GEA Brewery Systems is one of the biggest and best turnkey brewing equipment manufacturers in the world. You might know the company from its famous brand name — Huppmann — a leading supplier of complete brewhouses that became a part of GEA back in 2006. Today, GEA products are used by some of the best breweries in the world, including American craft pioneers like Firestone Walker Brewing Co., Bell’s Brewery Inc. and Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
Last week, Craft Brewing Business (CBB) stopped by the GEA booth at the Craft Brewers Conference to discuss the company’s two big products in the craft brewing industry — the Compact-Star and the Craft-Star. Oliver Jakob, graduated brewmaster and product manager with GEA Brewery Systems, sat down to answer a few questions.
CBB: Oliver, thanks for taking time away from the show. Can you tell us a little bit about GEA’s interest in the American craft brewing scene?
Jakob: The U.S market is one of our main markets. It has really developed in the last five years through the craft brewing scene. Although we are based out of Germany, it’s the main market currently for our craft brewing products — the Compact-Star and the Craft-Star.
CBB: The Craft-Star is pretty much a new addition to the marketplace?
Jakob: The Craft-Star is brand new for this show, but the Compact-Star has been available for three years now. Craft-Star completes our product portfolio to the lower capacity end, as it is designed as a 30-barrel (bbl) system. The Compact-Star is available as a flexible concept for capacities from 40 to 100 bbl . And beside these two products, we have our larger Huppmann brewhouse lines.
CBB: Tell us about your American presence. Where is GEA located in North America?
Jakob: Our main office and competence center for breweries is located in Kitzingen, Germany, and our own U.S. workshops are located in Hudson, Wis., to service all of our North American customers.
CBB: Tell us about the Craft-Star. It’s a new addition to the American marketplace, so can you give us a few key details about this small, modular brewhouse?
Jakob: Craft-Star is a skid-mounted, off-the-shelf brew system available in a two- or three-vessel configuration for up to 5 brews per day, with a flexible batch size, between 20 and 35 bbls of hot wort. Due to its pre-assembled skid conception it is easy to ship, to install and to connect to further brewhouse equipment. Craft-Star is aimed at start-up and growing microbreweries in North America.
CBB: A lot of craft brewers today are concerned about their environmental impact in the brewing process. How is the Compact-Star green and efficient?
Jakob: We have our Jetstar internal boiler installed. With this system you have a two-phase boiling possibility for a gentle, simmering boil in the first phase. It’s a sub-level, homogeneous mixing of the wort — a gentle heating up. Then for the evaporation of the unwanted volatiles, the second phase is where you have an above-the-wort-level circulation by means of a wort spreader. In the end, the total evaporation is reduced to 4 percent, which has a direct influence on the carbon footprint of the brewhouse.
CBB: Thinking about craft brewers, maybe we could talk about some trends. Is this market demanding particular products, engineered to particular specifications?
Jakob: It comes back to efficiency again, to raw material utilization. Craft brewers use specialty malts, expensive malts. So they want equipment that gets the maximum out of the raw materials. It starts in the beginning of the process where you try to get a very homogeneous mixture of the mash, supported by technical features like flow-optimized agitators and special heating zones installed in the kettles — that’s a starting point for raw material utilization. It continues to the lauter tun, where you want the brew system to ensure an expert, efficient washing off of the extract. The Compact-Star and Craft-Star feature the same technologies we have installed in our larger brew systems. So, no matter if you get a 100- or a 1,000-bbl system, you will benefit from the same brewing technology.
CBB: And you can expand these brewhouses easily?
Jakob: The Compact-Star is easy to expand due to a flexible concept where you start with a basic configuration of three vessels and then being able to add vessel after vessel as your business grows. This concept allows you to increase the daily performance up to 12 brews in individual steps. So you keep your initial investment costs low, but are capable of future expansion, and that concept is highly appreciated when talking with our customers. It’s definitely the right approach for the dynamic craft brewing market.
CBB: What advice would you give a craft brewer who’s looking to purchase a new brewhouse?
Jakob: Take the time to develop the right concept and get good people on board. Make sure that you have the right concept from the start and be flexible for future growth. When selecting the vendor for your new brewhouse, we recommend to visit reference installations and have a deep look into the details, both technical and technological.
CBB: Why should brewers turn to GEA? What does your company offer that the competition can’t?
Jakob: It’s the long-term experience in brewhouse manufacturing GEA has. We’ve equipped many of the pioneers — now big players — in the U.S. craft brewing scene. Then we are able to offer an excellent project management, to ensure a smooth project realization. GEA brewmasters do the commissioning of the brewhouses and are available for after-sales support. And finally, the proven GEA brewhouse technologies are implemented in our Compact-Star and Craft-Star system. Further details should be better discussed personally, as every project is unique. And every customer too, so we always work together on developing the right brewhouse solution.