If You Build It, They Will Come

By: Donald Snyder, President, Whiskey Systems Online

December/January 2018 – Beverage Master Magazine

Released in 1989, Kevin Costner’s character in the movie “Field of Dreams” plows his cornfield to build a baseball field motivated by one of the most iconic movie lines of all time; “If you build it, he will come.” Investing all his family’s savings into the infrastructure, he built something that not only had a special meaning to his community but drew in people from all over. The parallels to the growing craft distilling industry are striking. Aspiring distillers share the passion for building something special and making an investment in their community that will draw a crowd. After the corn is plowed and the lights installed, here are some ways craft distillers can bring in foot traffic.

  Every state has different regulations on what a craft distillery can sell to consumers, including limits on bottle sales, cocktails, samples, and food offerings. Those distillers that can sell cocktails have an advantage as people can come in for a drink or take advantage of happy hour specials. However, just having a welcoming and well-decorated bar does not guarantee boots in the door.

  Richard Stabile, owner of Long Island Spirits in Baiting Hollow, New York has a craft distillery with a tasting room bar off the Long Island Expressway. Part of his success bringing in customers is maintaining a vibrant social media presence and encouraging people to try a rotating list of craft cocktails.

  “People come out to see the local wine trail and stop at the distillery for a cocktail,” said Stabile. “Being listed on the expressway signs as an attraction is a big benefit. We get to show customers how to use our spirits in their own craft cocktails at home which encourages them to pick up a bottle while enjoying a drink.”

Community Engagement

  Some states don’t allow cocktails or mixed drinks on site, which means distilleries need to be creative on how to bring in foot traffic. Paul Tomaszewski, owner of MB Roland Distillery in Pembroke, Kentucky, hosts regular events to bring in a crowd and stay connected with the community. “Pickin’ on the Porch,” combines live music, drinks, and food trucks and is one of the most popular events in the area, drawing 1,500 to 2,500 people per night. Another big draw to the distillery is “Vintage, Crafts & Cocktails” where the distillery hosts a variety of vendors from jewelry makers to craft artists that embody the artisan spirit.

  “The Vintage, Craft & Cocktail event brings in people who normally wouldn’t seek out a distillery, and helps build strong relationships with the community,” said Tomaszewski.

  Hosting events has the potential to expose your brand to large crowds, but there can be significant risks and costs. Tomaszewski urges caution when planning a big occasion.

  “We have a dedicated person working on planning, finding music, and making sure logistics are lined up. It’s quite a process and a whole other part of the business on top of production and distilling. One rainout could mean a significant loss of money. In the end, it’s a balance between the risks and reward,” he said.

  A less risky and less costly way to draw in foot traffic is to engage with followers with a regular email newsletter. When visitors to the distillery check-in, collect email addresses. Add a link to the distillery webpage where fans can sign up for email updates. The newsletter can communicate big and small events, cocktail recipes, new releases, and any other exciting distillery news. Include links to purchase event tickets, get coupons or discounts, or engage with the distiller via social media channels.

  Travis Barnes, owner of Hotel Tango Distillery in Indianapolis, Indiana, sends regular newsletters to his customers and fans.

  “It’s a balance of keeping folks up to date on what is going on with the distillery, menu changes, and new projects. People want to stay engaged with the distillery but not get inundated. We have a distillery cat named Fletcher, and everyone looks forward to knowing what he’s up to. Keeping fans engaged keeps them coming back for more,” said Barnes.

Private Events

  Another way to get traffic is to rent out the distillery space for private events like weddings, business conferences, and parties. In addition to the revenue from renting the space and possible bottle sales, it provides brand exposure to people from outside of the immediate community. Weddings, in particular, provide opportunities for product recognition as they draw people from across the country. Special event spaces in a distillery could range from a renovated barn on the property to a portioned off section of the distillery gift shop.

  Branden Bumpers, co-owner and head distiller at McClintock Distillery in Frederick, Maryland rents out space in his distillery for a variety of events. “We have only been open for about a year, but money from our event space is 25% of our total revenue. The building is 106 years-old, and we spent over two years restoring it with the event space in mind. It has all the amenities for a wedding and corporate parties. So far the response has been overwhelmingly positive.”

  Bumpers recognizes that renting out the distillery space can mean less revenue from peak tour and tasting times. That can be mediated, however, by budgeting the revenue shortfall into the rental price. When asked about the risk from theft or damage, Bumpers notes the risk is always there. “We hold a security deposit, but so far people have been respectful and caused no serious issues.”

Unique Experiences

  The summer of 2016 introduced a unique way to draw crowds to specific points of interest, including craft distilleries. Pokémon Go, an augmented reality cell phone game by Niantic placed digital characters, poke-stops, and gyms across the country. Players must physically visit these locations to earn items or to battle other Pokémon Go players digitally. Many distillers don’t know they are featured in the game until several random players show up all at once. Some distilleries who know about the game openly advertise that they are a poke-stop or gym and encourage of-age customers to visit their gift shop to “collect them all.”

  One of the most popular ways to get boots in the door is to release special- and limited-edition bottles. Craft distilleries have the benefit of being able to experiment with new or unique ingredients in small batches. Small batches give them innovative strategic strength over larger distilleries who don’t have the resources or capacity for research and development. Not only are limited edition products a fantastic way to get customer feedback before launching a larger batch, but bottles are often seen as collectibles and in high demand. Lines for a new product commonly run out the door. Getting fans excited and hyped for a new or seasonal product can create raving fans in the community.

  Robert Dawson Jr., owner of Manulele Distillery in Kunia Camp, Hawaii, knows the benefit of special and rare bottles. “We release different limited-edition rum bottles through our Artist Series every quarter. We work with Kim Taylor Reece, a local photographer, who shoots traditional Hawaiian imagery. Each rum bottle is etched with Kim’s iconic images, labeled, and given a hangtag that is hand signed and numbered. Fans of Kim’s photography search out the bottles bringing foot traffic to the distillery.”

  A final way to bring attention to a brand is to offer  a personalized bottling experience. Bringing in customers to label, wax, or sign their bottles gives fans a chance to make a connection with the distillery and bring home a memory. Word of mouth often spreads quickly following these personalized experiences which mean little, if any, ongoing advertising cost. In states that permit volunteers to work at the distillery, bringing in a crew to run the bottling line also builds positive experiences for usually no more than the cost of pizza and some drinks. These bottling events are great for building up a social media channel to bring more people in the front door.

  Dan Garrison, owner of Garrison Brothers Distillery in Hye, Texas, believes marketing and branding are moving towards more hands-on customer experiences. “Customers are looking for outward-bound experiences that they can have with our brand. We have a 10,000-person waiting list to join the bottling parties at the distillery. Bourbon is a great way to share relationships, stories and create a bond. When they are here, we treat them like royalty and take care of their every need. In return, they become brand ambassadors.”

  28 years later, the original movie set for “Field of Dreams” continues to draw huge crowds as people from across the country travel to be a part of cinema history. Just like people seeking the movie experience, there are several ways craft distilleries can attract customers. Cost effective tools like keeping up an active social media platform and sending regular e-newsletters can keep your local community engaged and excited. Hosting events can be expensive but could bring thousands of people into your distillery. Offering people unique and firsthand experiences can quickly go viral. Even bringing in live and local musicians can keep the regulars coming back for more.

A HIGH-TEMPERATURE WASHDOWN STATION TO MEET YOUR HIGH-EFFICENCY PRODUCTION NEEDS

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is thermo-logo-reg-1.png

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

(Warminster, PA USA) In food processing, dairy, beverage, chemical, petrochemical, and pharmaceutical facilities, maintaining a clean environment is critical to consistent product quality. To keep production running on time, high temperature washdown stations are used to quickly and efficiently clean and sanitize equipment in place. For facilities with a hot and cold water supply, the HCX Water/Water Washdown Station is an excellent solution.

The washdown station utilizes two individual globe valves to mix hot and cold water to a user adjusted temperature. Output temperature is clearly displayed on the integrated temperature display gauge for operational simplicity.

To prevent accidental scalding, the unit is offered with our unique SmartFlow feature. “This is an in-line, over-temperature safety valve whose only purpose is to keep your employees safe,” Nick Tallos, ThermOmegaTech®’s VP of Engineering commented. “It automatically stops flow if the unit’s output exceeds a specified temperature – 125°F, 135°F or 145°F depending on the model selected.”

The unit functions completely mechanically and requires no outside source of electricity to operate. Compact, reliable, and cost-effective, the HCX Washdown Station is a beneficial addition to any facility.

About ThermOmegaTech®:

For over 35 years, ThermOmegaTech® has been a leader in the design and manufacture of self-actuated thermostatic technology. Founded in 1983, ThermOmegaTech® is a privately held organization with 40,000 square feet of manufacturing and office facility located near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The company provides innovative solutions for a wide range of applications including freeze & scald protection, mixing & diverting, steam traps, thermal bypass, tepid water delivery, washdown, balancing, drain tempering, and many other applications where temperature control is critical. Key industries it serves include railroad, commercial plumbing, aerospace & defense and industrial. Over 95% of its products are manufactured, calibrated, and tested in-house. R&D, prototype development, and integrated solutions are managed on site. ThermOmegaTech® has been ISO 9001 certified for over a decade and its products are distributed and used worldwide.

For more information, please email ThermOmegaTech® at valves@thermomegatech.com.

ThermOmegaTech®, Inc.

353 Ivyland Road

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Phone: 877-379-8258

Website: www.ThermOmegaTech.com

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/company/thermomegatech Twitter: @thermomegatech  

Safety and Compliance: More Than Just a Checklist

By: Tracey L. Kelley

In the past 10 years, workplace injuries and illnesses declined in the craft beverage manufacturing industry. This is good news, as it’s a thriving employment sector. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2016—the most recent data collected—breweries, distilleries and other artisanal beverage producers employed approximately 75,000 people. In Canada, according to information from the System of National Accounts in 2018, the craft industry had more than 15,000 workers.

  Some experts say a reduction in workplace incidents is the direct result of an attitudinal shift from reaction to prevention. Ashley Heiman is the MRO department manager for Nelson-Jameson in Marshfield, Wisconsin—a single-source food, dairy and beverage processing plant supplier. Heiman explained the vital importance of this approach. 

  “The Food Safety Modernization Act created a significant culture shift. The essential question that the FSMA pushes us and our customer base to ask is, ‘How can I most effectively and proactively create a safe, quality product?’” she told Beverage Master Magazine. “When you think proactively about your product, it pushes you to think proactively about your facility and the staff that produces that product. From floor drains to dust collection in your rafters, every facet of your facility and those operating that facility can make or break a brewery or distillery.”

  Established in 2011 by the Food and Drug Administration, FSMA compliance extended to beverage producers at a graduated rate. It began in 2016 for companies with over 500 full-time employees, scaling down to “very small businesses”—those with beverage sales of less than $1 million—finalizing compliance in September 2018. Inspections of beverage raw materials started this year. For some producers, this compliance required extensive examination and overhaul of processes and systems.

  One might assume that requirements by OSHA and the FDA already cover worker and product safety issues. In many ways, they do, but this additional layer of compliance mandated by the FSMA is a necessity for consumer products. It’s also another thread of bureaucracy to follow—one of many that can be challenging to untangle. 

  “It’s very difficult for business owners to dedicate time to learning all the nuances of compliance to both OSHA and the FDA. They’re really interested in creating and growing their businesses, so having a consultant who’s knowledgeable in these compliance areas allows the owner to both focus on the business and ensure that someone is keeping them compliant,” said Gary D. Morgan, Vice President and senior consultant of SafeLink Consulting in Cumming, Georgia. He’s also an authorized OSHA outreach trainer.

  “Our business is to know everything we can about OSHA safety requirements and FDA regulations on producing beverages that are safe for the public to consume, so we keep our clients as informed as possible in these areas,” Morgan said. He also pointed out that the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety and its Food Inspection Agency mirror OSHA and the FDA requirements rather closely, so producers sharing a national border are assured of similar compliance between partners.

Create an Environment of Safety

  Doing what’s best for the product starts with the optimum workplace atmosphere and training provided to employees. Ideally, owners and managers should establish these best practices in the early stages of the business.

  “Bringing a consultant onboard at start-up can ensure decisions can be made in the development stage that takes into consideration compliance issues for both OSHA and FDA,” Morgan said. “Trying to retrofit safety considerations into an existing design can be costlier than providing for it upfront. Implementing an FDA-compliant quality system initially can also prevent or handle issues in producing a product that’s fit for consumption.”

Morgan advised that instead of evaluating consultants by price, first outline facility specifications.

  “Then, I would suggest that as part of due diligence, talk to several consulting firms and ask the same questions of each one to ensure an apples¬-to-apples comparison, rather than just looking solely at pricing. A producer should include expenses for these services in the annual budget.”

  Another top-to-bottom safety solution, Heiman said, is color-coding. “We’ve seen a great interest in it. It’s proven to be an excellent proactive approach. Not only can color-coding help prevent cross-contamination in terms of allergens or yeast strains, but it also helps to organize and streamline workflow, designates critical control areas of a facility and assists many of our customers in isolating possible pathogen risks,” she said. “With the wide variety of products we offer, facilities can build a color-coded program to break up their operations into pragmatic zones.”   

  Josh Pringle is the vice president of CO2Meter in Ormond Beach, Florida. His company specializes in the design and manufacturing of gas detection and monitoring devices—mainly CO2—as well as consultancy and training. He advises producers not to rely on state or local inspectors to tell them to improve ventilation or install monitors: do it because it’s what’s best for your employees.

  “Producers should consider the following when preparing to train or educate staff: what’s in the best interest of our employees, what does our insurance provider require us to do, what will OSHA/NIOSH expect as part of a training package, and how should we plan to test and retrain staff,” he told Beverage Master Magazine. “We have a brewing partner who made the following statement: ‘Why would I pay a few hundred dollars for a safety monitor and then not train my staff on what to do if it goes off? Pointless!’”

  Pringle noted that many professional associations offer free training regarding CO2 safety, proper lockout/tagout procedures, and dozens of other critical topics.

  These organizations include, but are not limited to:

•    American Distilling Institute

•    Brewers’ Association

•    International Beverage Dispensing Equipment Association

•    Master Brewers Association of the Americas

•    WorkSafeBC

  OSHA and NIOSH also have online training, workbooks, visual aids and other resources for new employee and refresher training.

  He cautioned against complacency in your facility. “When employees work in and around hazardous situations, materials, ingredients and situations, no duty should be considered mundane or a ‘to do.’ Safety is an every moment, everyday project,” Pringle said. “The statistic always sited from the National Transportation Safety Board is the majority of car accidents occurred within five miles of someone’s home. The data demonstrated that drivers started to let their guard down in more familiar surroundings. Employee safety has no mileage areas. Any training that allows for complacency is flawed.”

  Morgan agreed. He offered these three tips:

1.  Always be vigilant to compliance issues. Oversight is demanding.

2.  Delegate responsibilities to duly-trained and competent individuals.

3.  Training is an ongoing activity, not a one-time event.

More Than a List on a Clipboard

  Workers in the craft beverage industry are prone to the following injuries and illnesses:

•    Overexertion, including medical conditions caused by repetitive motion or lifting heavy items such as barrels, kegs and crates.

•    Slips, trips and falls because of slick floors, ladders, obstacles and carrying heavy loads up and downstairs.

•    Working in fermenters, tanks, vats and other confined spaces, especially when carbon dioxide exposure is a concern.

•    Physical hazards such as pressurized equipment, forklifts, temperature extremes, and moving parts.

  It might require specialized products, protective gear, and consultation to maintain essential worker safety. “Safety concerns are widespread across a facility. Personal protective equipment, noise protection and respiratory protection are some of the most common product areas we deal with for our brewery and distillery customers,” said Heiman of Nelson-Jameson. “Lockout/tagout products are also popular. Additionally, it’s important to be specific with vendors if employees are handling chemicals, lab reagents, machinery, and so on. These details dictate the best products to utilize.”

  Even with a safety plan upon start-up, and as Pringle of CO2Meter expressed previously, crafting operations are integrated with safety in handling not only CO2 but throughout all functions. So the plan becomes more of a living document, refined by training, to help staff anticipate and correct issues before a more significant problem occurs.

  Here are the steps Pringle recommended:

•   Identify the hazard

•   Discuss the hazard

•   Create a plan of action to prevent the hazard

•   Create a secondary plan that accounts for and mitigates the hazard

•   Define methods to disperse the hazard

•   Understand the methodology to test an area to ensure safe conditions

•   Create and institute a policy and procedure to understand an incident

•   Create a safety plan

•   Including safe zones and rally points

•   Practice, practice, practice

“Be mindful. Be aware, Follow procedures, no matter how cumbersome. For example, lockout/tagout has become a mainstay because it’s effective,” Pringle said.

  Regarding C02 specifically, “The most likely points of CO2 incidents for beverage producers are at their canning and bottling lines. ‘Dosing’ areas typically register CO2 concentrations above the OSHA– and NIOSH–permissible time-weighted average standard of 5,000 ppm TWA for employees—placing a typical producer in violation,” Pringle said. “While working around CO2 can often be a necessity for beverage staff members, having proper training sessions and ensuring your staff is informed on the dangers of CO2 is the first step.”

  Morgan of SafeLink Consulting had some final thoughts. “Be proactive in establishing your compliance programs. If you have to be reactive, then something negative has happened that could be very detrimental to the business itself. It could be an employee injury or complaint, or a product that causes consumer complaints or worse, consumer injury or illness,” he said.

  “And there’s always the ever-present specter of an inspection from a regulatory agency with fines, penalties and even forced business suspension or closure. Give yourself peace of mind by being on top of compliance issues, not at the mercy of them.”

Pumping Success Into Your Brewery or Distillery

By: Gerald Dlubala

For breweries and distilleries, the beer and spirits that flow within drive business, but the pumps used to move that product can easily be considered the heart of production. If a pump fails, product flow stops and downtime eats away at production and delivery schedules. Having a quality pump lessens the chances of failure, so reliability and quality are key.

  Taking the time and effort to research the best pumps for the money and making a quality investment will make all the difference. “With the risk of sounding glib, you really do get what you pay for,” said Ross Battersby, Sales & Design contact for Carlsen & Associates. “There is usually a bit of a conflict between what the business accountant says is affordable and what the winemaker, distiller or brewmaster really wants and needs. The accountant almost always wins, but there is an inherent danger in selecting a pump on the basis of cost alone. Cheaper pumps may look fine on the outside, but they’re usually outfitted with cheaply made, low-quality blades and impellers, leading to a lot of internal shear that damages the product as it passes through the pump.”

  Carlsen & Associates started as a portable pump manufacturer for the wine industry, but now manufactures pumps for breweries, distilleries, meaderies, kombucha, soy sauce manufacturers, honey producers and various cannabis-related businesses. Their many years creating and tweaking pumps for multiple industries makes them uniquely qualified in recommending the right pump for a business’s needs.

  “We recommend a double diaphragm air pump with grounding tag for distilleries,” said Battersby. “With distilleries and high proof alcohol, you first and foremost need explosion-proof pumps. Compressed air powered pumps easily deliver the necessary amount of power for distilleries, and they’re perfectly fine for fluids, but if the distiller uses any botanicals, the pumps need to be screened off. You can safely use electrical-based pumps too, but they have to be rated explosion-proof, which sometimes makes them quite costly for what is really needed.”

  “With breweries, you’re talking about moving wort and heavier fluids with temperatures up to 210 degrees, so you’ll likely be looking at positive displacement pumps. Ours are Waukesha pumps, using winged rotors resembling ice cream scoops that spin around, scoop the optimal amount of product, and move it along without causing any crush or damage. They have capabilities of pumping as little as 30 gallons per minute up to 130 gallons a minute using one to three-inch lines.”

  Brewery systems and structures are more rigid and fixed, so the pumps tend to reflect that and perform better as a fixed system as well. Battersby told Beverage Master Magazine many brewers favor smaller centrifuge pumps that fit into these systems. In contrast, wineries will make better use of portable pumps that are on carts so they can move them around the different areas of the winery where needed.

  As far as new technology on the forefront, Battersby said hybrid pumps made by combining air and impeller pumps are currently being manufactured, but he doesn’t feel they will significantly change the industry. The real trend, according to Battersby, is what he calls “right-sizing.”

  “You can’t really get away from the tried and true technology,” says Battersby. “Business owners tend to go with whatever will give them the least amount of downtime. Many newer brewers don’t possess the type of physics background that allows them to know the best ways of moving liquids. They tend to think that more horsepower is always better, but that’s not true. It’s better to match your specific needs. So the new trend, as far as we are concerned, is right-sizing. We match the equipment up to whatever it is that you need to move.

  We educate brewers and distillers in the physics behind what they are trying to do, and why one piece of equipment is preferred over another, even if it’s not the most powerful. Additionally, we stress that the pumps are only as good as the hoses, clamps and fittings that connect to them. Right-sizing incorporates a quality pump with appropriate matching parts that are easily serviceable and repairable in the least amount of time.”

Matching Pumps To Product

  Paul Hail, CEO of Affordable Distillery Equipment, knows what reliability means in the brewing and distilling industry, so only offers quality equipment made to last a lifetime. Although based in the rural hills of the Missouri Ozarks, Affordable Distillery’s pumps are used in nearly 20% of craft spirit distilleries across the U.S. Hail recommends a few options for spirits production.

  “If you try to use a centrifugal pump with corn mash, the lifespan of that pump is probably going to be less than a year,” said Hail. “When moving corn mash, you have better options available. A double diaphragm air pump will work, but it will take a lot of air and a minimum of 1 ½  diameter connecting hoses. The pump is cheap, but the big expense—sometimes an additional $2,000-$3,000—comes with the need for a larger air compressor. A flex impeller type of pump is a great, moderately priced choice, but the impeller is a normal wear part, and depending on what type of material it’s manufactured from and the amount and type of use it receives, it could last months or only weeks. The loads it’s put through determines the wear and replacement needs. Your best choice would be a rotary load pump, but they are incredibly expensive so generally not an option for every smaller or startup distillery.”

  Hail, like Battersby, mentions the importance of safety when using a pump in the distillery. “You must remember, though, when moving high proof alcohol, you’ll need a grounding terminal on the pump to make it explosion-proof,” said Hail. “It’s not a likely scenario, but there is a minute chance that the rushing of a product while being pumped will manufacture enough static to potentially release a tiny spark. Couple that with high proof alcohol and we all know where that leads.”

  As Hail continues to run an industry-leading pump manufacturer, he told Beverage Master Magazine that it’s hard to come up with new ideas when pump technology has barely changed in generations.

  “You’ll hear about new things being tried around the industry, but when properly researched, those bright new ideas were usually already attempted by those before us. The reason that they’re not being done today is that they just didn’t work or weren’t economically feasible. Any new technology or methods would likely be groundbreaking if valid, and that’s what we are working on here at Affordable Distilling. Hopefully more about that in the future,” said Hail.

Improving On Current Equipment

  Based on their successful history with marine and industrial applications, AmpCo Pump Company in Glendale, Wisconsin, began manufacturing pumps specifically for the brewing, distilling and wine industries (https://www.ampcopumps.com).

  One chronic issue with pumps has been a tendency for the seals to leak eventually. Tony Krebs, Marketing Manager for AmpCo Pumps, said they have successfully addressed that issue in one of their most popular pumps, the CB+ Craft Brew Pump, specially designed for hot wort transfer.

  “Over time, the material being moved through the pump typically crystalizes, and that buildup will eventually cause traditional seals to leak,” said Krebs. “AmpCo’s CB+ Craft Brew Pump possesses an internal, submersed seal to promote cooling. Because it’s internally seated, any pressure increase caused by heat or flow creates an increased closing force on the seals to minimize any potential buildup. Additionally, the pump has an internal spring that acts as an agitator to reduce the solids buildup, thereby reducing crystallization on the seals. It’s an excellent choice for all sizes of breweries, but it’s an especially great match for the smaller brewpubs because on a cart, mobile and multi-functional. It can be used as a transfer pump in many areas around the facility, but it performs equally well as a clean-in-place pump. It’s not the cheapest pump you’re going to find, but when choosing a pump, it’s extremely important to be able to find certified, readily available parts and quality people to install those parts and repair your equipment. Downtime costs money, and when pumps are down, so is your brewing or distilling process.”

  AmpCo also makes pumps for the wine industry, offering their L series centrifugal pumps with the same exceptional quality, efficiency and durability as their counterparts designed for the craft breweries and distilleries.

  Krebs told Beverage Master Magazine that AmpCo is always at the forefront of pump technology, and regularly on the leading edge of trends in the craft brewing, spirits and wine industries. Krebs has recently noticed the need and increased demand for their portable hop induction units. This machine simultaneously induces dry hop pellets directly into the beer stream while recirculating the fermenter. It features AmpCo’s SBI Shear Pump and provides the brewmaster everything necessary to dry hop beer efficiently and safely within a single unit.

  “You can’t ignore the creative side of distillers, winemakers and brewmasters. They like to continuously mix flavor and ingredient profiles and provide experimental flavor combinations for signature blends, special tastings or customer trials,” says Krebs. “Blending pumps provide a better and more efficient way to get this done.”

Lots, Codes, and Life: Dating in the Beer Industry

By: Eric Myers

As the number of active breweries in the country exceeds 7000 and roars toward 8000, it’s more important than ever to consider one of the crucial facets of your packaged product: shelf life, and how to communicate it to your customer. It’s not just marketing; date lot coding and traceability is required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration under the Bioterrorism Act of 2002. However, the exact method of recording date lot codes is ultimately up to each individual brewer, and there is a vast array of practices in the industry that can ensure that your customer knows how fresh your beer is, and that you’re in compliance with federal code at the same time.

Why Is Date Coding Important?

The easiest answer to this question is because you must. It’s the law. In the unfortunate situation that your brewery – or one of your suppliers – might have to recall product from the market, having date lot coding that is on every package, is easy to find, and easy to understand will allow your staff and every downstream partner, whether it’s a distributor or a retailer, to comply with the recall efficiently and ultimately save you headaches and money.  It’s also a great tool that your sales force–or your distributor–can use to be sure that beer in the market is as fresh as possible, it can help with FIFO inventory control and create an accountability tool for you to use with all of your downstream partners.

Finally, it’s an extra layer of transparency for your customer, as well as an educational tool, allowing you to provide them with the best–and freshest–possible product, and the best possible customer experience.

How to Code

For better or worse, there is no standard way or best practice guide to follow for date coding your beer. From a practical, legal standpoint, as long as there is a code on your package that is traceable to a batch at your particular factory and you can track that batch back to its component ingredients, you’ve complied with FDA standards. However, esoteric or confusing coding can be a problem in the marketplace and lacks customer transparency.

Many food and beverage manufacturers use a Julian Code to signify what date an item was manufactured or packaged. Julian Code is a system designed by the U.S. Military to easily date MREs and is easy to track and assign with simple programming tasks. It uses the last digit of the year in question followed by the day of the year.  (For example, a product dated with December 15, 2018 the Julian Code would be 8349.  December 15 is the 349th day of the year in non-leap-years.)  While this provides a standard format that is unique per day and easily traceable on a package and within a database, it is not easy for a customer to read and gain information from. An eager beer drinker looking for a fresh IPA would have no way of knowing what information was being presented to them and might end up looking elsewhere.

However, a standard date might not be the easy go-to answer that it seems. A report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Harvard University’s Food and Law Policy Clinic (The Dating Game, 2013, NRDC) notes that confusing date labeling leads to a tremendous amount of food waste in the United States as “open dates can come in a dizzying variety of forms, none of which are strictly defined or regulated on a federal level” and that “although most date labels are intended as indicators of freshness and quality, many consumers mistakenly believe they are indicators of safety.” Putting information on your package that isn’t well thought out may create more harm than good.

Finding the Right Date

Back in 1996, Anheuser-Busch launched a marketing campaign in a bid to show that their beer was the freshest on the market and coined the term, “Born on date.” It has become a ubiquitous term in the beer industry, regardless of the fact that the date was dropped from all Budweiser labeling in 2015 in favor of a “Freshest before” date. Just because the biggest brewery in the land does it hardly makes it an industry standard, however. It’s not even standard across their entire company.

Megan Lagesse of Anheuser-Busch InBev’s “The Higher End” craft division notes, “Some of [our] partners (Goose Island, [and] Wicked Weed) are doing dual date coding (brewed on and best by) but everyone isn’t because not all of our production equipment has the capability to dual date code,” she says. “So, we chose best by date coding [for] broader consistency, because everyone understands an expiration date but not everyone is educated enough to know IPAs should be drank as fresh as possible, but you can age wild beers and stouts.”

Jeremy Danner, Ambassador Brewer of Kansas City’s Boulevard Brewing, notes proudly that Boulevard prints, “both packaged on and best by dates on all cans, bottles, keg rings and exterior boxes. If you’re going to only print one,” he says, “it should be the packaged-on date, as thoughts vary when it comes to shelf life.”

That shelf life–the basis of rationale behind a best by date–can be difficult, if not impossible, for a small brewery to determine. While larger breweries have the benefit of tasting panels, labs, and a vast number of data points, many small breweries get by with a microscope and a handful of jack-of-all-trade production team members. In small breweries, with limited, sometimes unique, production batches, shelf life is often the product of an educated guess, rather than a robust statistically significant tasting panel. Even pressure from a distributor can affect what date goes onto a package and in many cases a brewer will resort to relying on a packaged-on date and using phrases like, “Do not age” or “Best when its fresh” in lieu of a best by date.

Doing so, however, relies on the customer to be educated about your product, and that might not always be as easy as it sounds. Pete Ternes of Chicago’s Middle Brow beer notes, “90% of consumers don’t know what it means for a particular beer to have been packaged on a particular date.” While there are many craft beer fans who are incredibly well-educated and can ascertain which beer styles can handle age and which can’t, most beer-drinkers don’t know the implications of a beer’s brewed or packaged-on date.

Complicating the issue is lack of consistent temperature control once product leaves the brewery. A brewery may post a shelf life of 45 days for an IPA, but not the conditions under which that shelf life has been ascertained or should be maintained. A beer with a shelf life of 45 days at 38F has a shelf life of only 11 days at room temperature.

No Easy Answers

Unfortunately, until an industry standard or federal regulation is put into place, there is no easy answer about how to best approach lot and date coding. Ultimately, it is up to you to choose the method that you think will both comply with the FDA and provide information to your customers. Regardless of what format you do choose, providing context and information to your customers–whether that customer is the distributor, the retailer, or the end consumer–as to how you arrived at the decision of what lot and date coding method you’ve chosen is the best path and can double as an excellent marketing and education tool for your brewery.

SAKÉ: THE NEW FRONTIER IN CRAFT BEVERAGES

By: Nan McCreary

Saké has been around for thousands of years, but few Americans are familiar with the drink that is deeply rooted in Japanese culture. That is changing, and it’s changing quickly. With U.S. consumers eager to experience alternative beverages and explore new flavors, saké is on the cusp of a revolution here at home. As imports of saké rise dramatically, local artisans and entrepreneurs are seeing an opportunity for a new niche in the craft beverage market: local saké production.

Currently, there are about 20 saké breweries (Kura) in the U.S., including several that originated as American outposts of Japanese companies. These breweries span from California to Maine, from Texas to Minnesota. Wherever they are located, the owners and master brewers (toji) have one thing in common: a passion for the product. Dan Ford, founder and owner of Blue Current Brewery in Kittery, Maine, is one such devotee. After living and working in Japan for years, he decided to “spread the word” by bringing hand-crafted saké to New England.

“I love saké,” Ford said. “I love making it, and I love to see people smile when they taste it. That’s what drives me.”

So what exactly is this mystical brew that is rapidly growing in popularity in the U.S. and around the world? Saké is an alcoholic beverage fermented from rice. It has often been called ‘rice wine’ but, in fact, it is not a wine. Nor is it a beer, nor a distilled product. Rather, it fits into its own unique category.

“Saké has a little bit of identity crisis because a lot of people consider it a wine, but it’s more like a beer, fermented from grain using a saké yeast,” said Tim Klatt, co-founder of Texas Saké Company in Austin, the only saké producer in Texas. “In the past, people’s knowledge was pretty much limited to ‘hot saké,’ which is basically grain alcohol with a little rice flavoring that’s super cheap and heated up so you can’t really taste anything.  Our approach is to make a much more crafted, artisan product.”

Jack Lien, sales and education ambassador at SakéOne in Forest Grove, Oregon, said their brewery, too, is on a mission to introduce people in the U.S. to the joys of quality saké. “Saké is unique,” he told Beverage Master Magazine. “It’s brewed like a beer and drinks like a wine. It offers a nice alternative for people who are conscious of what they’re drinking. It’s sulfite free and naturally gluten-free. Some are vegan. It’s a unique beverage that intrigues a lot of people.”

Basic Ingredients

Saké comes in a variety of styles, but the basic ingredients are always the same: rice, water, koji (a fungus that converts the starch in rice to sugar) and yeast. Like good beer and good wine, good saké starts with quality ingredients, primarily premium rice. Generally, U.S. brewers source their rice from California’s Sacramento Valley, which grows some of the finest rice in the world. Texas Saké Company uses Calrose rice, the offspring of high-end rice used ages ago in Japan. SakéOne uses mostly Calrose rice and an American grown Yamada-Nishiki rice, known in Japan for its use in quality Saké. Blue Current uses Koshi Hikari, a short grain variety of rice named after the historic Koshi Province in Japan.

Water quality is also important, as completed saké is 80 percent water. “Water is critical because it can affect the final product,” SakéOne’s Lien told Beverage Master Magazine. “Soft water produces a soft and mellow saké, while hard water, which contains certain minerals, produces a more full-bodied saké.” Most American brewers prefer to use soft water.

Saké Production

Production of saké is not for the faint of heart: it is a complex process that takes time, patience and skill that can only be acquired by training and experience. This process starts when the rice first arrives at the brewery, where it is polished to remove the outer husk and prepare it for brewing good saké.

The polishing rates vary, depending on how much of the outside husk of each grain of rice is removed to reach the starchy and more desirable core. In general, the more the rice is polished, the more aromatically expressive the Saké becomes, and the higher the grade. The majority of saké made in the U.S. are junmai ginjo, a high-end saké milled to 60 percent of its original size, although some brewers may polish further.

After the rice is polished, residue from the milling process is washed from the grain, and the rice is saturated with water, depending on the type of rice and the desired characteristics of the saké. Next, the rice is steamed, which changes the molecular structure of the starch in the grain, allowing easier breakdown of that starch.

The next step — making the koji — is the heart of saké-brewing. “The Japanese say there are three pillars of brewing saké,” Blue Current’s Ford told Beverage Master Magazine. “The first pillar is koji, the second pillar is koji, and the third pillar is koji. All things flow from making koji. If you can make really good koji, you can make really good saké.”

In this process, the freshly steamed rice is spread out on long tables in a warm, heated environment known as a koji room. The rice is covered with koji-kin, the “miracle” mold that converts the starch in the rice to a form of glucose. Over the next 36 to 45 hours, the toji constantly tends the koji to ensure that it’s developing properly. “The koji is food for the yeast, and it’s critical to fermentation,” SakéOne’s Lien said. “Our toji, Takumi Kuwabara, has 25 years of brewing experience—13 years in Japan and 12 here—and he makes our koji completely by hand. He’s continually tinkering and tweaking the koji to make sure he gets the recipe just right.”

After the koji is made, a small amount is mixed with steamed rice, yeast and water in a tank to produce shubo or moto, or a fermentation starter. Typically, it takes two weeks to create a small batch of starter with a high concentration of robust yeast cells. Next, all the prep work comes together. Water, steamed rice, saké rice and the fermentation starter are added in three successive stages over four days to create the main mash, which will ferment over the next 18 to 32 days. During this time, the toji may adjust the length of fermentation, temperatures, and other factors in creating a specific saké profile.

The actual fermentation process is what separates saké from beer or wine. In wine, no sugar conversion is necessary, since sucrose is naturally-occurring in grapes. With beer, the creation of sugar and alcohol are separate processes: starches in the grain are converted to sugar in the form of wort, then yeast is added to create alcohol. In saké, conversion of starch into glucose and glucose into alcohol occur simultaneously in a process called multiple parallel fermentation. One of the characteristics of alcohol made in this method is high alcohol content. Saké is usually about 15 percent alcohol by volume and may be as high as 21 percent.

Once fermentation is complete, the saké is pressed to separate the newly created alcohol from the rice solids left in the mash. The saké is then filtered to remove fine particulates and pasteurized to kill off any remaining bacteria and yeast. Finally, the product is aged—usually for three to six months—and then bottled. The time to brew a batch of saké, from start to finish, is around seven weeks.

American Spin

While U.S. craft saké brewers typically follow Japanese methods and traditions for brewing saké, they are putting an “American spin” on the product by using processes and ingredients more suited to the local palate. The Texas saké Company, for example, filters their product less than the Japanese. “This gives a more robust saké with lots of fruity flavors,” co-owner Tim Klatt said. “We’re home brewers from the past, so we’re always trying something different. One of our big pushes is oaked sakés, where we toast oak chips in-house and add them to the brew. This delivers an amazing vanilla and oak and tannin experience, which will even stand up to barbeque.” The Texas Saké Company also produces a line of sparkling sakés with seven percent ABV and is preparing to produce a typical Japanese product that “will bridge the gap” between American and U.S. styles of sakés.

SakéOne is on the cutting edge as well, with its Moonstone brands, flavor-infused sakés. These include Cucumber Mint, Asian Pear and Coconut Lemongrass. All are infused right before bottling. “We are making these to appeal to our wild, pioneering side,” Lien said. “This is what we do to have fun.”

As U.S. Saké brewers look to the future, they see more breweries popping up, and more consumers taking notice. All agree that we can expect to see new products, more experimenting with saké-brewing techniques and broader distribution of American-made saké, both in the U.S. and abroad.

“Craft saké is definitely a niche market,” according to Ford, the Harvard-trained entrepreneur who founded Blue Current Brewery. “People are trying new flavors and looking for the next new thing. As a brewer and frequent traveler to Japan, I think it’s wonderful to open the kimono and show people this wonderful new beverage which is probably the coolest thing people have probably never had. The future is looking good: we’re seeing blue skies ahead.”

Crafting Marijuana Policies? Managing Employees in the Wake of Legalized Marijuana

By: Amy Lessa and Nicole Stenoish, Attorneys At Law, Fisher Phillips

Marijuana legalization is on the rise and quickly expanding to all corners of the United States. Nearly 2/3 of the states have legalized marijuana for either recreational or medicinal use.  Currently, 11 states and the District of Columbia allow recreational marijuana, and an additional 22 states allow medical marijuana. These numbers are expected to grow over the next few years as the societal and political perspectives on cannabis continue to shift in favor of legalization.

Despite this shift, marijuana still remains an illegal Schedule I drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act – in direct contrast with legalized marijuana at the state level.  Although federal law is superior to state law, businesses must comply with both – even if federal and state laws conflict with one another. The chronic dispute between state and federal marijuana laws has left many employers confused about how to handle marijuana use in the workplace.  We’re here to clear the smoke.

Legalized Marijuana – What Can-a-Business Do?

Marijuana laws are constantly evolving and continue to be challenged in courts across the country. This makes it difficult to keep up with the requirements and limitations of legalized marijuana under both state and federal law.

Many employers are now questioning whether their workplace marijuana policies and practices should be revised.  Before deciding what policy is best for your company, it is important to understand the law in your state.  A company’s policies should also reflect the specific needs and challenges of the business and workforce.  For example, many craft brewery owners report they can no longer test for cannabis because most of their applicants cannot pass the drug test at the pre-employment stage. That could leave a brewery without a workforce.  As a result, Company’s should decide whether it makes sense to continue testing for cannabis in their pre-employment drug screens.  Other issues relevant to this determination are whether your employees operate heavy machinery or work in safety sensitive positions, and are you having difficulty recruiting qualified candidates for your company?

There are several key issues the keep in mind when determining the best marijuana policies and practices for your workforce:

  1. Maintain a Drug-Free Workplace

Employers are entitled to maintain specific policies related to marijuana use in the workplace, including drug-free workplace and zero-tolerance policies.  Because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, employers can strictly prohibit marijuana at work.  Employees can be disciplined, and even terminated, for coming to work under the influence, possessing marijuana on company premises, or using marijuana while at work – even in states where marijuana is legal.  In most states, companies also have the right to test employees for drug use, and can discipline or terminate employees for violation of the drug-free workplace policy. Before implementing a zero-tolerance policy, make sure your state does not specifically protect medical marijuana users or prevent employers from disciplining workers for legal off-duty conduct. Otherwise, drug-free workplace policies are essential to help protect your business and manage employees in the wake of legalized marijuana.

  1. Review Drug Testing Policies

Employers can typically require employee drug testing throughout employment. The different types of testing including pre-employment drug testing, random drug testing, reasonable suspicion drug testing, and post-accident drug testing depending on state laws.  Employers with mandatory drug testing policies need to ensure they follow specific state laws restricting disciplinary action based on positive test results.  Additionally, employers are prohibited from administering drug tests as a form of discipline or for retaliatory purposes. There are several other issues to consider when reviewing your company’s drug testing policies.

First, the science used to test for marijuana has been slow to catch up with increased legalization. While there are testing methodologies currently in development, there is no test to determine whether an individual is presently under the influence of marijuana. Marijuana can remain in one’s system for weeks, and an employee could test positive for marijuana even if it was consumed outside of work and had no impact on the employee’s job performance. This creates potential issues for employers when drug testing employees who have medical marijuana prescriptions, or in states where recreational marijuana is allowed.

Also, many states have laws that provide protections for engaging in legal off-duty conduct.  These laws prohibit employers from considering an employee’s lawful conduct outside of work for purposes of making employment decisions.  For example, in states where recreational marijuana is legal, the consumption of marijuana outside of work hours could be considered lawful off-duty conduct, and an employer could be prohibited from using an employee’s positive drug test for purposes of making an adverse employment decision. Although this issue remains largely untested by the courts, and employers are currently allowed to make certain employment decisions based on drug test results, we anticipate that employee drug test results will be challenged by lawful off-duty conduct laws in the years to come.

Furthermore, employers in a limited number of states may need to accommodate medical marijuana usage by employees. In those circumstances, employers are prohibited from making employment decisions based on an employee’s positive test result, depending on the nature of the employee’s particular position and job duties.

Pre-employment Drug Testing

Companies are generally allowed to require drug testing as a condition of employment, and can deny employment based on positive test results.  However, some states limit pre-employment drug testing for medical marijuana users, and other states have anti-discrimination laws for pre-employment drug test results.

Interestingly, an increasing number of companies, including those in the craft beverage industries, are eliminating pre-employment drug testing because of difficulties it can pose in finding employees who can pass the test.  As a result, some employers are softening their drug testing policies or removing marijuana from the list of drugs tested for. However, softening the stance on pre-employment marijuana drug testing may not be a viable option for companies with employees working in safety-sensitive positions, or companies with insurance policies or government contracts that specifically require employee drug testing.

Drug Testing During Employment

Employers may also consider random drug testing, reasonable suspicion drug testing, and post-accident drug testing of employees. Random drug testing is only allowed in some states and often limited to employees in specific, narrowly defined classifications – such as employees working in safety sensitive positions.  Almost all states allow employers to drug test employees if there is reasonable suspicion that an employee is impaired on the job.  Reasonable suspicion must be more than a hunch, and employers should be able to articulate the employee’s specific conduct or behaviors that led the employer to suspect impairment on the job.  Employers can also conduct post-accident drug testing following a workplace injury or accident, but only for employees whose impairment or drug use could have contributed to the incident.

Overall, companies should review state-specific laws and consider the specific needs and challenges of their workforce when reviewing or revising drug testing policies and practices.  And you should always put drug testing policies in writing, distribute to your employees, and enforce the policies uniformly.

  1. Accommodation of Medical Marijuana Varies by State

Generally, employers do not need to accommodate medical marijuana in the workplace. However, this could soon change. Courts in several states have recently indicated that accommodating an employee’s medical marijuana use may be appropriate in certain situations.  Employers already must engage their employees in the interactive process to explore reasonable accommodations for known disabilities of an employee. In some circumstances, this could mean accommodating medical marijuana use if it is determined to be a reasonable accommodation that does not create an undue hardship on the Company. Before doing so, however, employers should consult with qualified legal counsel.

Employers also need to be careful when disciplining medical marijuana users. Several states have specific laws protecting medical cannabis patients from employment discrimination. Medical marijuana patients in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, for example, have already won lawsuits against companies that rescinded job offers or fired workers because of positive tests for cannabis. Medical marijuana laws are continuing to evolve, and protections for medical marijuana users are likely to increase.

Conclusion – Best Practices

An increasing number of states have legalized medical or recreational marijuana, yet the federal government continues to classify marijuana as an illegal drug. This conflict between state and federal law is not likely to be resolved anytime soon. In the meantime, employers should follow several best practices to manage employees where marijuana has been legalized.

Companies should carefully review these issues and create policies that balance legal compliance with the specific needs of the business. Until the conflict between state and federal law is resolved, this includes:

  • Stay up to date with evolving marijuana laws.
  • Determine specific requirements for drug testing and medical marijuana in each state in which your company has employees.
  • Develop state-compliant workplace drug policies that are appropriate for your business.
  • Confirm your drug testing policies in writing, distribute to employees, and apply the policies uniformly.
  • Consider eliminating strict drug testing practices in favor of reasonable suspicion drug testing.
  • Determine if you will test applicants for marijuana use or not.
  • Contact legal counsel if any specific concerns or incidents arise within your workforce.

If your company follows these simple guidelines for managing employees in the wake of legalized marijuana, you will be in a good position to adapt while protecting your business as marijuana legalization continues to evolve in the coming years.

For questions on specific state laws, consult with an attorney.

  Amy Lessa and Nicole Stenoish are attorneys in the San Diego office of Fisher Phillips.  Amy and Nicole counsel and defend employers, including breweries in employment law matters. They can be reached at alessa@fisherphillips.com and nstenoish@fisherphillips.com

The Essence of FILTRATION

By: Tracey L. Kelley

In the classic John Wayne film “The Quiet Man”, Irish lass Mary Kate Danaher asks the town’s local matchmaker, Michaeleen Óge Flynn, if he’d like a little water in his whiskey. “When I drink whiskey,” Flynn puffed out his chest, “I drink whiskey. When I drink water, I drink water.” Yet a wee drop or two of water to a dram of almost any finely-crafted spirit, especially whiskey, will enhance the flavor profile.

Rewinding now, from glass to finishing, finishing to production and raw ingredients awaiting the boiler or still—water flows through every stage. For the majority of distillers, its quality can’t be controlled at the absolute source. Water also has a tendency to, well, grow things. These spoiler organisms often adhere to other ingredients in the batch. Without proper filtration, they cause a host of problems through each stage of product development. 

  Beverage Master Magazine asked James “Jimmy” Fagen, East Coast sales manager for Craft Brew Water, Inc. what distillers need to remember about this essential ingredient.

“Rain, well and surface water is constantly changing throughout the year, and should be looked at by the ‘ranges’ of its make-up,” Fagen said. “These changes affect the look and taste of a distiller’s product and the maintenance of their equipment.” Craft Brew Water, based in Thousand Oaks, California, manufactures customized water filtration systems for distillers and brewers, as well as filtering sets and media.

Fagen suggested that since water consistency minimizes surprises in the final product, determine water quality at a baseline level. “For mineral content, measurement of Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) levels should always be the same when you start. This can be achieved with the use of Reverse Osmosis (RO) treatment, a blending valve—used for brandy—and real time TDS measurement.”

Filtering Differs By Source and Product

Adam Cox is the general manager and head distiller of Iowa Distilling Company in Cumming. During production, he said, some problems can be remedied. Others need proper filtration. “The high-temperature fermentation process can essentially cook off a lot of water impurities and chemicals,” Cox said. “But it’s more difficult to control water minerals or changes in minerals. Knowledge of this determines what type of filtering you need for both the front end and the finishing end.” The distillery’s corn-based product line includes Straight Bourbon, Zone Vodka, Steel Drum Rum and Madikwe, a natural cane spirit.

For every bourbon or whiskey enhanced by trickling water through limestone or a British gin shipped to Iceland for filtering through volcanic rock springs, different producers may have sand and other sediment leeching into their sources when they don’t want them. These are natural interferences. The man-made ones require more filtering diligence.

“City water suppliers, using federal water standards, will add chemicals,” said Fagen. “Producers can achieve chemical removal through carbon filtration systems. Granule-activated carbon will remove such chemicals. Make sure when you select carbon, don’t do it by price: do it by the quality as described by the manufacturer.”

Fagen cautioned that if your water supplier is using chloramines—chlorine and ammonia—for disinfectant, you’ll need catalytic carbon to remove this combination. Penn State Extension service describes catalytic carbon as a more concentrated form of activated carbon that works similarly to an oxidizing filer, absorbing chloramines, hydrogen sulfide, iron, and magnesium in greater quantities.

Carbon filtering is probably one of the most popular natural choices for distilleries. Jayson Barker in the manager of Mile Hi Distilling in Wheatridge, Colorado. The company offers an extensive selection of distillery equipment and supplies, as well as copper and stainless steel moonshine stills. Barker recommended porous activated carbon for a variety of spirits.

“Carbon filtering is similar to the way a carbon water filter works for drinking water: it removes impurities to make drinking water more desirable. Using a back purge steam system can re-activate carbon so it can be used over and over again,” he said. “When making some spirits like vodka, activated carbon filtering is used after the distillation process to create a high purity neutral spirit. Some distilleries also use a small amount of carbon filtering to help make non-neutral spirits more smooth.” Conversely, Barker said, too much carbon filtering in grain- or fruit-based spirits removes the flavor.

Generally, each spirt benefits from particular filtering methods. Here are a few often discussed:

  • Gin: the purity of the ethanol base is hotly contested depending on whether it should be filtered for absolute neutrality, or left with a bit of essence to marry to the botanicals.
  • Liqueurs: here’s when colloidal sediment removal is tricky, as the “goop” simply can’t pass through some filters. Some producers consider mechanical push filtration to be the best option.
  • Moonshine: activated carbon works well to remove toxins, organic materials, and odors. But, as Barker mentioned, too much filtration for this spirit also alters the profile.
  • Sake: after the rice starch converts to sugar, solids have to be removed. This mash isn’t filtered but actually pressed or squeezed through a mesh filter. Then, the liquid passes through a filtration process that includes a fine charcoal powder, which further removes impurities and enhances flavor and color.
  • Scotch whisky: an additional filtering method for removing haze in scotch below 46 percent ABV is chill filtration to stabilize fatty acids, esters and proteins. Isn’t it easier to raise the ABV and avoid chilling altogether so flavor won’t be compromised? Both approaches spark much debate.
  • Tequila: most producers agree that distillation alone can’t meet the impurity removal regulations for this spirit, so carbon filtering is a necessary step.
  • Vodka: as referenced, carbon filter heightens all aspects of this product, but different categories of this spirit are filtered at different speeds depending on the desired result.
  • Whiskey: some producers believe you can use one whiskey sample and create distinctly different profiles simply by altering the filter material, its density, the use or non-use of charcoal and other factors.

Regardless of product, Fagen said, nothing affects it more than the finishing process, or cutting. “Cutting refines the alcohol levels, look and taste of the product. This is where the rubber meets the road. Existing gravity-fed filtration systems limit the type of carbon used for a product and the number of times that product is filtered.”

Barker detailed the cutting process: “First, a producer collects the foreshots and heads and discards them. These first cuts have undesirable compounds that boil off at a lower temperature than alcohol.” He continued. “The next collection is the hearts—the premium spirit cut and the most desired part of the run. Then the tails, which brings over more fusel oils and undesirables. Some of the tails are what helps give spirits character, but too much can give off other flavors and make clear spirits cloudy.”

When Technology Can Help

The process of filtering spirits has come a long way from the days of silt, grass, and animal skins. But the quest to capture the most miniscule of particulate continues, and online forum talk often features distillers comparing microns—that elusive unit of measurement where smaller is better. For example, 50 microns is the width of a human hair. We can’t see anything with the naked eye below 40 microns. A filtering of 30 microns seems acceptable by most producers, but some often tell tales of 10 or less. Since bacteria is approximately two microns, it easy to understand why there’s such a fuss.

“Changes in design and the types of media that we can produce—from string to felt and from high-efficiency media to absolute membranes—means that the end use can capture more, hold more and experience a much more consistent and refined result,” said Robert J. LeConche Jr., president of Shelco Filters.  This nearly 50-year-old company in Middletown, Connecticut specializes in manufacturing filters and cartridges used in a multitude of industries.

Keep in mind that a filter’s micron rating isn’t the only factor to evaluate: be sure to also ask about its nominal or absolute rating, contaminant capacity and efficiency rating percentage. Then, it’s a matter of evaluating your processes and ultimate liquid to consider filter options such as:

  • Bag
  • Cartridge
  • Crossflow
  • Pre-coat, with additives such as diatomaceous earth, cellulose or perlite
  • Sheet or stacked disc cartridges
  • A combination of any of the above

Now, finishing methods are a completely different subject—some producers don’t always consider this stage filtering as much as refining. The rise in RO, which is what Iowa Distilling Company uses for its Zone Vodka, combined with precise filtering makes a difference. “I think many more distilleries are using this,” Cox said. “Depending on your goals for aromas and tastes, you might be changing out filters more often—which you should do anyway—but RO allows for better quality when modifying the finish.” Some distilleries also pass water from the RO system through a deionization (DI) system to improve purity and achieve a pH level of 7.0.

Fagen at Craft Brew Water believes that filtration has and is continuing to evolve the most in its efficient use of water. In turn, he said, this improves a producer’s productivity at acceptable cost levels. He listed many options. “RO system efficiency has greatly reduced the ‘concentrate’ water that contains removed mineral content. Cold RO membranes improve the RO process for cold water regions,” he said. “Anti-scalant systems add longevity to the RO membrane and equipment. UV light treatment kills bacteria very effectively. Programmable carbon filtration systems allow backwashing on your timetable without manual attendance. Scheduled, consistent backwashing minimizes water usage.”

Both Fagen and LeConche stress the importance of asking vendors for customized solutions. It’s hard to spitball capacity needs and specific spirit processes then match them with off-the-shelf machinery. For instance, if the output of a microdistillery averages 50,000 proof gallons a year, plate filter or lenticular filters systems using cartridges might be a cost-effective choice. Housings can be modified as well with expansion. Whereas a larger distillery might require the efficiencies found in filter sheet technology, which often includes sheets built to precise width specifications, and feature multiple grades, low extractable ions or even layered with activated carbon.

Also consider working together on new advances. Craft Brew Water is developing an automated end product filtration system using all types of carbon media, inter-changeable, with multiple filtration cycles and testing stations for quality control, Fagen said. “We’re in the proto-type development stage, and have a Patent Pending status. We anticipate the onsite testing process to begin within the next 30–45 days.”

Just as water plays a key role in each stage of creation, your filtering vendor can as well. “My advice is to make sure you pick a partner who has the experience to work with your system from start-to-finish with a defined end result in mind,” LeConche told Beverage Master Magazine. “Some people consider filtration products to be part of a parody industry, but nothing replaces thorough knowledge when setting up a system.”

Nelson-Jameson and 3M™: Driving the Fight Against Food Allergens

By: Nelson-Jameson

With industry demand calling for new innovations in allergen testing, Nelson-Jameson is proud to offer 3M Allergen Protein Rapid Test Kits.

These kits are a qualitative immunochromatographic assay for rapid in-plant monitoring of specific food allergens, and are designed for accurate detection of processed and unprocessed allergen proteins. With results available in 10 to 12 minutes, these fast, easy tests can be used for clean-in-place (CIP) final rinse water, environmental swab samples, raw ingredients and finished food products. We currently have the following test kits available: Almond, Bovine Total Milk, Cashew, Coconut, Egg White, Fish, Gluten, Hazelnut, Peanut, Pecan, Pistachio, Soy, and Walnut. All test kits include 25 tests per kit.

Nelson-Jameson also offers 3M’s line of Allergen Protein ELISA Test Kits for both processed and unprocessed target allergen proteins. For additional information visit nelsonjameson.com or call us at: 800-826-8302.

Nelson-Jameson has been an integrated supplier for the dairy and food industry since 1947. Product lines include safety & personnel, production & material handling, sanitation & janitorial, processing & flow control, laboratory & QA/QC, and bulk packaging & ingredients. The company is headquartered in Marshfield, Wisconsin, with other locations in Turlock, California; Twin Falls, Idaho; York, Pennsylvania; Amarillo, Texas; and a sales branch in Chicago, Illinois.

Prairie Organic Spirits: Handcrafted in the Heartlands

By: Nan McCreary

In 2008, just as the craft spirits boom was beginning to take off, Prairie Organic Spirits was founded by Phillips Distilling Company to meet the demand from consumers looking for an elevated cocktail experience. Today, the Minnesota distillery has become the leader in certified organic spirits, guided by a commitment to creating a more sustainable company and industry.

According to Kevin Papacek, Prairie Organic Spirits’ Director of Marketing, their goal is “to handcraft organic, world-class spirits using the fewest natural resources possible.” The distillery bases their vodkas and gins on single-vintage yellow corn grown on family-owned organic farms. The grain is free from harmful chemicals and GMOs and leads to the smooth, award-winning taste of Prairie Organic Spirits.

Producing this grain often means farming “the hard way,” like the original settlers on the prairie. “Farming without the use of herbicides and pesticides requires more time in the field, as farmers must often weed by hand to cultivate the nutrient-rich soil and organic corn,” Papacek told Beverage Master Magazine. “Even before farmers plant a single seed, they spend three seasons carefully preparing their fields. Once the soil is ready, they plant a 25-foot buffer crop to ensure that chemicals from neighboring farms don’t contaminate the corn.”  To help control weeds, farmers use flamers, which create old-fashioned “prairie fires.”

Since the farmers don’t use pesticides, they rely on native birds and bats to consume the insects. Wildlife plays a vital role in organic farming and the lifecycle of their corn. Pheasants eat weed seeds such as ragweed, smartweed and foxtails, often scratching through ground litter in farm fields. Farmers help sustain the pheasant population by leaving rows of unharvested corn next to native grasslands used as protection from the elements.

It’s not just organic farming that helps explain the quality of Prairie Organic gins and vodkas, it’s also the production process, where the spirits are distilled to taste rather than a prescribed number of times. Production takes place in Princeton, Minnesota, in a custom-build, small-batch copper still that is used solely for certified organic spirits.  “We choose copper stills because they consistently produce the high-quality, great-tasting organic spirits that meet the Prairie Organic standards and that our consumers expect from the brand,” Papacek said. “Our spirits have a distinct and unique taste that our distillers and farmers have worked hard to differentiate. This is partly due to its corn base, lending a subtle sweetness and rich, smooth flavor, and partly due to the work of our Master Distillers.”

Complementing the Master Distillers is an elite, employee-led group called “Guardians of Prairie,” who ensure that each batch of spirits meets exacting standards. “We keep distilling until it tastes just right,” Papacek said.

Prairie Organic produces three spirits, each expressing a unique flavor profile. According to the distillery’s website (www.prairieorganicspirits.com), “Prairie Organic vodka has hints of melon and pear on the nose, is creamy on the palate and bright and smooth at the finish. Prairie Organic Cucumber Flavored Vodka has a mild cucumber note on the nose, is fresh on the palate and crisp at the finish. It’s pure and refreshing until the last sip. Prairie Organic Gin has bursts of herbs, sage, juniper and exotic spices that complement a dry and refreshing taste with a long, delicate finish. It’s smooth from the ground up and easy going down.”

After distillation, Prairie Organic returns the leftover grains to local farmers for use as animal feed—part of the company’s commitment to One Team G.R.E.E.N (Growing Responsibly, Ethically & Environmentally Now), which works to increase corporate sustainability practices such as reducing electrical usage; establishing better water sources; and promoting recycling within its facilities. Prairie Organic is also a partner of the Organic Trade Association, the only trade association exclusively dedicated to helping and protecting organic standards and organic trade.

In recognition of its green initiatives, in 2018 Prairie Organics was named the Best Craft Vodka Distillery in USA Today’s “10 Best Readers’ Choice Awards.” The publication, a trusted source for travel, food and beverage advice, honored not just Prairie Organic’s commitment to organic ingredients and sustainable practices, but also its “unmatched distilling process that leads to Prairie Organic’s award-winning taste.” Other awards include a two-time Double Gold Medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition; Best New Vodka by Food & Wine in 2009; a Gold Medal for its gin in the 2013 San Francisco World Spirits Competition and a Gold Medal in the International Prestige (SIPS) competition; and a Platinum Medal for its cucumber vodka in the 2013 SIPS event.

As Prairie Organic looks to the future, the distillery will continue to focus on promoting organics and sustainability. “We are very proud to stand by our partnership with the OTA to support their mission to advance organics,” Papacek said. “It’s important for us to take a more active role in the organic space, and we will continue to ramp up our participation in 2019.”

Papacek told Beverage Master Magazine that Prairie Organic Spirits is always looking for new ways to meet consumer desire for refreshing spirits with unique profiles. Those interested in mixology may want to visit the company’s website, which features an entire page dedicated to cocktail recipes. “When choosing organic, you are choosing a better spirit,” Papacek explained. “In turn, this means a better cocktail, too. Beyond a spirit that is free from herbicides, pesticides, gluten and GMOs, each expression brings a smooth, balanced taste to any cocktail. Some of our favorites include the Grapefruit Negroni made with Prairie Organic Gin, and the Jalapeño Cucumber Mule made with Prairie Organic Cucumber Vodka.”

Ultimately, the mission for Prairie Organic Spirits is the same one stated when the company was founded in 2008: to handcraft organic, world-class spirits using the fewest natural resources possible. “Our strong relationships with family farmers, their commitment to the hard work of growing organic, and our Guardians of Prairie who distill each batch to taste, are all factors that have helped Prairie Organic Spirits become the number one certified organic spirit brand,” Papacek said. “Creating great-tasting vodkas and gin, while continuing our commitment to the organic industry and sustainability, will always be our top priority.”

Prairie Organic Spirits are offered in liquor store retailers nationwide. Find Prairie Organic near you through the locator at www.prairieorganicspirits.com/prairie-finder/