By: Alyssa l. Ochs
Breweries have been around for thousands of years, and while some aspects of the brewing process remain the same, a lot is changing in the modern brewing industry. Craft beer producers have been asking for more from the machinery they use, and innovative companies have answered that demand with some exciting new technology.
Whether your brewery is brand-new or has been around for many years, it’s worth learning about the new mechanisms, tools, technology and improvements that are being made to brewing equipment right now.
Brewer Demand Driving Innovation
From automated bottling to bourbon-barrel aging methods and distilled hop oil, there have been many brewing industry innovations over the years. Yet modern brewers are still asking for more changes in the equipment and technology they use to suit their brewing styles and customer preferences better.
Bob Haggerty, head brewer for Steel Bender Brewyard in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, New Mexico, told Beverage Master Magazine, “While loads of improvements have been, and continue to be, made to increase the convenience and connectivity of today’s equipment, I think that the focus on fewer bells and whistles and more quality is what I look for.
“I’m not interested that my mash tun can send me email updates and would rather have mash screens that effectively filter wort,” Haggerty said. “I am not saying that I think we should move backward and eschew technology in all forms, only that shiny gadgets don’t impress me on their own.”
Concerning brewery equipment that holds great potential for the future, Haggerty said that he has been intrigued by the idea of real-time, continuous monitoring of product in fermenters and brite tanks for data, such as gravity, pH and dissolved oxygen.
“Though I have been approached with a gadget that does this already, it came with a hefty price tag and was coupled with a pricy subscription service,” Haggerty said. “I’d be more interested in something that was lower in cost and could be installed on every tank without the obligatory online aspect or subscription model.”
Basically, when it comes to equipment, the Steel Bender brewing team prefers the focus to be on function, not Facebook.
Torrey Lattin, the co-owner and head brewer for Hopping Gnome Brewing Company in Wichita, Kansas, has found that the most crucial brewing equipment is basic supplies that are in high demand, such as access to aluminum cans right now.
“There have been several shortages during the pandemic, and it has been difficult to find enough cans with most breweries increasing their to-go options,” Lattin said. “We know of a few companies that we regularly purchase from, but we’re wondering if there are more options out there and if we can discuss this more with others in the industry.”
In terms of machinery, the most in-demand pieces of equipment are generally the ones that save brewers time during the brewing process.
“We recently purchased a keg washer, and it is probably my favorite piece of equipment for the time and work it saves,” said Lattin. “I highly recommend it for anyone utilizing a lot of kegs.”
Recent Advancements in Brewery Equipment
In general, there has been a lot more automation in the various steps of the brewing process to replace manual oversight and guidance. Brewery-focused companies have created cryogenic products for hop preservation and used advanced laboratory science to effectively can beer and measure dissolved oxygen.
Meanwhile, depalletizers help improve quality control for canning and require just one operator on the line. Some breweries use a mash filter press that is a specialized plate and frame filter to recover extract, improve wort production and be more efficient.
A recent development involves two holes on cans’ standard ends to improve airflow and let consumers get a smoother pour with less foam. There’s also technology for cans that transform them into their own cup to eliminate the need for glassware and reduce waste. Brewery equipment is also enabling breweries to create packaging with an airtight seal that re-closes the tab after opening so you can save part of a beer for later.
Another trend worth noting is investing in machines that can produce both beer and spirits so that beverage companies can have crossover brewery and distillery operations. A barrel-aging system makes it easy to combine these two methods of beverage production.
Cavitation involves a rotating impeller that generates low pressures at its fast-moving tips. This process increases the rate that starch passes from pulverized malted barley into the wart and eliminates the need for milling malted barley in advance.
Other equipment upgrades and innovations that breweries may be interested to learn about include multi-purpose aseptic container brewing vessels, kink-resistant brewery hoses, beer-serving tanks to use in taprooms as an alternative to kegs and scalable wastewater treatment.
With regard to significant brewery equipment updates in recent years, Jef Lewis, the president of BrewBilt Manufacturing, told Beverage Master Magazine that the drop dosing tank has become very popular among breweries lately. Based in Grass Valley, California, BrewBilt is a handcrafted brewery equipment company that has been working on several exciting new pieces of equipment.
“Hopping techniques have changed since the old days, and there’s a lot of dry hopping going on in the fermentation process,” Lewis said. “The hop dosing tank allows brewers to fill it with whatever they want to add to the fermentation. You would then purge the tank of any air and begin recirculating with a pump.”
Lewis said that, lately, his company also includes whirlpool recirculation heat exchanges.
“These are specially designed heat exchangers that cool the wort down from boil temperature to 167 to 170 degrees in about 10 minutes,” he said. “This allows the brewer to do hop aroma additions without getting any bitterness from the hop.”
Rusty Riley, founder and president of Oronoko Iron Works in Baroda, Michigan, told Beverage Master Magazine the most significant shift he has seen in the last 10 years has been toward a greater degree of automation in every corner of the brewery, better-equipped laboratories, and better data collection and utilization. Oronoko Iron Works is a custom-fabrication, CNC plasma cutting and machining company with a foundation in the brewing and distilling industry.
“From grain handling to the brewhouse and on to fermentation, people have begun to utilize automation and data analysis to develop more consistent processes, which, in turn, leads to a more consistent product,” Riley said. “As consumers become more health-conscious, more breweries will move into producing non-alcoholic products that still satisfy a beer drinker’s palate. I anticipate some innovation in that sector in the coming years.”
New Brewery Equipment to Consider
One example of a new piece of equipment from BrewBilt is this company’s Wort Oxygenator that allows breweries to eliminate the need for an oxygen tank to oxygenate their wort on the way from the heat exchanger to the fermenter. This is an important piece of equipment because sanitary oxygen is the most expensive and dangerous type of gas used by breweries.
“What we offer is a safe alternative that eliminates the recurring cost of getting a tank filled,” said Lewis. “All that is needed is a small air compressor to deliver air to a specialized filter, and what comes out is sanitary oxygen. Then it goes through a flowmeter that allows the brewer to select and monitor how much oxygen is added to the wort through a venturi.”
Another popular piece of BrewBilt equipment is its Mobil Flow Meter. It is a magnetic, digital sanitary flow meter that can be connected to anything in the brewery through a tri-clamp.
“Plug any 120-volt extension cord to the unit, and you’re on your way,” Lewis said. “It includes a reset button to set it back to zero when you’re done, and it’s packaged in a small, sturdy stainless-steel frame with a handle to keep it safe from the rigors of the brewery environment.”
Other BrewBilt equipment currently on-trend with breweries are the CIP Cart that uses electric or steam heat for cleaning brewery tanks and the three- and six-head manual and automated keg washers.
Oronoko Iron Works launched in 2014 with a mission to build a better roll mill for brewers. It is still the company’s top product.
“The biggest factor in consistency is repeatability, and our mills are easy to adjust and get the same setting over and over again,” Riley said. “Since day one, we’ve strived to make our mills more user-friendly and bomb-proof. We’ve created additional particle reduction solutions like hammer mills, comminutors and other types of crushers and grinders, as well as ancillary products, like bulk bag stands, bins and bag-dump stations.
“Along the way, we discovered that our customers also have a need for automated knife gates and other automation, so we’ve begun focusing on those areas too,” Riley said. “We’ve tried to become a ‘one-stop-shop’ for our customers so we can grow as they grow.”
Conclusions and Advice About New Brewery Equipment
Although not all equipment innovations add significant value to the brewing process, certain strategic pieces can make life much easier. For both new breweries and well-established ones, it is a smart idea to stay up-to-date on recent equipment trends and learn about forward-thinking companies that are helping brewing processes become more efficient.
Lewis of Brewbilt recommends that breweries don’t underestimate themselves and buy too small of a brewhouse. “There are golden ratios for brewhouse tanks, like boil kettles, mash tuns and lauter tuns that greatly increase your brewhouse efficiency,” he said. “Don’t buy the wrong shape tanks!”
Lewis also said breweries should make sure the dead space under their lauter tun’s false bottom is minimal, to get a larger hot liquor tank than you think you need and to invest in lab equipment.
“New technology is important and exciting, but don’t overlook ROI of the technology you’re investing in and examine how it might impact the growth trajectory of your business,” said Riley of Oronoko Iron Works.
Riley also encourages breweries to ask themselves whether investing a few more dollars now will see them through to the next phase of growth. “Look out one, two, five or 10 years and try to envision what will improve your bottom line and help you achieve those goals over that time frame.”