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Little Innovations in Brewing (Issue 31)


While large-scale advancements in brewing and packaging usually get noticed by craft beer aficionados, smaller innovations like improved pop-top rings for cans, scanners on bottling lines to check for low-fills, and more durable linings for beer transfer hoses usually fall under the radar. All innovations push craft brewing forward, and lesser advancements can add up to increased profits for brewers and better craft beer for consumers.

Sometimes, small innovations come together to improve the entire brewing process at a facility. A little over a year ago, Back Forty Beer Company in Alabama implemented the lean manufacturing philosophies of "Kaizen," a Japanese business strategy of continuous improvement in regard to working practices, personal efficiency and organization that's been used in automotive manufacturing for years. Back Forty's CEO Jason Wilson explains, "The principle is simple. Success comes from thousands of small changes along the way. After about six months of Kaizen, we started seeing real results at the brewery. We weren't really able to identify any one improvement that was driving these results, and that's exactly the point. It's a fundamental change to the culture of an operation that leads to exciting innovations. It's amazing what you can accomplish when you aren't digging around a messy shop looking for a screwdriver."


An Eye on Innovation

Constant innovation is central to the way of life at the Sierra Nevada Brewing facilities in California and North Carolina. Sierra Nevada founder/owner Ken Grossman sees continual, small innovations as an exciting, interesting and fun part of the brewing business. "Take for instance our Beer Camp Across the World 12-pack," notes Grossman. "The pack includes nine 12-ounce bottles and three 16-ounce cans, brewed with collaborators around the world for a one-of-a-kind variety pack of flavors, styles and packaging. When we first brewed Beer Camp back in 2014, we were the first to mix it up like that, and this year we're doing it again with beers brewed with some of the most innovative craft brewers out there."

Sierra Nevada founder/owner Ken Grossman sees continual, small innovations as an exciting, interesting and fun part of the brewing business.

If there's an innovative process, machine or environmentally responsible procedure to improve a brewery, Sierra Nevada most likely has given it a go. "On the production side and in all areas of our operation, we’re always looking at ways to reduce water consumption," says Ken Grossman. "In packaging, our team came up with a plan to reduce water usage in our Chico brewery by more than 750,000 gallons a year by replacing the keg conveyor system with a waterless solution that operates dry with no lubrication needed. The lines run cleaner with less noise, providing our employees with a better working environment. We hope that our continued investment in people and technology helps raise industry awareness of sustainable business practices, encouraging more brewers to employ solar energy collection and storage solutions as well as carbon-reducing microturbines and other zero-waste initiatives. Today is a great time for craft brewing, but it's our obligation to do so responsibly.”


Navigating New Recipes

On a much smaller scale than Sierra Nevada, Bathtub Brewhouse, a Georgia brewery-in-planning, recently acquired a Blichmann Cornical keg and conical fermenter combination. A conical bottom clamps onto the keg and converts it into a pressure-capable fermenter with a yeast collection reservoir at the bottom. "To be able to ferment, carbonate and serve beer from the same vessel has saved Bathtub Brewhouse countless hours in formulating our test batches," notes co-owner Jonathan Duncan. "By not having to transfer beer from one vessel to another, we also don't have to worry as much about oxidation and contamination."

Bathtub Brewhouse, a Georgia brewery-in-planning, recently acquired a Blichmann Cornical keg and conical fermenter combination.

Most craft brewers agree that recipe innovation starts on a small pilot system. Atlanta's Three Taverns Craft Brewery embraces this model with the recent installation of an experimental pilot system called Genesis II - a 1.5 barrel brew kit that serves as the "launching pad" for Three Tavern's new recipes. Owner Brian Purcell muses, “In 2015, we started our Imaginarium Project - brewing innovative, experimental beers on my old homebrew system known as Genesis, and serving these extremely limited beers in our tasting room. Our newly installed pilot system and new three-barrel fermenters will allow us to produce larger batches for testing more often in the taproom and for sending to the market in limited quantities."


Sour Power

Craft beer geeks across the globe now crave beer styles that offer noticeable acidity, but acid producing microbes like Lactobacillus bacteria can run rampant through a brewery, propagating in unwanted places and spoiling classic beer styles. As an answer to this problem, many craft brewers have adopted the innovative process known as "kettle souring." Sweet liquid from the mash is transferred to the brew kettle near the end of the day, but instead of cranking up the heat and starting the boil, brewers add a culture of Lactobacillus directly to the cool wort in the kettle. The lid is sealed, and the bacteria partially ferment the beer overnight, producing a clean, crisp lactic acid presence. Brewers then boil the wort, killing the precarious bacteria but preserving the desired acidity that carries through the regular fermentation into the finished beer. Kettle souring doesn't produce the depth and complexity of fermenting and aging beer for a long period with a variety of "wild" and/or acid-producing microorganisms, but kettle souring provides a safer pathway for making acidic beers like Gose and Berliner Weisse.

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