When it comes to questions about oxygen in beer, I think the one I’m asked most often is, “What is the difference between dissolved oxygen and total package oxygen (TPO)?” The main source of this confusion is that when measuring O2 in packages, the O2 in the headspace is often overlooked. If you don’t take headspace oxygen into account, then you are measuring a partial concentration, period. So let’s talk about the differences and what each one tells you.
A significant number of craft brewers have a dissolved oxygen (dO2) analyzer they use to measure the dO2 content of their beer in process. The most common point of measurement is the finished beer tank. The beer in a finishing tank will have O2 pickup from the empty vessel and from the filtration process, plus it will pickup more O2 as it goes through packaging.
Once the beer is packaged, however (assuming good packaging,) rapid O2 pickup from outside sources all but stops. So what can we tell about how much oxygen actually made it into the package? It is not a simple matter of measuring the O2 in the beer. The package must be shaken to equilibrate the oxygen in the beer and the headspace before the 02 in the beer is measured, and that number must then be used to calculate your TPO. Let’s think about what it is possible to measure and what each thing tells you.
Package dO2 –
The easiest measurement to take on packaged beer is the dO2 of a package just off the filler without shaking the beer. It is important to measure as quickly as possible, so the product does not “consume” the oxygen in the beer. (Residual or live yeast may be hungry, plus oxidation by trace metals, etc.) In some packages there is a measurable difference within five minutes and in other packages the rate of oxygen consumption takes significantly longer, sometimes hours. It is always best to measure as quickly as possible.
This unshaken package measurement represents the combination of the dO2 of the beer at the base of the filler and the oxygen pickup of the filler. Oxygen picked up at the filler can be quite variable. Most fillers run at about 25 to 50 percent deviation, but in some cases it can be up to 100 percent deviation. The best way to measure the percent deviation is to determine the dO2 at the base of the filler and then measure six to ten packages and determine the variation of each package as compared to the average of all the containers. But remember: this measurement only tells you what is in the liquid. When measuring unshaken packages, any gas in the headspace is left uncounted.
Shaken Package dO2 –
When you shake a package of beer so that the partial pressure of the oxygen in the liquid is equal to the partial pressure in the headspace, it changes the characteristics of the oxygen partitioning in the package. If most of the oxygen in the package is locked in the liquid, then shaking the container will move the O2 from the liquid to the headspace until equilibrium is reached.
So, you have measured the dO2 and then shaken the package. Now what do you do with the data? If you really want to quantify the TPO of the package you have to take into account the headspace oxygen. To do this accurately you need to know the headspace volume and the package temperature.
Total Package Oxygen –
When using the dissolved oxygen measurement, the TPO can only be calculated from a shaken package. To do this calculation you also need to know the headspace volume, liquid volume and the package temperature. The temperature and the headspace volume are critical values and small inaccuracies can alter the results significantly, but the liquid volume may be estimated by using the average fill volume. Once you have your figures, then you can use a TPO calculator to determine the concentration from your initial DO2 measurements.
My final thought is to not skimp on how much you shake the packages. Cold containers should be shaken for five minutes and room temperature cans or bottles need about three minutes. If you’d like a copy of a TPO calculator built into an Excel spreadsheet, then please click here to request one.