science students, Christopher Fusco and Jash Vira, came up with 30 optimal beer recipes, and then Barossa Valley Brewing chose one to make.

It’s the way of the future for small business, according to Denham, who said the artificial intelligence (AI) behind the beer was able to process data at a speed and scope he could never hope to match.

“Right now what happens is the trillion dollar companies are creating a ton of data and then working with the smartest guys on the planet to make their business really efficient, and it’s really hard for us to compete,” he said.

“If we allow the biggest companies to have this advantage, smaller companies won’t exist.

“What this beer has shown is that it doesn’t have to be the case.”

To avoid being “consigned to the history books” Denham sees AI playing an integral role in the future of artisans and small producers, but insists it won’t take the skill out of what they do.

“We were really involved from the very start, getting the guys to understand the beer brewing process: What’s important, what are the values, what’s the variables that we really value and the ones that we really stress over, to put that art into the science,” he said.

“If you were just going to ask AI to brew a really popular beer, I guarantee you it would be a pretty bland lager.

“People will try this beer and say, oh my gosh, that is a Barossa Valley Brewing beer, because our art was in there from the very start.”

A self-confessed AI “geek”, Denham first began conversations about the project with AIML directors about a year and a half ago over, you guessed it, a few beers.

“As a brewer, I don’t really get to engage in this a lot, but I have been able to really scratch that nerdy itch here,” he said.

It took about six months to actively “train” the neural network to do what they needed it to do.

The beer that has come out the other side is named in honour of Australian robotics pioneer, Rodney Brooks, and according to Denham, won’t be the last AI beer Barossa Valley Brewing will make.

“We’re going to be creating a website and app where people can actually rate the beer,” he said.

“The machine is going to learn from this, and get all that feedback and improve. So this will be regular, this won’t be a one off experiment.”

The beer will be available for the public to try in January.

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