By: Alyssa L. Ochs
At Beverage Master Magazine, we’re always looking to keep up with craft brewing trends, which more often than not relates to pieces of innovative equipment and new technologies. Certain types of new equipment are slowly but steadily being introduced to breweries, as are new technologies, tools, mechanisms and improvements to processes relied upon in the past.
These things factor into how efficiently breweries can operate during challenging times and how memorable their beers are when they reach consumers. To learn more about the role of new equipment in the modern brewery setting, we looked into what’s being used in breweries lately and what industry leaders who work in this space are saying.
Types of Equipment & New Changes
There are a few essential equipment types that breweries use today. Examples include the malt mill, mash tun, filtration system, heat exchanger and brite tank. Breweries also regularly use pumps, valves, kegs, hydrometers and equipment for dispensing and packaging.
While experienced brewers are already familiar with all of these things, they might be interested in new equipment options and types of technology to potentially save time, money or labor. Certain machinery may preserve hops better, improve quality control or keep processes more consistent for a better result. Meanwhile, new technology might facilitate multi-purpose machines in a small space or accommodate a shift to using more cans as the business grows. As the industry continues to trend toward aluminum cans, canning equipment is in demand and being considered by brewers who have traditionally stuck to glass bottles.
Equipment and Technology Worth Learning About
These days, there are fully automated, multi-vessel systems to serve breweries’ needs and specialized wort aeration and oxygenation equipment to
improve brewing processes. Developments have been made to pneumatic conveyors that remove spent grains and tank systems that save water and conserve energy by using compressed air instead of CO2 and have recyclable inner bags. Meanwhile, sustainable design and build practices have been gaining traction for environmental stewardship, future economic vitality and customers’ social enrichment.
We’ve been following specific advancements, including BrewSavor’s kink-resistant hoses, Thielmann’s multi-purpose aseptic containers, and Twin Monkeys’ low-key and affordable automatic canning line. IntelligentX software compares supply chain and production constraints with beer drinkers’ preferences, and FliteBrite created a “smart flight” serving system to assist menu development at establishments serving craft beer.
Other machinery and technology-related updates include fully automated, stainless steel crossflow filters for better beer filtration and automated brewing systems with touch screens and mobile technology graphics. These brewing systems are equipped with artificial intelligence features that give feedback on beer produced while integrating customer feedback with manufacturing data. Some professional brewers are not particularly interested in all these “bells and whistles” and believe they are not worth the money and extra staff training to do what they already do best. However, new breweries and current establishments undergoing transition may be curious to adopt a few practical, high-tech features to create a more automated, organized or modern operation.
Even some seemingly simple pieces of equipment, such as kegs, have been updated to make them more suitable for the current brewing environment. Now you can find stainless steel barrels with automated control systems for better precision and slim diameter kegs to store beer in limited spaces.
Justin Willenbrink, Blefa Kegs’ sales director for North America, told Beverage Master Magazine that while not much has changed over the years concerning stainless steel kegs, the innovation comes from the barrels’ safety and quality.
“Each keg from Blefa comes with an integrated pressure relief valve to reduce the risk to producers and on-premise staff by creating a safe failure,” Willenbrink said. “Quality has been the cornerstone of our company for more than 100 years. Durability can only be guaranteed by high-quality material, reliable operating production equipment, highly qualified staff and high-precision manufacturing according to your specifications. These high-quality standards allow us to be the only manufacturer of stainless steel kegs in the world to offer a guarantee of 30 years – a promise to all our customers that they have purchased a reliable and extremely durable asset.”
Blefa and American Keg partnered in early 2020 to serve the North American market with a domestic manufacturer. Since then, the companies have been working together to upgrade their equipment and support U.S. customer needs, ensuring that efficiency gains in production align with the quality standards of both companies.
“As a world’s leader in stainless steel packaging, Blefa and American Keg can provide various sizes from 10 liters to 59.62 liters. The U.S. 1/2 bbl, slim 1/4 bbl and 1/6 bbl are the most popular for both on- and off-premise needs. All kegs from our stock are equipped with drop-in D-Type spears from Micro Matic,” Willenbrink said.
Buy New, Used or Lease?
When brewers think about updating their equipment, dollar signs often flash before their eyes as new equipment costs start adding up. However, there are options available for breweries on tight budgets, such as leasing new or buying used equipment still in great condition.
Canning lines are among the most common systems that breweries debate about buying or leasing. Leasing involves entering into a legal agreement for a specified time and works somewhat like a loan. At the end of the lease period, the effectiveness of the equipment may be significantly diminished and therefore not an attractive purchase for another brewing operation. However, you may be able to purchase your current machine for a discounted price. As long as it is still in good working condition, this is an ideal option since staff would already be familiar with it, and you would not encounter any delay in production.
Capital leases are common, especially when a brewery is only looking to update a single piece of equipment rather than start from scratch or do a total equipment overhaul. It may be beneficial to have a lawyer look over any lease agreement before signing to check the interest rates, accounting implications and terms of the lease in case of equipment malfunctions and who is responsible for repairs. Other considerations include any plans for expansion, durability and logistics of getting equipment into and out of the facility.
What’s Next for Brewing Equipment and Technology?
There’s a lot to look forward to for brewers who keep an eye out for the next great invention. Many manufacturers and suppliers have a finger on the pulse of the industry and can anticipate the needs of brewers in the years ahead. These companies’ successes depend on how well they change and adapt to the shifts and evolutions of the industry, especially during pandemic times.
When asked how brewing equipment can best adapt to the changing needs of the modern brewery, Willenbrink said stainless steel kegs are the most well-equipped for providing a quality product because they protect the beverage from harmful UV light and oxidation while ensuring that quality isn’t compromised.
“Not only is it the most profitable package, but it is also the most sustainable with stainless steel kegs being 100% recyclable,” he said. “When it comes to the packaging of beer, wine or soft drinks, kegs made of stainless steel offer the best protection. In their reliability, economic efficiency and sustainability, our kegs provide first-class results.”
Willenbrink’s advice to breweries looking at new equipment is to never compromise on quality and make investments in assets that offer maximum safety and reliability for your needs.
“By choosing a quality supplier, you are making a decision to work with a company that has invested in automation and quality control systems that ensure the highest level of precision and process,” he said. “Comprehensive support from first contact through delivery and continuing with service capabilities from highly qualified technical staff ensure experience and commitment to each investment made.”
With more automation, there should be greater consistency from one brewer to the next, something vital during staffing changes and high service industry turnover rates. Yet, these machines and technologies don’t remove brewers from their craft; they simply eliminate tedious processes so that beverage producers can have more time to be creative and take their passion for great beer to the next level.