Practical gifts might have a little less pizzazz, but only when those pragmatic presents are not used to make beer. Heavy-duty caustic cleaners sound boring, right? Well, not when used to sterilize your vessels to produce quality-minded Christmas ale (might we suggest a nice nitric/phosphoric acid cleaner or a heavy-duty CIP cleanser from Zep Superior Solutions?).
While cleaning products are boring for even craft brewers, every brew crew has a wish list of practical workday equipment they would love to get for Christmas. Are you maybe looking for a mill? Look no further than Ziemann’s T-Rex (cue roar), which crushes previous performances regarding raw material milling (fresh barley, long-grain rice, banana Runts, all will be milled). Perhaps you need to transport that raw material first. Might we suggest MPE’s Chain-Vey bi-directional conveying solution, a malt-and-grain conveyor system that looks like some insane 1950s tube tech (built to navigate busy breweries).
We’ve always found shopping to be easier and more reliable when we get insights from experts. So instead of doing the job ourselves, we asked some of our favorite brewing buds around the industry to pick some of their favorite brands and equipment — tools that are helping streamline their operations. From seperators and eductors to boilers and brewhouses, folks from Rogue to Schlafly picked some favorite equipment that’s helping take beer production to new levels of consistency and character. We’d like to thank all who participated in this equipment list. Hopefully, it’ll help other breweries consider new, mechanical ideas for a whole new year of production. They also make very thoughful holiday gifts.
Ss Brewtech 5-barrel pilot system
John Maier, brewmaster
Rogue Ales and Spirits (Newport, Ore.)
I recently acquired an Ss Brewtech 5-barrel pilot system with four 5-barrel unitank fermenters to further experiment with our mad geniuses here at Rogue. I worked with Ss Brewtech to customize this pilot system with a rotatable kettle racking arm that functions like a typical one would, except that it’s located in the boil kettle. This allows more hops to brew our signature hoppy beers while still pulling off clear wort.
I wanted to downsize and get back to my roots as a homebrewer. This system is meant primarily for experimentation, so the beers will be adventurous. I’ll definitely be trying lots of new ingredients with this, but no Citra hops. I’ve already brewed a simple pale ale with a unique hop called Cleopatra on this system. I did not need to dump the beer — it was righteous. In the tradition of naming my brew systems after people and my departed dogs, this work of art is called Mojo.
GEA Westphalia HB3si direct-drive centrifuge beer clarifier
Brett Kosmicki, cellar manager
Founders Brewing Co. (Grand Rapids, Mich.)
For the first 16 years of operation, Founders Brewing Co. used a method of beer clarification involving a maturation, or “secondary” fermentor, along with a fining agent. While this worked tremendously most of the time, it put a logistical constraint on our operations that eventually warranted some serious evaluation. Tank residency times, number of vessels required per batch and product losses were such that in 2014, it was time for a change.
After some philosophical debate over whether centrifugation was any different than filtration, which we assert is NOT in our future, we decided to give GEA Westphalia a shot with the HB3si direct-drive centrifuge beer clarifier. Thanks to our Co-Founder and CEO Mike Stevens for the assurance that we could simply “rip the damn thing out” if it didn’t meet our expectations for beer quality.
After a short learning curve, turns out the damn thing does work pretty well, even with the typical range of American-style beers put through it — think double IPAs with 2 pounds per barrel of dry hopping (thanks brewmaster). You do have to reconcile the capacity for clarity versus yields, and that throughput rates further impact either or both, but once you’re dialed in, you’ve got a machine that can turn out bright, low-oxygen, well-yielding beer very consistently. Essentially, we accomplish in three hours what used to require five days. To boot, GEA employs some very fine and knowledgeable professionals that I’ve had the privilege of working with and learning from.
I guess it is my favorite piece of equipment since we’ve purchased three units since June of 2015. Also, I recommend you go for the all-stainless models; way sexier than the turtle-shell green.
Orbisphere 3100 from Hach
Emily Parker-Lampe, head of brewing
Schlafly Beer (St. Louis, Mo.)
Dissolved oxygen can be one of the enemies of a great tasting beer out in the market. Ideally, you would have close to zero in package because the result can be a beer that doesn’t keep its desired flavor. It can develop a cardboard/papery character. This is why one of my favorite pieces of equipment in the brewery is our orbisphere 3100 from Hach. The orbisphere allows us to measure the dissolved oxygen in our beer, and therefore we can put beer into package and be confident that it will stay stable during its shelf life, therefore guaranteeing our best product and taste to consumers.
Quality has always been important to Schlafly, so I couldn’t imagine putting beer into a package and letting it sit on a shelf without an accurate DO measurement on the beer. Our quality control lab tests for things beyond sensory and physical chemistry. We test for microbial as well. We are proud to have a lab team of three full-time scientists on our quality team (it’s where I started, actually). Not only does the orbisphere help us keep quality front and center, but it gives me peace of mind.
Chris Riphenburg, head brewer
Ale Asylum (Madison, Wis.)
My favorite piece of brewery equipment is our Miura high-pressure 100-horespower steam boiler. This boiler is incredibly efficient and capable of producing up to 150-psi, high-pressure steam in just minutes. It requires one-third less space than other comparable boilers, so it’s ideal for breweries with space limitations. It has automatic blow down functions to keep conductivity at the optimal level. Most breweries need to test for soft water daily, but this one comes equipped with an in-line soft water meter to ensure that you have soft water getting to the makeup tank. With this beast, we are able to run our 35-barrel brewhouse, two 5,000-gallon hot liquor tanks and high-pressure steam keg washer simultaneously without blinking an eye.
As brewers, we take for granted our enormous steam needs in a production brewery. At our old brewery, we had a low pressure 12-horsepower, 15-psi boiler. We were never able to run all of our steam equipment at one time. This would make for longer brewing and kegging days, which everyone hates. Last but not least, this boiler has amazing warmth to help dry out wet clothes and provides a warming area for those cold tootsies during the frigid Wisconsin winters. When you are looking to install a new boiler or just an upgrade, I would strongly suggest checking these boilers out. You won’t be disappointed!
Huppmann-Kitzingen direct fire copper brew kettle
David Karrer, brewery manager
Lakefront Brewery (Milwaukee)
Over the course of the eight or so years that I have worked for Lakefront Brewery, I have seen many changes that have made the lives of our brewers a little easier. In our efforts to become more efficient and consistent, we have started to embrace automation, forsaking the manual valves and monitoring which always kept us on our toes. These days we are slowly but surely replacing our Frankenstein brewery with shiny, new, state-of-the-art equipment. As much as I look forward to playing with our new toys, I remain nostalgic for the days of old. This is why I’m choosing our oldest piece of equipment (our Huppmann-Kitzingen direct fire copper brew kettle) as my favorite new piece of equipment.
In fact, built in 1964, it is older than I am. However, this 50-barrel workhorse is one of the last pieces of our brewhouse remaining from my early days of learning the fine craft of brewing. We have had to nurse the old boy along at times, repairing the occasional leak and upgrading the burners and fire box, but the old Huppmann remains one of our most reliable pieces of equipment, consistently helping us to create some of the best wort in the world.
It certainly is not easy to care for, and we have long ago given up on polishing the outside; satisfied with the patina of round-the-clock hard work. And it certainly is not efficient by today’s standards, consuming an impressive amount of fuel over the course of a billing cycle. But when I hear the roar of those twin burners firing at over 1 million BTUs/hr, I know that life is good. And everything old is new again.
Leatherman Charge multi-tool
Chris LaPierre, senior head brewer
Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant (Philadelphia, Chestnut Hill location)
My favorite new piece of equipment is my new Leatherman Charge multi-tool, but it’s only new because I recently lost my Leatherman Wave and used that as an excuse to upgrade. The truth is that with very few exceptions, I haven’t been without a Leatherman in my pocket or on my belt for a good 10 or 12 years. I can honestly say I’d rather leave my house without pants than this tool. I can’t say that it’s my favorite tool for any single task. There’s always a tool in my box that’s more appropriate for any given job. What makes it my favorite is that it’s always there.
All day long I’m using the pliers to tighten leaky draft faucets, the screwdriver to tighten worm clamps, or the knife to cut open bags of malt. I’ll often find myself making minor repairs and tweaks that I might otherwise push off until later because I’d be too busy or lazy to walk across the building to get to my toolbox. I’ll admit I’ve become somewhat obsessed with the whole line of tools and become a bit of a collector. A coworker and I recently joked that I had a Leatherman for every day of the month and a glass showcase to house them all.
When I was in Portland for the Craft Brewer’s Conference, the one can’t-miss for me was a tour of the factory. I find it so invaluable that I’ve bought one for every assistant I’ve ever worked with. A couple of them have gone on to keep that tradition with their own assistants. It makes a great gift, and last but not least, at the end of the day it’s great for opening a beer!
Falco Technologies 360-barrel fermenters
Pierre Plamondon, director of operations
Beau’s All Natural Brewing Co. (Vankleek Hill, Ontario, Canada)
My favorite new piece of equipment at Beau’s are our six, large 360-barrel fermenters from Falco Technologies. They will be crucial in our cross-Canada expansion, helping us to meet our growing demand. These became operational May 1, 2016, and arrived at our brewery one month prior. Our nationwide expansion began to roll out one month later, roughly coinciding with our 10th anniversary.
Prior to the arrival of these fermenters, we were selling our portfolio of beers in Ontario, Quebec and New York state. Now, we’re rolling out across the entire country. A couple of technical specs: these vessels are designed for a pressure of 14.9 psig and there’s a feeding port for dry-hopping.
GEA HB-05 separator
Joel Halbleib, brewmaster and chief operating officer
Goodwood Brewing Co. (Louisville, Ky.)
Married to Vertical Leaf no more! The benefits of changing from our Vertical Leaf Filter to a centrifuge are numerous. We went with a GEA HB-05 separator. First, there is the significant advantage in yield, on average 2 to 4 percent by recovering beer from yeast slurry, and no loss from filter agent and breakdowns. That average jumps to over 5 percent on dry hopped beers.
Second is conditioning time. We cut 24 to 48 hours off each batch, that gave us over 10 percent increase in capacity. The increase in capacity coupled with the increase yield gave us an ROI of 24 months. I was amazed by the efficiency difference, and we stopped pouring so much of our beloved liquids down the drain. Finally, we cut filter agents out of our process. Besides the cost of the agent itself, the time in set up and breakdown is all reclaimed. This is a win, win, win.
A hop-dosing eductor
Aaron Inkrott, brewer
Saint Arnold Brewing Co. (Houston)
Sometimes you know what you want to accomplish, but you don’t know how to accomplish it. That’s when getting the advice of the craft brewing community can be especially valuable. For a long time, we wanted our own hop-dosing machine for dry-hopping. Our Engineering and Maintenance Manager Justin Earnest contacted James Ottolini, former brewmaster for Schlafly Beer, for some advice. Ottolini recommended an eductor manufactured by a company right here in Houston. Once Earnest received the eductor, everything came together around that part. He put the whole hop-dosing machine together in two months and in honor of Ottolini he named it “Saint Otto.”
After the machine was finished, he went on to design the software to control it using a touch screen made by Red Lion and controller software from Rockwell Automation. This machine is important to the brewery for two big reasons: quality control and quality of life. With Saint Otto, us brewers are able to utilize the hops more efficiently, cutting down on the amount of hops we have to use. Not only have we used it for hops, we have also used it to add spices, syrups, fruit purées, cocoa nibs and more.
There is also no oxygen pickup when adding the hops. Before this machine was installed, the brewers would have to use a safety harness and scale the tanks to add hops from the top. Now, us brewers can add the ingredients from the ground, which improves our quality of life.
Cask Automatic Canning System
Matt Kahn, brewer and co-founder,
Big Ditch Brewing Co. (Buffalo, N.Y.)
In September, we launched the third phase of our Big Ditch growth plan by packaging our beer. We considered bottles, but that seemed like backward thinking to us. We feel cans are ultimately better packages for beer. They’re better for preventing light exposure and oxygen ingress and thus we get better shelf life. There’s no broken glass. They’re easier and less expensive to transport, and easier to bring to outdoor destinations like beaches and public parks. Plus, cans are just cool right now!
To can our beer, we decided to go with an Automatic Canning System from Cask Brewing System. Cask is a clear leader in supplying canning lines to breweries of our size, and we also knew many breweries that were using the ACS and getting great results. Cask gave us the best chance at success at the price point we were looking for, and the ACS line does everything we need it to do. It has made our move to packaged beer a success from the start, and I think putting our beer in cans is one of the most important decisions our brewery has ever made.
Tim Patton, owner and brewer
Saint Benjamin Brewing Co. (Philadelphia)
If I am going to look back over the whole year, then the best thing that we have gotten at the brewery is our German-made brewing system. The brewhouse was manufactured by BdB — Beir Know How GmBH — around 2003. We are, I think, the third or fourth owners. This system is designed to make great lagers. We use an old German/Czech process called decoction, where the mash is boiled for a period of time. This brings out a lot of malt flavors without making the beer sweeter. It has added a whole new depth to the lagers we brew. The system also came with four horizontal lagering tanks, so we have the space to let the beer age and clarify properly and we don’t have to rush it.
Lambda 365 UV-Vis Spectrophotometer (and a PicoBrew Zymatic)
Staci Wallace, Quality and Sustainability Manager
Crosby Hop Farm (Woodburn, Ore.)
In our on-farm lab, analyzing real-time data is key. We purchased the PerkinElmer Lambda 365 Spectrophotometer this fall to expedite our testing process for receiving and processing. We love the accuracy and repeatability of this instrument at the lower wavelength (280 nm) absorbance readings necessary to determine percent alpha and beta acids and Hop Storage Index (HSI). To ensure quality and consistency within every lot, we test a high volume of hop pellets.
With the eight-cell sample holder, it makes our pellet batch testing protocol much more efficient, and the software makes uploading the data to our traceability database quick and easy. In addition to analytical testing in our lab, we also do sensory analysis. The sensory panel currently evaluates all hop lots for aroma, and we’re excited about taking it to the next level with our new PicoBrew Zymatic, a fully automatic all-grain beer pilot brewing appliance. This tool gives us the opportunity to learn more about how hop analytics and aroma translate to beer flavor and aroma. Given our limited space, the PicoBrew is perfect for single-hop, small batch consistency brewing suited for our lab. It will be a valuable tool in rounding out our sensory program to include biotransformation from hops to the final product.
From analyzing hops in the lab and then brewing simplified, single-hop recipes in the PicoBrew, we’ll have a more complete picture of each hop lot’s sensory profile from the pellet all the way to the pint to share with our clients.