Gary Spedding’s biography on the Brewing and Distilling Analytical Services (BDAS) website reads, almost in its entirety: “Gary knows so many people in the industry and is very enthusiastic about sharing ideas. Some people complain that they don’t like walking across a tradeshow hall with him as they really would like to make it to the other side before the show ends.”
Time spent with Spedding reinforces the sentiment. As a sought-after industry expert, Spedding and his colleagues at BDAS are at the fore of advancing the chemical analysis of alcoholic beverages. As a research scientist, Spedding’s curiosity drives him to understand not just the “whats” but also the “hows” and “whys.” And, as a modest, gregarious human being, he’s enthusiastic about sharing his knowledge and helping improve the science of fermentation.
A former biochemistry instructor and laboratory director at the Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago, Ill., the U.K.-born and -educated Spedding moved to Lexington, Ky., in 2000 to provide analytical services for Alltech. As his reputation grew and breweries and distilleries continued to send him samples, Spedding set up a small laboratory in the basement of his home and incorporated BDAS in 2002.
“Early on, there were a lot of people calling Gary asking, ‘How do I do this test?’ They were just pumping him for knowledge,” says sensory and software specialist Tony Aiken, who’s worked alongside Spedding since the beginning. “We told him ‘Gary, get off the phone and stop talking to these people for free.’ He loves to talk and share.”
When a beer journalist recently visited BDAS’s Lexington headquarters, for example, Spedding spent the morning enthusiastically explaining his company’s operation—including a triple TTB-certified laboratory (one of very few in the country) that’s capable of isolating, analyzing, and verifying virtually any aspect of beer, wine, or spirits production. His schedule that week also included collecting samples in preparation to serve as an expert witness, and preparing to open a second BDAS location in Denver, Colo.
The Denver location will house BDAS’s microbiology lab and some beer-related services, and will also help the company expand its educational offerings. “We’re doing more sensory work on the origin of flavors,” Spedding says. “Where do they come from? How do they arise? How do you detect them? How do you control them? Do you want them or are they undesirable?”
“Sensory is just part of it,” Aiken adds. “You also have to know when to do it and how to keep track of your records so, when there’s a problem, you can go back and ask, ‘Should we have known this earlier?’ and ‘Do we have checks in place where we could have prevented this before it became a problem?’”
Detecting small problems before they multiply is a major focus of BDAS’s work, along with education, nutritional analysis, and other assays. “The cost to fix a problem is very small during the early stages of production, but as you put in more work the cost goes up and up,” Aiken says. “Once the product goes out the door, the cost is off the charts in terms of both reputation and financially.”