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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
“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
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
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.”
Compressed air systems are often misunderstood in the brewing
industry and undervalued as a long-term investment; however, compressed air is
an essential part of the brewing process, and an efficient system is integral.
Choosing the best pneumatic system for brewery operations requires
understanding the uses of compressed air in a brewery, the types of compressors
available, and the size, focus and other needs of the brewery.
Brewery Uses for Compressed Air
Although every brewery
operates differently, there are a few common uses for air compressors that are
very important to the brewing process. Compressed air is used as a means to get
yeast cultures enough oxygen during fermentation. Brewers also use compressors
to aerate wort and water, and to transport solids, such as spent grains, whole
malt, and sugar.
compressed air can move beer from the conditioning tank to the bottle, as well
as keep lines clean and free of water. It is used during canning and clarifying
to remove solids and create a cleaner product, and controls valves and
actuators in automated packaging and labeling processes. Some maintenance and
sanitation also require compressed air, powering air tools and pressure
Types of Air Compressors for
There are two primary
types of air compressors used by modern breweries. The first is the
pressure-lubricated reciprocating or piston air compressor. These compressors
use a piston and cylinder driven by a crankshaft to compress air and feature
either a single-stage or double-stage operation. Single-stage piston air
compressors bring air in with a single-piston stroke that’s about 120 PSI.
compressors compress air up to about 175 PSI with an additional compression
step through a second piston. These compressors are often used for low-pressure
tasks, such as washing kegs.
The second type of brewery
air compressor is a lubricated rotary screw compressor. The rotary screws in
these compressors utilize a positive displacement system and a hydraulic seal
to transfer energy between rotors. The screw design and rotation forces air to
move through the compressor. These types of compressors are better suited for
high-pressure tanks and are useful for bottling and other brewery tasks.
When shopping for
compressors, brewers can choose between oil-lubricated compressors and oil-free
air compressors, depending on their needs. Lubricated compressors are typically
equipped with filtering systems to ensure that contaminants stay out of beer.
As an alternative to the
piston compressor for brewery applications, some brewers use oil-free scroll
air compressors for continuous clean air and quiet operation. These machines
can be installed anywhere due to the low noise levels and no pressure drop-offs.
Brewery Size Matters
Marketing Services Manager for Kaeser Compressors, Inc., told Beverage Master Magazine that the full range of craft breweries’ production levels would
affect their pneumatic equipment needs.
“Larger brewers tend to
have a broader variety of pneumatic devices, as well as more of them,” Camber
said. “Our craft brewers typically purchase rotary screw compressors from 5-50
hp, though most craft brewers are in the 5-25 hp range. These are most often
bought as part of a system that includes tanks, drains, dryers, and filters.
These are vital to cleaning up the air to protect brewers’ expensive equipment.
Many choose AIRTOWERs and AIRCENTERs, which are complete compressed air
stations with storage tanks and air treatment components built into a space and
In addition to the
high-quality air they provide, Camber said that these compressors are extremely
reliable and energy-efficient.
“These machines are designed for demanding manufacturing and
processing applications and can run 24/7 if needed,” he said. “A bonus is that
the packages are quiet, which is especially important if people will be working
near the compressor or the brewery has a public taproom on-premises.”
Compressors Used by Breweries
Due to their varying
needs, no two breweries use their air compression systems the same. The market
also provides brewers with plenty of manufacturers so that they can find their
perfect pneumatic fit.
seasonal, and unique one-off beers, D9 Brewing Company has been on the local
craft beer scene in Cornelius, North Carolina since 2014. Andrew
CEO and founder of D9 Brewing, told Beverage Master Magazine, “We use an Ingersoll
Rand compressor for all pneumatic controls in the brewhouse, packaging, and
aeration of wort.” (Photo on Right)
Peter Licht, brewmaster for Hermitage
Brewing Company in San Jose, California, said he uses rotary screw compressors
with integrated dryer for all of his brewery’s compressed air needs. Hermitage
Brewing Company is a big part of the growing craft beer scene in San Jose and
offers a pubic tasting room, growler fills, keg orders, and brewery tours.
Director of Brewery Operations for Fat Bottom Brewing in Nashville, Tennessee
said his brewery uses an Atlas Copco SF22+ FF Oil-free air compressor.
“This is used to provide
oil-free, dry air to our production equipment including the chain-vey conveyor
system, centrifuge, keg washer, canning line, PakTech applicator, CIP system,
and central foaming system for floor cleaning,” Yeager said.
Established in 2012 as
East Nashville’s first brewery, Fat Bottom Brewing brews a wide variety of
beers inspired by styles all around the world.
For brewers in the market
for an air compressor, many questions should be raised internally and with
manufacturers. One important consideration is to understand the size of air
compressor the brewery needs to not burn out and put operations at a
stand-still. Brewers should also take into account where to physically place
the compressor in the brewery to reduce noise and potential damage to brewing
Some brewers have made the
switch from oil-based air compressors to oil-free versions. Oil-free air tends
to be better for brewing because oil can kill yeast, flatten a frothy head,
present safety hazards, and reduce purity.
Camber of Kaeser Compressors
defined and described what he considers the six most important factors a
brewery should consider when purchasing an air compression system.
1. Reliability – If the operation has
mission-critical equipment with pneumatics, you want something well-built so
you don’t have downtime.
– Depending on local utility rates, size of machine (hp), and the running
hours, energy can be a significant cost. Efficiency varies widely between
– This impacts how easy or hard it will be to remove moisture from the
compressed air. The lower the operating temperature, the easier it will be to
prevent moisture from affecting equipment and product.
oil carryover – the carryover rate also impacts air quality and can be a real
problem with some compressors. The lower it is, the better for both product
quality and equipment reliability.
– over time, vibration will loosen internal piping and electrical connections,
causing downtime. Look for compressors that run smoothly and have good
6. Noise – if people will be
working near the compressor, low noise is important for morale, health, and
Durstewitz of D9 Brewing
said the most important considerations for his brewery concerning air
compressors are reliability and sanitation. Licht of Heritage Brewing said air
quality, reliability, and sound are the top things they keep in mind when
looking at air compressors.
At Fat Bottom Brewing,
Yeager said oil-free and dry air are the most important considerations for his
brewery’s air compressor decisions. Other factors he said are “planning for SCF
required day one and with a growth plan for sizing,” as well as the “noise
level for employee comfort and OSHA compliance.”
Choosing the Right Brewery Air
There is no
one-size-fits-all solution for brewery air compressors because every brewery’s
compressed air needs are unique. To get started, talk to experts at air
compressor companies that serve breweries as a primary market, as well as other
craft brewers about what systems work well for them.
Durstewitz of D9 Brewing
recommends not winging it when choosing the size of your air compressor. “Make
sure to accurately calculate your CFMs and pressure requirements. If you run a
compressor too hard it’ll just burn out,” he said.
Heritage Brewing Company’s
Licht said breweries should “plan for future air needs, make sure the air
quality is appropriate for the use, and do not install a noisy compressor in
Fat Bottom Brewery’s
Yeager stands behind oil-free. “Bite the bullet and purchase the right
oil-free, dry air compressor. You will save the difference in money with less
maintenance on brewery equipment and less downtime in production.”
Finally, Camber of Kaeser Compressors warns
about going too big. “Determine what size and type you need based on actual air
demand, duty cycle, and how mission-critical air is to your brewery,” he said.
“You want a reliable supply at a stable pressure, but you don’t want to
oversize compressors. Oversizing increases your purchase costs, your energy
costs, and your maintenance costs.”
You only have to look at the rotating list of available craft beer flavor profiles and styles at your local brew pub to know that Brewmasters are always looking for ways to please their patrons. Adding the use of nitrogen within the craft brewing industry is one of those ways that breweries look to produce a better final product for both their loyal consumers and for the distributors as well.
Nitrogen use is gaining popularity in craft breweries because it can be used as a safeguard against harmful oxygenation of their product that can affect taste, aroma and quality, all the things craft beer enthusiasts really care about. But nitrogen is also used to pressurize the containers and extend the shelf life of packaged beer. When used in conjunction with widgets or nitrogen dosing machinery before capping, it’s also responsible for that unique, cascading pour and velvety mouthfeel that signifies a nitro beer.
“Since the eighties, our liquid nitrogen dosing equipment line has expanded and improved to meet certain needs amongst the brewing industry,” says Jackie Whitney, Technical Support and Application Engineer for Vacuum Barrier Corporation in Woburn, MA, a manufacturer of nitrogen dosing equipment for use in craft breweries. “Nitrogen is used to purge the oxygen of the empty container before filling, but also to purge the oxygen from the headspace of filled containers. Nitrogen is used to pressurize cans of lower carbonated products, helping with packaging stability. And of course, it’s used for nitrogenating beers.”
“Nitrogen can be used before filling or after filling and before capping and seaming. We have our Linerter doser, used to purge empty containers before filling. It doses in a larger quantity to ensure that enough liquid nitrogen is put into the container to completely purge the oxygen out from it, similar to how it’s done for wine bottles. Our other styles of dosers are more precise, limited by line speed and size, and able to dose in smaller and more precise liquid nitrogen drops into filled containers, reducing oxygen in the headspace while pressurizing the container.”
“For small scale breweries,” says Whitney, “Liquid nitrogen is accessible in rented portable Dewars that are generally available locally from gas distributors. For the larger scale breweries requiring greater amounts, it’s generally recommended that the liquid nitrogen be stored in a refillable bulk tank located outside. Depending on the magnitude of the brewery, liquid nitrogen can be efficiently transferred from the supply tank to the doser using a vacuum insulated piping system.”
Whitney says there are no other alternatives to nitrogen. “It is the most economically feasible, inert, cryogenic gas available. It helps extend shelf life while preserving flavor and pressurizing the containers, allowing them to more easily be stacked during packaging and transportation.”
But no use of nitrogen may be more noticeable to the dedicated craft beer drinker than the characteristics it brings to that silky-smooth end product coming out of that tapper.
Whitney says that many brewers are using nitrogen infused beer to create an alternate taste for beer lovers, and because this is a relatively new craft brewing method, they are experimenting with all different kinds of nitrogen-infused beer.
“By dosing with nitrogen, breweries transform their beer into nitro beer, meaning one that has and retains a smooth, creamy head after pouring, either with or without the widget. This benefit would seem to translate across all beer styles should the brewer want to do that. The receiver of a nitro beer will notice a taste and aroma that is much fresher than that of their normal, standard carbonated beer. Nitrogenated beers have an appealing, more attractive cascade upon pouring compared to standard or regular beers, and the nitro style beers will possess a creamier texture and a more evenly distributed flavor, while the normal carbonated beer is less delicate and has a stronger aroma.”
The Nitrogen Movement
“More than just a trend, nitrogen use in the craft brewery is really a movement that’s been continually building and now really coming into its own.”
These are the words of Tyler Jones, Production Manager of Dosing Systems at Chart Industries Inc, headquartered in Ball Ground, GA. He says there are two predominant reasons for this movement.
“One use is to push oxygen out of containers during the brewing process. By containers, we are talking mainly cans for now. There are certain amounts of dissolved oxygen (DO) that we just can’t do anything about,” says Jones. “But we can reduce the total package oxygen (TPO), specifically the headspace oxygen (HO) that is sitting above the beer and trying to get into the product during packaging. If you’re not dosing nitrogen, then your actual parts per billion (ppb) of DO is higher than you initially measured, and that means that you as the brewer, aren’t getting your product out to market in the taste profile that you initially intended.”
“The second reason is nitrogenation of the beer. Many brewers do it in the keg itself. You prefill the keg with gaseous nitrogen, and over time, the beer inside the keg transforms to nitro brew, which is then also pushed through the keg to tap process using only nitrogen. Carbon dioxide is a natural product but slows the nitrogenation process, so most breweries want to pull the carbon dioxide out. Nitrogen filled kegs keep the nitrogen in the beer where it belongs.”
Guinness is, of course, the name most synonymous with nitro brews, and has a patent on their cans featuring that familiar rattling ball. Other cans have a widget installed, which Jones says is about the size of a quarter in diameter and the width of a thumb. The widget contains an orifice with an exit valve and a slit for the in-valve. The brewer puts the beer in, the can is inverted so the liquid just covers the top orifice. As the nitrogen expands, it forces itself into the widget so that when the can is inverted again, the nitrogen is encased within the widget. When the beer is opened, it gets a slight shake or hard pour, charging the system. Nitrogen escapes, invigorating the beer and producing that great cascading pour that accompanies all nitro brews.
But because these cans were expensive and only available if ordered in standard, minimum order quantities, the smaller craft breweries simply couldn’t afford them. That’s when Jones and Chart started their Ditch The Widget program and website, allowing smaller and startup brewers the ability to give their beer a heavy nitrogen dose right on the filling line, immediately before seaming.
“Without giving away too much, it’s all about a pressure situation in the can or bottle. After a short time, the beer is completely nitrogenated, complete with the great taste, the great cascading pour, and the familiar long-lasting, tight head. Just everything. The whole deal,” says Jones. “And better yet, the best results have come when the beer is initially brewed completely flat, without the use of carbon dioxide or nitrogen.”
Dose size will vary due to the beer type as well as the size of can or bottle. One drop of liquid nitrogen expands seven hundred times its volume when going from liquid to gas. That expansion evacuates the oxygen and carbon dioxide that is present while adding pressurization.
Partnering with Left Hand Brewing in Colorado, Chart and Jones have been able to perform intensive nitro testing and help cultivate the nitro industry.
“The Brewmasters help us with testing because they know exactly what they are looking for in the way of head retention, pour and taste. Nitrogen is generally thought to be used with the darker beers, and although that is true, anything can be nitrogen dosed, including IPAs. The main thing is that nitrogen is smaller and less soluble than carbon dioxide, so it creates a creamier mouthfeel for those beers that are already more pleasant than some IPA or hop forward beers. If the beer is actually meant to have a bite to its final taste, then nitro dosing would defeat that purpose.”
Brew Pubs Are Perfect For Sampling
Left Hand Brewing is just one craft brewery that has become a proponent for nitrogen use in the craft beer industry. They continue to offer both nitro and non-nitro options in their milk stouts, allowing a side by side comparison of just how nitrogen dosed beers differ in aroma, taste and appearance. They’ve also been successful with bottling nitro beer. Their bottled Nitro Milk Stout met with wild enthusiasm and great reviews, paving the way for a series of nitro brews that included their Sawtooth Nitro and Wake Up Dead Nitro. By increasing the availability of nitro beers as a to-go product, Left Hand Brewing increases the availability and versatility of craft beer options, while also allowing nitro beer aficionados to be able to take their preferred beer with them away from the pub.
James Cain, co-owner of Vault Brewing Company in Yardley, PA is quick to sing the praises of using nitrogen within his brewery. Vault was the first to package their nitro beers in widgetless cans, opting for inline nitrogenation instead. But Cain also uses nitrogen with some of his traditionally carbonated beers as well.
“Capping our cans using nitrogen is very helpful in removing oxygen from the headspace because of the capacity the nitrogen displaces when transforming from a liquid to gaseous state. It promotes extended shelf life and because of that large amount of displacement, the walls of a beer canned using nitrogen will be noticeably more firm and rigid than their CO2 counterparts. This supports the idea of higher strength cans with better performance and more stacking power. But you have to be mindful that the extra strength is due to increased pressure, so there also is the possibility for more damage. It’s a six-of-one, half a dozen of the other kind of thing.”
“Not many are packaging with nitrogen,” Cain says, “But we feel that it’s a great way for those beer drinkers to be able to take our nitro beers with them for later enjoyment in their homes. They’ve asked if we could do it with our growlers, but it just wouldn’t work, so being able to can the nitro beer is a way to satisfy that customer demand.”
Within his brewpub, Cain says that there are always nitro brew beers on tap, with the choices usually being seasonal and/or session beers. These beers are pushed from keg to tap using a nitrogen system that allows a mixture of seventy-five percent nitrogen to twenty-five percent oxygen ratio.
“It ultimately comes down to personal preference,” says Cain. “Overall, using nitrogen gives a superior, cask-style pour, emphasizing the taste and flavor of the beer. It’s a way to provide a smoother mouthfeel without the fizziness of high carbonation. It takes away the carbonic acid and bite at the end of your drink of beer.”
The Proof Is In The Pour
Nitro beer drinkers notice immediate differences in initial mouthfeel, which plays a huge part in the overall perception of the beer from that point forward. That smoother, creamier, almost dessert-like foam head is all due to the nitrogen immediately forming a glassful of tiny, insoluble bubbles upon pouring.
And that pour is important. With agitation produced from either a mild shake or a fully inverted hard pour, nitrogen is released and those tiny, endless bubbles descend with the signature cascading action that signifies a nitro brew. By the time the container is emptied, those nitrogen bubbles reverse their flow and rise towards the top in a thick, heavy foam head with superior retention, providing the velvety mouthfeel of a luscious whipped dessert. The darker, more intensely flavored stout types of beer tend to better match with the creamier, velvety consistency of nitro brewing, and actually have their flavors amplified when introduced to nitrogen.
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:
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.”
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.
Craft beverage consumers are often quick to judge a book by its cover, or in this case, a beer by its packaging. The quality of beer comes first and foremost, but how a beer looks on retail shelves can also drive or sink a brewery’s profits. Packaging machines are useful to breweries for many reasons, including efficiently and attractively packaging beer and cans in cartons. Depending on the size of a brewery’s operations and its goals, these machines range from small hand machines to huge mass production models.
Uses of Brewery Packaging Equipment
These days, very few breweries are packaging their products by hand. Manual processing isn’t fast enough to keep up with demand, but unlike mechanization in the wine industry, there isn’t a strong stigma regarding breweries using machines.
For breweries, packaging equipment comes in the form of case packers and uncasers, can cartoners, case erectors and partition inserters. Innovative companies have developed robotic case packers to pack products into cases and trays, as well as multi-lane diverters to configure cans in the desired format for multi-packs. It may save time and labor if breweries use cartoners that convey, collate, and package cans into multi-pack cartons that are built and glue-sealed.
Meanwhile, other packaging machines work as case and carton sealers, stretch and shrink wrappers, and label applicators. Wrap-around tray packers are commonly used for beer bottles and cans, tray-formers are used for rollover locking, and open-top glue trays are used for 24-count trays of bottles or cans. Large brewery operations typically rely on fully integrated systems that include many of these features including product conveyors, uncasing, single-filling conveyors, lane dividers, dividing wheels, star wheels and sealing equipment.
Benefits of Packing Machines for Breweries
In the early stages of operations or for small and niche breweries, manual packaging may be the preferred operational method, or at least a good starting point. Packaging bottles and cans manually can serve as a preliminary method before growing and saving up for a more automated system. Temporary and transitional packaging services are available for breweries looking to outsource this type of work. However, having your own packaging line typically saves money in the long run and gives brewers greater control over their products.
Packaging machines provide breweries with speed, consistency and efficiency on their packing line, saving employees time and the brewery money. Packaging machines also help a brewery reduce packaging costs, ensure a more consistent appearance, and promote good hygiene to prevent beer contamination. Consistent, well-placed packaging can reinforce and strengthen a brewery’s particular brand and help establish brand recognition and loyalty among consumers.
Top Packaging Machines in the Industry
Packaging machines are used in a wide variety of industries, including food, beverages, pharmaceuticals, industrial products, and non-food consumer goods. In a market with so many choices, some companies now cater to the highly specific needs of breweries.
Based in Brewerton, New York, Schneider Packaging provides case and tray packaging, case sealing, palletizing, and complete end-of-line solution services for its customers. For the beverage industry, Schneider’s gable top packing solution is the stand-out solution designed to run at speeds matching the fastest filling systems. Meanwhile, Schneider incorporates FANUC robotics to create flexible palletizing solutions to meet facility and production requirements. The latest innovations used include ProAdjust technology to increase uptime, patent-pending Intelligent Illumination to maintain case packers, and the proprietary OptiStak software to optimize and simplify pallet generation. Other industries Schneider serves are dairy, food, industrial/chemical/household, paper, personal care/cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and plastics.
Douglas Machine Inc., a packaging solutions company based in Alexandria, Minnesota, specializes in high-quality automated packaging solutions for paperboard, corrugated and shrink-film. Douglas is a 100 percent employee-owned company that has installed more than 9,000 machines in at least 30 countries.
“Douglas provides paperboard horizontal cartoning, RSC, and wrap-around case-packing and tray, shrink, pad/film and film only packaging machinery for the brewery industry at a variety of line speeds and configurations,” said Brenda Larson, Marketing Communications Manager at Douglas Machine.
Meanwhile, in Eugene, Oregon, PakTech is a full-service manufacturing company that delivers environmentally sustainable packaging solutions to the craft beer industry.
“Our handles are simple to grab, carry, and remove your product using a 100 percent recycled handle,” PakTech Sales Manager, Keenan Hoar, told Beverage Master Magazine. “PakTech’s minimalistic design and extensive color options highlight your brand and eliminate the need for obscuring artwork with other types of packaging.”
Hoar also said PakTech offers automated application versatility for flexible production requirements.
“You can apply the handles by hand if you’re a startup or have a limited volume requirement,” he said, “or you can utilize their automated applicators ranging in speed from 120 cans per minute to over 1,500 cans per minute if you have a higher speed operation.”
Accutek Packaging Equipment Companies, Inc. is headquartered in Vista, California but has locations in Irving, Texas and Fort Myers, Florida as well. One of the largest privately-held packaging machinery manufacturers in the U.S., Accutek is a leading manufacturer and developer of complete turnkey packaging solutions. It offers consumers everything from filling to capping machines, conveyors, labeling and sleeving machines, and complete packaging systems.
Vice President Drake Chocholek told Beverage Master Magazine that Accutek often helps start-up companies make the best decisions for their operations. By partnering with a company experienced in this field, brewery owners can better assess whether potential packaging machines are easy to maintain, clean, adjust and upgrade.
“For example, a lot of new producers don’t know there are different grades of quality for glass bottles, or they may not know about bottle washers or rinsers used for cleaning containers before filling,” Chocholek said.
To take this a step further, Chocholek told us about the essential checklist his company uses to help new customers understand their full scope of operations and to make packaging simpler and more affordable.
“After we find out the product and container sizes, we ask them what their budget is, how fast they want the machinery to go, and if they’re in the market for more than one piece of machinery,” he said.
What Breweries are Using and Why
Aaron Williams of Monday Night Brewing in Atlanta, Georgia told Beverage Master Magazine his brewery specializes in brewing balanced beers for weeknights that pair well with food. Monday Night Brewing opened up its second facility, The Garage, in September 2017 to feature its barrel-aged, sour, and experimental beers. This addition came with an upgrade in equipment.
“We recently upgraded to a 24/4 CFT canning line that we are running at about 250 cans per minute,” Williams said. “We use hi-cone rings packed into trays because it uses the least amount of packaging.”
Meanwhile in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Marble Brewery’s president and brewmaster, Ted Rice, told us about the packaging system that his team currently uses.
“We use a 12-head CFT for canning,” Rice said. “From the CFT, the 12-ounce cans run to a Switchback cartoner for six or 12 packs. The cans can also run to an American Canning Machine PakTech applicator.”
However, finding the best options for machines that carton beer bottles and cans seem to be more of a challenge for breweries.
“Right now, we don’t do any bulk beers in cartons but are actively looking at machines to handle this in a more automated system,” Williams of Monday Night Brewing said. “There are many machines, but it doesn’t seem there is a clear winner based on conversations with other breweries. We currently hand-package our limited sampler packs.”
Douglas Machine may have the solution, however, since they offer a variety of cartoning machinery models that fit a wide range of canning and bottling line speeds and pack configurations.
“For lower speed lines, the intermittent motion Vantra offers an unparalleled speed of 40 plus cartons per minute with range capabilities offering of four to 24 count flexibility,” Larson said. “For higher speed lines, Douglas offers the Spectrum in many models for mid-high-speed lines with speeds up to 250 cartons per minute. The Vantra and Spectrum Center Select offer flexibility to run different diameter and height cans, while the cost-effective Spectrum Center Select offers mid-high-speed capability on a single can diameter capability at a very cost-effective price.”
How to Choose the Right Packaging System
As with every decision made in a brewery, owners must make considerations before investing in a packaging system. Short-term and long-term costs, ease of ongoing maintenance, opportunities for customizable design, integration with existing bottle and can filling systems, as well as choosing the correct machine size are only a handful of things to analyze before purchasing.
Breweries can also reduce their carbon footprint and sustain more eco-friendly operations if they choose packaging products made from 100 percent recycled materials.
“Our products provide an end market for recycled HDPE, helping the economy and environment by providing jobs and keeping plastics out of the landfills and oceans while providing a second life for recycled HDPE plastic,” said Gary Panknin, PakTech’s Sustainability Officer. “Our handle recycling program also provides the opportunity for breweries to participate in keeping our products in the recycling stream and out of the waste stream.”
According to Panknin, 102,592,428 milk jugs were kept out of landfills and repurposed into PakTech handles in 2018, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. “In total, we have diverted 338,267,223 milk jugs from entering the waste stream, kept 20,973 tons of plastic out of the landfills and oceans, and saved 17.90-acre feet of land from being used as landfills for waste,” he said.
PakTech’s system isn’t merely a sustainability badge of honor, however. “The PakTech applicator makes our line far more efficient, and our operators do not experience wrist fatigue from manually applying the PakTech,” said Rice of Marble Brewery. “Having the Switchback cartoner allows our brands to have a clean billboard on the shelves. Using the PakTech allows us to run smaller volumes of seasonals in shrink sleeve cans without designing a carton with its associated costs and minimums.”
Williams of Monday Night Brewing suggests brewers ensure that any company they partner with for packing is credible and trustworthy.”I think the key is to really do your homework and ask around,” he said. “Find out who uses the equipment you’re interested in, what the manufacturer support is like, and if the manufacturer really will stand behind it for the long term. I’ve talked to many breweries that got a great up-front price on their equipment only to find the supplier didn’t really stand behind it.”
With this in mind, Mike Brewster of Schneider Packaging Equipment advises breweries “to do their due diligence on what they foresee their operation looking like in the future. Today, more than ever, consumer trends in the marketplace are changing at a rapid pace. With that, it is critical to align with a manufacturer who offers flexible and scalable solutions to assist you as your operation encounters changes.”
Concerning functionality, Hoar of PakTech said that his team looks at the fill rate when helping a brewery choose the right application for its operations. “It is extremely easy to manually apply PakTech carriers, yet the feasibility of doing so is all dependent on volume,” he said. “It is necessary to look at the cost of utilizing employees to apply the handle against the return on investment of our automated solutions.”
Hoar emphasizes the importance of packaging presentation as well because “by focusing on originality and creative expression, breweries have turned artwork into brand identity.” He also points out the need to know your brewery’s customers and consider portability and sustainability when choosing packaging products because many customers care about these things.
“We understand that many customers have a ‘pack it in, pack it out’ mentality, and we need to support the idea of a circular economy in any capacity,” Hoar said.
Finally, Larson of Douglas Machine recommends that breweries consider future packing patterns and configurations when specifying packaging systems for canning and bottling lines.
“Too often, brewers will select machinery based upon their immediate pack patterns or speeds, therefore buying a machine that cannot handle future pack patterns and speeds due to a lack of flexibility in some machinery offerings,” Larson said. “Additionally, the robustness of machinery is critical as brewers grow their operation and volumes increase to the point they need to add production shifts. It is imperative to consider the design and build design to ensure that a packaging system they purchase is robust enough to run multiple shifts, seven days per week. Initial low costs are long forgotten when experiencing poor or inconsistent performance.”
Head Brewer Joe Kesteloot of Peace Tree Brewing Co. in its Des Moines, Iowa-based innovation brewery. Photo courtesy of Peace Tree Brewing Co.
The long game of brewing isn’t always obvious in the glass. Some producers spend up to two years evaluating what to brew and what equipment will craft the best product. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this approach, but for brewers eager to get started or respond to an expansion demand, it’s critical to have a long-term mindset to produce creatively with fiscal responsibility.
When choosing tanks, especially fermentation tanks, there are numerous questions to answer before snapping up a standard model and placing it in the rack. The equipment in the brewhouse reflects as much about your approach as the end result: attention to detail and processes, ease of production and quality standards.
Patrick Mears is the sales and marketing manager for Marks Design and Metal Works, operating in Vancouver, Washington. Since 2008, Marks Design has specialized in designing custom stainless steel fermenters to brewers’ unique specifications but also fabricates brite tanks, cider tanks and other stainless steel vessels. Mears told Beverage Master Magazine the brewer’s personality, and approach helps inform his company to meet your needs.
“We’ve happily helped many groups who didn’t have a clue what they needed other than a produced volume and a budget. However, our expertise can be more useful if you’ve had a chance hammer out your vibe,” Mears said. “I know that sounds crazy, but it tells us a lot! Are you nerdy about beer and want extreme control over every aspect of the process and log all the data to look for trends? Are you super laid back and simply want to provide your neighborhood with an alternative to Applebee’s? Do you want to be innovative, or are you looking to perfectly reproduce old world beers? Your brewhouse is an extension of you.”
For new producers, knowing what’s needed beforehand can be difficult. Evaluating potential tank requirements by nebulous considerations of volume, beverage, processes and other factors sometimes makes the choice more challenging.
Joe Kesteloot is the head brewer at Peace Tree Brewing, Co. based in Knoxville, Iowa. Peace Tree, established in 2010, now has three taprooms in Iowa and an extended retail presence. They produced approximately 5,500 barrels in 2018. Kesteloot agreed the decision is tough, especially when “you don’t know what your flagship beer(s) may be yet,” but offered particular sources of insight. “It helps to get out in your market and talk to your potential customers, and weigh that information with your strengths. If you have a distributor, you ask what the market needs are. You can also look at the current market trends, but those trends are always evolving.”
Brewers should consider tank choices and sizes by determining, “some multiple of the brewhouse size,” said Bryan Boynton, Ph.D., brewer for Snake River Brewing, a brewery and pub located in Jackson, Wyoming. Established in 1994, Snake River is the state’s oldest brewery, and they now sell their beer throughout the U.S. The company produces an average of 8,000 barrels annually. “A 15 barrel brewhouse would lead to 30 or 60 barrel fermenters, bright tanks and serving tanks.” He suggested, “top manway tanks are ideal for all brewing styles, and especially important for ease of dry hopping; and tanks with racking arms that can rotate in the tank are ideal again for all styles, allowing for ease of transfer and filtering.”
Another consideration that factors into tank selection is the potential for multi-purpose use. William Stacy is the managing director of THIELMANN, a European company with U.S. headquarters in Houston. THIELMANN has produced containers for all types of products for more than 275 years, now with a particular focus on aseptic stainless steel tanks and kegs. In his brewery visits, Stacy said he’s continually impressed with the way producers ask double-duty of the company’s fermenters to maximize their investments.
“Some popular applications for our fermenter include brite tank, carbonation vessel and also a yeast propagation vessel. Large breweries use it for running small batches and test samples, and some even as a serving tank,” Stacy said. “This versatility and competitive price allow for the breweries to afford accessories and customization for the applications they require.”
Kesteloot sometimes takes this approach in the brewhouse. “One of my small-scale tanks doubles as a fermenter and a brite tank. However, I always transfer from fermenter to brite: I don’t ferment in it and leave it in there as brited beer. That tank rotates as one or the other function,” he said. “With most of my beers, I like to make sure they are off as much yeast and sediment as possible before serving or especially packaging.”
“I personally believe using fermenters as unitanks provides the most flexibility,” Mears said. He suggested buying the same amount of tanks as if you were pairing with brites, “but all the tanks would be conical fermenters. This way, your production doesn’t have to slow down because one of your brites are still full—you can just flip the fermenter to brite mode.”
While Boynton believes tanks can be multi-purpose in some instances, he offered a word of caution: “A fermentation tank doubling as a serving tank only works for certain styles of beer,” he said. “Most styles don’t allow for this combination. The removal of old yeast, dry hops and sedimentation that will push through to a consumer usually needs to be avoided.”
Stacy added that some producers intending to diversify their product lines often shop for tanks that can provide the most versatility. “Similar to root beer, sparkling or bubbling water is another offering brewers are moving into—filtering the water and just adding C02 to the tank prior to canning or bottling,” he said. “This is why we encourage brewers to think ahead about tank use and talk with their vendor about what type of kit specifications to accommodate other needs.”
Peace Tree Brewing Co. also crafts root beer, and often uses existing tanks for the process—but carefully. “We have designated hoses, carbonation stones and filler parts for root beer only. Many of those flavors can carry over to other brews, so we keep those pieces of equipment completely separate,” he said. “Even a mixing tank other than our brew system is used for root beer ingredients. Any tank used for root beer goes through a rigorous cleaning to remove any residue. This also applies to any sour beer we make with wild yeast.”
“If I Knew Then What I Know Now….”
The camaraderie of the brewing industry means the portal to quality information is always open. We requested our experts provide candid insight into tank, fitting and equipment decisions, and how they influence processes.
Boynton of Snake River Brewing stressed the significance of many factors. “Pressure Relief Valves (PRV) are very important for safety. If possible, buy tanks that are larger than expected brews to allow for a vigorous fermentation and not clog PRVs—which can lead to an explosion with grave consequences,” he said.
“Also, temperature probes that control the fermentation temperature need to be placed where one brew from the brewhouse is within its contact. If the first 15 bbl brew goes into the 60 bbl fermenter and doesn’t reach a temperature probe to turn on the cooling system, you have an uncontrolled fermentation,” Boynton said. “Finally, ease of cleaning without shadows, which are areas that the clean-in-place system doesn’t connect with well; and multiple zone cooling controls are the most important.
When asked what he wouldn’t do again, he replied: “No side manway tanks would have been purchased, and there was no need for conditioning tanks.”
Kesteloot of Peace Tree Brewing Co. seconded Boynton’s reference to temperature probes. “Probe location in fermenters and brite tanks are important. If you’re brewing multiple brews in a single fermenter, make sure the temperature probe is able to read the first brew, or maybe add multiple probes,” he said.
He also explained why tank shape and cooling jackets might matter to your processes. “We look at height-to-width ratios and cone pitch. Yeast can react differently in certain shape vessels. The right cone angle is necessary to collect healthy yeast,” Kesteloot said. “Even the way the cooling jackets are spaced or separated can help with certain applications. If you’re packaging from a brite tank and unable to finish the tank, the cooling jackets need to be located in the right spot to keep beer cold until packaging can resume.”
He added that learning how to accommodate Peace Tree’s expansion pointed to one crucial detail: “Anticipating the amount of cold storage we needed was a big challenge. It seems like we could always use more. Maximize the efficiencies in your processes as much as possible, so you have more wiggle room to be flexible later.”
Manufacturing experts Mears from Marks Design and Stacy from THIELMANN highlighted a fundamental but critical factor: bad tank quality reduces output and increases contamination.
“We offer field services in addition to tanks and systems, and have spent many field hours fixing tanks from other manufacturers that took shortcuts during fabrication or used low-quality material,” Mears said. “Within the past year, we fixed four 240 bbl fermenters at a single location! The tank manufacturer took shortcuts during fabrication, causing cracked welds on the inside of the tank within just a few years of purchase. Those cracks not only caused the tanks to leak precious revenue but also put the tank at risk of producing off-flavors due to the now unsanitary environment.”
Stacy echoed choosing a quality product and encouraged producers to “specify in tank selection aseptic characteristics and polished welds. This assures breweries that if operated properly, these aspects can reduce the risks of contamination. THIELMANN tanks, for example, are a fully aseptic design for easy cleaning with a simple spray ball,” he said. “We’ve recently seen some poorly-welded vessels in breweries and wineries. This substandard welding and lack of polished welds allow for severe risks with contamination.”
Invite the Vendors to Come to You
The nuts and bolts of tank decisions come down to what your vision is, and how well you communicate this to your equipment vendors.
Each producer has a different purchasing method—some buy tanks outright, using finance options that make sense within the guidelines of individual business plans. Others may lease or rent—an especially popular choice for seasonality spikes, short runs or additional product lines.
What does the typical fermentation tank cost? It depends. Establishing a base of $6,000-$7,000 or more per unit provides a launch pad, but what if the tank is multi-purpose? A standard brite tank may start at $2,500, but be as high as $6,000. Does this leave more wiggle room for additional equipment or change what you’ll produce? Should you utilize a turnkey system and work from that for a while?
Mears told Beverage Master Magazine that customization is what saves money in the long run. “The biggest mistake I see over and over is a brewer simply sending an email or filling out an online form and asking for a standard quote on a system,” he said. “If you take the time to have a conversation with us, we can put together a real quote that fits your specific needs. Explain what you really want, and if it isn’t in your current budget, we can help you decide what comes now vs. later.”
Stacy added: “We find budgets are a large factor, especially for new breweries. I would suggest they ask about the versatility of the systems. To be able to buy one piece of equipment and get three or four different uses out of it is a rare find,” he said. “For specification purposes, we have added many of the popular fittings and connections to make a tank a versatile, multi-use vessel. We also can customize the manways and connections to meet the specific needs.”
Producers that take advantage of customization find it allows for better operations. “We had vendors come to look at our space, and scale our square footage vs. ceiling height to maximize the most volume possible,” Kesteloot said. “They also examined our layout to see if things were going to flow from tank to tank, to packaging and out the door.
Based on increased demand, Boynton at Snake River Brewing said the company scaled up as needed. “We have a hodgepodge of tanks purchased through different sources. The new large 60 barrel tanks we purchased are very nice.”
While no one can predict the future, these experts suggested using your objectives to determine tank needs. “Right now, with the popularity of IPAs, there are many specialized tanks for dry hopping as well as techniques for dry hopping in standard tanks,” Kesteloot said. “Breweries are using this equipment to maximize flavors and aromas. These are some things we’ll take into account in future expansions. We may even go backward in some applications and add some old, traditional methods.”
Maximizing budget. Providing quality products. Preparing for growth. It’s incredible to think your tank selection is a primary catalyst to accomplish these and other objectives. So take time and let the experts walk you through a set-up that fits your needs. “It’s important to brewers to be innovative, but it’s also important to be consistent and crank out the moneymakers,” Mears said. “Why not have a system that can do both?”
Marty Jones of Cask Global Canning Solutions has worked tirelessly for nearly twenty years convincing brewers that cans were the right way to package craft beer. He was one of the founders of Oskar Blues Brewery’s “Canned Beer Apocalypse” and remembers the pioneer days of canned craft beer. “I would serve canned beers at fests, and folks would walk by and wave and say ‘I don’t drink canned beer,’ and follow that remark with some additional misinformed comment, such as ‘Cans are bad for beer,’ or ‘Cans impart metallic flavors to beer.’ Many brewers thought we were nuts, heathens, committing sacrilege by questioning the long-revered brown bottle. A few breweries wished misfortune upon us! I always made a point to talk about the benefits of cans, not the negatives of bottles, and that helped to temper some of the backlash. Most consumers loved the idea.”
Many of those benefits include fitting in with into the younger generation’s more environmentally conscious and active lifestyle.
“Cans are welcome in loads of places where bottles are not,” Jones said. “They dramatically shrink shipping costs and energy consumption for shipped beer. They are Mother Nature’s preferred beer package and the most recycled beverage package on the planet. They make it super easy to take goose-bumping beer to the beach, the boat, the backcountry, the bathtub, and other places where beer is a treasured life enhancer.”
Cans also provide protection that isn’t necessarily guaranteed with bottles.
“Cans lock in the flavor of beer better than even dark glass bottles,” according to Mother Road Mobile Canning’s website, motherroad.com. “In glass bottles (especially green and clear ones) beer can become lightstruck, a condition caused when ultraviolet light breaks down hop-derived isohumulones, breaking them apart and allowing them to bind with sulfur atoms, creating a skunky, off-flavor. This flavor is so common that some people think the skunky character is a normal flavor in some beers. Oxidation is another problem for bottled beer. Bottle caps allow oxygen to pass into the beer making it stale.”
Cans provide a full 360 degrees chance for advertising as well, which according to Sarah Brennan, Marketing and Sales Coordinator for Palmer Canning Systems, “is a draw when you want your product to stand out on a shelf.”
Canned Beer Apocalypse
While working at Oskar Blue’s in 2002, Jones recalls, “We purchased Cask’s original tabletop one-can-at-a-time seamer/filler and became the first U.S. craft brewer to brew and can their beer. At that time a couple of craft brewers had beer in cans that was brewed and canned by others under contract.”
Jones and Oskar Blues went out of their way to make cans exciting, crushing stereotypes and creating the kind of beers that consumers wanted, attracting a following of beer drinkers who helped change the industry.
“For the first few years, I spent most of my time debunking the myths about aluminum cans and talking about the many wonders of cans, rather than talking about the beers we squeezed into those cans. That helped change the perceptions. We made a point of putting especially luscious beers into those cans, to inspire more craft beer lovers to give them a chance. That was super helpful, too,” said Jones. “Slowly, other risk takers took the chance on cans and started to reap the benefits and fast-rising sales. Nowadays the perception of cans in comparison to bottles has changed about 180 degrees. There are still a few can cynics and doubters out there, and people who simply prefer the feel and time-tested merits of bottles. But the most maligned and scorned package a craft brewer could once consider has now become the package of choice for many discerning brewers and beer drinkers. Brewers who swore they would never put their beer in a can have now added the mighty aluminum can to their packaging, or tossed out their bottles completely.”
Purchase vs. Mobile Canning Lines
There are many considerations when deciding whether to purchase, lease or rent a mobile canning unit. Mobile canning services are a great way to get into cans without any capital outlay. Many brewers start with a mobile canner and then eventually move to purchase their own canning lines.
Mobile canning lines offer the convenience of coming to you, no matter the size of your brewery. Every state has a variety of companies to assist you. The advantages of their systems are that they have provided the capital outlay for the equipment. Most mobile canning companies will help with inventory management of cans, ends, handles, case flats and off-site storage options. They focus on the canning so you can focus on the brewing.
However, with the rise in cans and use of mobile canners, some brewers find the service not quite worth it.
“While they can make your packaging very easy, their service comes at a cost. We often hear complaints that busy mobile canners are hard to schedule, and their quality control in terms of dissolved oxygen and product loss rates can be lacking, depending on the quality of the operator. Many brewers also don’t feel comfortable turning something as crucial as their packaging over to someone else,” said Jones.
For those canning less than 300 cases a month, mobile canning is often a great choice. However, for those filling 300 cases or more each month, it may be more beneficial to buy an in-house canning line. Often, an in-house system pays itself off within one to two years, and brewers have complete control over all aspects of packaging and filling.
“If you plan to put your product in cans for the long term, the point to purchase your own canning line is right away. The payback period on a purchase is two years at 300 cases a month and one year at 500 cases a month. On top of that, you’ll have full control over your packaging schedule and quality control program. At 500 cases a month, we have literally saved some customers thousands of dollars per month by helping them buy or finance their own canning system,” said Russell Love, President of Cask Global Canning Solutions.
Creating Your Canning System
Canning system manufacturers like Cask Global and Palmer Canning Systems work with breweries to ensure they make the right choice of canning line for their size, output and budget.
“As you build the system that works for your brewery, keep in mind that Cask offers systems that cater to all budgets down to the nano-brewery level and an entire range of systems from manual systems with as little as a two, three, six or 10-head fill stations systems. We can customize canning systems and accessories for just about any beverage type, and we also provide brite (unpainted) or printed aluminum cans to our customers as well,” Love said.
Palmer Canning System’s Brennan told Beverage Master Magazine that they can customize a system for beverages from beer, wine and coffee to energy drinks and infused juices. “The market is really dictating the rise of canning now. There has been so much data to support that canning your beverage is the better process for quality in things like total package oxygen and DOs. Canning is the way to go, we have just been a part of the steady incline of cans,” she said. “We fabricate fully customizable entire systems at our manufacturing facility in Lafayette, Indiana. We have no problem working with other vendors to incorporate ancillary items to a line, although we also design things like weight checkers and date coders in house.”
Palmer Canning offers fixed and mobile versions of Craft-in-Line can filling and seaming systems, as well as Craftbulk, an empty can de-palletizer; Wavegrip, an auto carrier applicator; Propurge, can filling valves; Craftrinse, an empty can rinser; and Craftdry blower systems.
Cleaning Your Cans
Whether you purchase a custom designed system or put together a variety of components that fit your brewery or a combination thereof, Carleton Helical Technologies has created a can and bottle cleaner suited for existing production lines.
“Our equipment is very versatile. We can easily integrate it into existing lines which is easier than developing a new line,” said Nick Carleton, President of Carleton Helical. “The beauty of our cleaner is that it is very simple to install and operate. It is very rare that we have to install or do start-ups, although we do offer the service. Our cleaner has been used in both can and bottling lines, providing easy change-over with our proprietary HP Inverters [that flip] the cans over for cleaning and back.”
Carleton Helical’s cleaners provide customers the option to clean with ionized air, water or any cleaning solution, starting at 10 cans per minute. “This system is also being used for code dating, flipping the can over for the code date and inspection. This provides a very simple method to place the cans in position for the code date,” said Carleton.
What’s on the Horizon
A trend that’s already common in the brewing world seems to be reaching out into the canning world as well: collaboration.
“We are seeing a real interesting growth in the collaboration space where breweries are partnering with other local craft beverage producers (coffee, cider, Kombucha, craft sodas or craft spirits, etc.) to provide affordable co-packing,” said Cask Global’s Jones. “We design all our canning systems to be very easy to switch between slim, sleek and standard diameter cans which allows a brewery the ability to run 250 mL slim nitro cold brew coffee cans or 12-ounce sleek Kombucha cans one day a week. It’s a great model for cool collaborations and also financial efficiency.”
As a craft beverage manufacturer and business leader, you’re probably familiar with the term cloud computing – but may still have questions about the benefits, costs or risks associated with “moving to the cloud”. This article will answer some of those questions and demonstrate how cloud computing can positively transform your business from the inside out.
What is cloud computing …and why does it matter for my business?
In its most simple form, cloud computing is the use of a shared resource on the internet to store, manage and process data. The cloud allows unique users to access the same software application from any device, anywhere, at any time. Information is easily updated and shared between team members without the need to print files, manually input reports or be in the same physical location.
As an example, take a moment to imagine this structure in place for your accounting processes. With data available in the cloud, your accountant can access and adjust your records in real time.
So, why should you care about cloud computing? The threat of being left behind for one. Cloud computing is quickly becoming a new organizational norm. Emerging research on the topic speaks for itself.
Nearly 90 percent of all financial decision makers are already aware of cloud computing and the overwhelming majority believe cloud computing brings quantifiable business benefits critical to the success of their organizations.
The cloud is the new normal for enterprise applications, with 70 percent of all organizations having at least one application in the cloud today.
Wikibon is predicting enterprise cloud spending will grow at a 16 percent compound annual growth (CAGR) run rate between 2016 and 2026.
Business/data analytics and data storage (both 43 percent), so critical in the competitive craft beverage industry today, are projected to lead the decision for cloud adoption in 2019 and beyond.
Benefits of Cloud Computing
How can cloud computing improve my business?
We’re glad you asked. Here are a few ways cloud computing can positively impact your operational, financial and organizational goals:
Reduced IT and operational costs
Enhanced efficiencies through automation and collaboration
Information mobility and accessibility
Greater visibility into your competitive advantages
Scalability: Successful craft brewers are growing at an unprecedented rate and the ability to scale on an as-needed basis is one of the biggest advantages of cloud computing. Accelerated business growth typically leads to growing pains and missed opportunities resulting from the mismanagement of more data, infrastructure and customers. The right cloud computing solution will grow alongside your business to meet market demands and accommodate growth as technology shifts, revenues grow and your business needs evolve.
Reduced IT and operational costs: When it comes to budgeting for infrastructure, the cloud eliminates hefty upfront costs for computer hardware and licenses. Instead, you pay a monthly software subscription based on usage that can be adjusted over time. Cloud computing allows craft beverage companies to work with business professionals with expertise in areas where your team may be
lacking from a skill set standpoint. It allows you to share information in real time for consultation in areas you would rather outsource such as CFO services, IT, human resource management, sales analytics, accounting, and payroll / performance compensation so you can focus on what you do best which is brewing quality beer. Cloud computing isn’t just good for business – it’s good for the environment, too. In one example, the U.S. General Services Administration reduced server energy consumption by nearly 90 percent and carbon emissions by 85 percent after switching users to a cloud solution.
Enhanced efficiencies through automation and collaboration: Craft business owners are always looking for efficiency savings and implementing a cloud solution means you can say goodbye to manual entries or physical backups to secure data. For example, cloud-based accounting software typically automates processes by importing transaction data on a real-time basis. The cloud computing model empowers team members to collaborate and share information beyond traditional communication methods – allowing multiple facilities and/or taprooms to co-manage production, raw materials, packaging levels and distribution scheduling.
Information mobility and accessibility: Information mobility and accessibility are two major benefits associated with the widespread adoption of smart phones and tablets across the global workforce. Cloud technology gives business owners access to critical data and reports on the go with anytime-anywhere access for quick and more informed decision making. In today’s market as a craft beverage manufacturer, it is critical to maintain ongoing communication via a CRM tool not only within your own sales team but with your distributor partners to ensure opportunities are addressed quickly and everyone is executing as planned. As a business leader, you can customize authorities and grant individual user access through a comprehensive authorization process.
Greater visibility into your competitive advantages: Taking it one step further, the ability for craft beverage companies to access data in real time also makes that data more useful in identifying trends, comparing results to industry benchmarks, monitoring key performance indicators and, ultimately, being a better business partner to your distributors and retailers. Harvard Business Review Analytic Services reported that 74 percent of cloud computing businesses feel they have a competitive advantage.
Increased productivity: The blend of increased collaboration, added efficiencies, enterprisewide visibility and more informed decision making can only lead to one thing: more productivity. In fact, a survey by Frost & Sullivan found companies that invest in collaboration technologies increased productivity by as much as 400 percent.7 Cloud solutions allow employees, service providers and senior leadership to devote more time and energy to achieving strategic business goals. In some cases, it can also free up resources for the other ongoing capital investments required from beverage companies such as marketing, point of connection materials, event activation, research and development and employee training.
Disaster resistance: Paper files and hardware systems run the risk of being destroyed by natural disasters like fires, hurricanes and earthquakes. While cybersecurity remains a top concern for potential cloud adapters, losing important data to a disaster can completely devastate your business. Cloud technology recovery methods mitigate this risk by securing a copy of your data in a centralized server location, should a natural disaster occur.
What’s the catch? Is security a concern?
Cloud security is a hot topic, and rightfully so. Critics argue the risks of turning your data over to an external provider need to be taken seriously, and data security is the leading concern for IT professionals when it comes to cloud computing.8 Additionally, a mere 23 percent of organizations today completely trust public clouds to keep their data secure9 and many surveyed professionals attribute a delay in cloud adoption to a lack of cybersecurity skills.
There is a widespread misconception that keeping IT operations in house is safer when, in reality, a third-party firm may be more capable of looking after your data. Unlike the IT management process a typical craft beverage company has in place, third-party providers offer devoted cybersecurity professionals with relevant technical credentials and a business model focused predominately around data security. As a result, they bring the expertise required to handle (and alert clients to) threats that include data breaches, insecure interfaces, system vulnerabilities, account hijacking and malicious insiders. Third party providers also keep up with the latest technology and industry developments, bring best practices forward based on interactions with other similar businesses, don’t require a benefits package including vacation and remove the threat of leaving with critical intellectual property such as recipes or brewing process insights.
Cloud Computing: Next steps
Okay, I’ve bought in to the benefits of cloud computing. Now what?
The majority of businesses hire an external consulting firm to help implement a cloud strategy.Working with an outside service provider gives you access to A) the latest and greatest technologies, B) industry specialists with an objective opinion and C) a reduction in both risk and cost.
Look for a firm that will work collaboratively with you to demystify the cloud to help your business thrive while making you a more informed and – as a result – more successful business leader throughout the process. Though the main focus may center on how cloud computing integrates with your financial reporting, cloud computing extends across many areas and is not limited to accounting functions.
Going beyond the basics, your chosen firm should assist you in understanding your data and leveraging it to make better business decisions. Every beverage company is different, so you should handpick a cloud solution customized to your unique needs and use that platform to transform what was once static accounting data and boring operational and sales statistics into a robust business management dashboard.
Business intelligence through analytics – dashboards – help identify trends, benchmarking comparisons, investment choices, planning opportunities and, most importantly, what your next business move should be. The beverage business is becoming less predictable with fewer loyal consumers. Staying a step ahead of your peers in this rapidly changing environment is critical to maintain a competitive advantage and realize long term success.
Cloud computing is more than just a technological fad. It represents the future of business and can transform your data whether it be sales, marketing, inventory/production or accounting records into a useful business tool.
Wade Huseth is a partner with Baker Tilly and has more than 26 years of experience in providing financial accounting advisory services to companies in a variety of industries. Wade also leads the Advantage practice firmwide and specializes in leveraging best-in-class technologies and industry expertise to deliver customized accounting, finance and operational assistance to clients of all sizes