Se­ri­ous About Sep­a­ra­tion

Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine - - Gearhead - By John M. Verive

Craft brew­eries of all sizes are us­ing cen­trifuges to re­duce pro­duc­tion time, fine the beer, re­duce waste, and per­form a mul­ti­tude of other func­tions. It’s made for higher prof­its and pays for it­self. We spoke with Three Weavers Brewing Com­pany to dis­cover all the ways cen­trifuges have ben­e­fited craft brew­eries.


as it is mar­keted as an ar­ti­sanal and hand­made prod­uct, is still an in­dus­trial prod­uct. A brew­ery is more like a fac­tory than a work­shop, and the brewers who tire­lessly chase greater ef­fi­ciency and con­sis­tency are of­ten the brewers who make the best beer. At Three Weavers Brewing Com­pany in In­gle­wood, Cal­i­for­nia—a two-year-old brew­ery that’s grow­ing fast—in­dus­trial isn’t a dirty word. In 2016, the brew­ery com­pleted ma­jor cap­i­tal im­prove­ments that will more than dou­ble its pro­duc­tion ca­pac­ity. Along­side more fer­men­ta­tion tanks, a grain silo, and a brew­house up­grade, Three Weavers added a piece of equip­ment that’s be­com­ing in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar with craft brew­eries: a cen­trifuge.

Weigh­ing al­most a ton, the GEA HB-05 sits on a move­able skid among the fer­men­ta­tion tanks and has changed the way the brew­ery op­er­ates. It has re­duced pro­duc­tion times and has largely sup­planted the fil­ter­ing and fin­ing chores in the brew­ery while in­creas­ing con­sis­tency and shelf sta­bil­ity and even im­proved fla­vor. Three Weavers now makes bet­ter beer faster than ever.

“It’s like magic,” says Three Weavers Brew­mas­ter Alexan­dra Now­ell. “More con­trol, more aroma, less waste—it’s all up­side.”

The most com­mon use of a cen­trifuge— also known as a sep­a­ra­tor—in a craft brew­ery is to clar­ify beer be­fore pack­ag­ing. An al­ter­na­tive to (or some­times a sup­ple­ment to) fin­ing agents, long con­di­tion­ing times, and fil­ter­ing, cen­trifu­ga­tion of­fers a brewer more con­trol over fin­ished beer tur­bid­ity while in­creas­ing ef­fi­ciency and re­duc­ing the time it takes to go from grain to glass.

A cen­trifuge sep­a­rates solids, such as yeast, hops par­ti­cles, and the long-chain pro­teins re­spon­si­ble for haze, from beer through the ju­di­cious ap­pli­ca­tion of cen­trifu­gal force. The cen­trifuge acts like a high-pow­ered pump, pulling beer from a fer­men­tor and push­ing it into a spin­ning bowl out­fit­ted with a stack of cone-shaped plates. As the beer spins around the cen­trifuge bowl, the heav­ier solids in the liq­uid are forced to the outer edges of the cone, while the lighter liq­uid flows up the cen­ter of the assem­bly, out of the cen­trifuge, and into an­other tank. All the sep­a­rated solids col­lect in a hold­ing tank that’s purged at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals. It’s sim­ple physics ap­plied with fine-grain com­put­er­ized con­trol, and it’s a tech­nol­ogy that’s pop­u­lar with large-scale craft brew­eries be­cause it makes the brew­ery more ef­fi­cient.

Most sep­a­ra­tors at brew­eries are man­u­fac­tured by GEA West­falia or Swe­den’s Alfa Laval. Michael Fair, a sales engineer for GEA, has seen in­ter­est in cen­trifu­ga­tion surge as craft brewers strive for more qual­ity and con­sis­tency in their prod­uct. Fair says that while ten years ago it was mostly brew­eries mak­ing more than 15,000 bar­rels per year who added cen­trifuge equip­ment, in to­day’s com­pet­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment, and with smaller units scaled to craft brew­eries, adding a sep­a­ra­tor makes sense for brew­eries mak­ing far fewer than 10,000 bar­rels an­nu­ally. Even brew­eries mak­ing as few as 2,000 bar­rels of beer a year have added sep­a­ra­tors to their process. As Fair tells brewers shop­ping for a cen­trifuge, it’s equip­ment that a brew­ery can grow into.

Three Weavers made about 5,000 bar­rels in 2016, with the goal to push pro­duc­tion ca­pac­ity to­ward 10,000 bar­rels af­ter 2017. Apart from the ini­tial costs, Now­ell says there is no ma­jor down­side to op­er­at­ing the cen­trifuge. Com­pared to the pre­vi­ous process of fil­tra­tion, “the sep­a­ra­tor is a closed sys­tem,” Now­ell ex­plains. “The beer doesn’t see any at­mos­phere un­til

it hits the glass.” This re­duced oxy­gen pickup, bet­ter batch-to-batch con­sis­tency, and what Now­ell de­scribes as a more vivid hops char­ac­ter are some an­cil­lary ben­e­fits.

The GEA sep­a­ra­tor at Three Weavers is loud, how­ever—loud enough that the brew­ery runs it only while the tast­ing room is closed. “It isn’t con­ducive to good con­ver­sa­tion,” Now­ell shouts at me over the inces­sant drone as the sep­a­ra­tor spins through a batch of Ex­pa­tri­ate IPA, and as if to punc­tu­ate her state­ment, valves in the cen­trifuge au­to­mat­i­cally slam shut, and high-pres­sure rinse water jets through the solids hold­ing tank. A mo­ment later, and af­ter an­other deaf­en­ing ac­tu­a­tion, a green-hued slurry of yeast and hops mat­ter sprays from a waste dis­charge port. The whole op­er­a­tion—purges and all—is largely au­to­mated. An ar­ray of sen­sors feeds data into the con­trol com­puter on the ma­chine where the op­er­a­tor can ad­just flow rate, tweak the out­go­ing tur­bid­ity lev­els (see “Flow Rates and Tur­bid­ity,” page 54), or man­u­ally flush the hold­ing tanks at any time. But largely, he/she just needs to make sure noth­ing goes wrong with the pre­con­fig­ured pro­grams.

In­creased Ef­fi­ciency

Ef­fi­ciency—get­ting max­i­mum pro­duc­tiv­ity with min­i­mum waste—is the lifeblood of in­dus­try, and a cen­trifuge in­creases the ef­fi­ciency of a brew­ery in a few ways. First, it speeds up beer pro­duc­tion by re­duc­ing the time it takes for a beer to set­tle af­ter pri­mary fer­men­ta­tion. In­stead of wait­ing for the yeast to floc­cu­late—nat­u­rally drop out of sus­pen­sion—the cen­trifuge me­chan­i­cally sep­a­rates the yeast from the beer, sav­ing as much as a week of con­di­tion­ing time. There is also time saved in the brite tank dur­ing the fi­nal pre-pack­ag­ing con­di­tion­ing phase. Now­ell says that Three Weavers’ flag­ship IPA Ex­pa­tri­ate would spend about

five days in the brite tank as more cold break pro­teins and yeast dropped out of sus­pen­sion, but the sep­a­ra­tor re­duced the brite tank res­i­dency to just 24 hours. Not only is a batch ready four days sooner, but the pro­duc­tion bot­tle­neck at the brite tank is also re­moved.

An­other im­por­tant way that a cen­trifuge im­pacts brew­ery ef­fi­ciency is by re­duc­ing waste. How of­ten have you racked a home­brew af­ter pri­mary fer­men­ta­tion, care­ful not to dis­turb the yeast cake at the bot­tom of the fer­men­tor, and then dumped a pint or two of sludgy liq­uid trub down the drain? At the 5- or 10-gal­lon batch size, this loss of beer to trub might make us flinch a lit­tle, but it’s a lit­eral drop in the bucket com­pared to the losses seen in a com­mer­cial brew­ery’s fer­men­tors. The sludge that set­tles to the bot­tom cone of a cylin­dro­con­i­cal fer­men­ta­tion ves­sel is about 50 per­cent beer, and a cen­trifuge will hap­pily process this slurry of yeast, pro­tein, hops mat­ter, and beer, re­claim­ing much of what many brewers write off as a loss. In heav­ily dry-hopped brews, ex­tra hops mat­ter com­pounds the prob­lem, but a cal­i­brated cen­trifuge will spin out all those solids. Now­ell says that be­fore in­stalling the cen­trifuge, they were care­ful to pack­age beer only from above the “fluffy layer,” the re­sults from fin­ing with Biofine (a ve­gan-friendly fin­ing agent used by many com­mer­cial brew­eries to clar­ify craft beer). With the cen­trifuge, Now­ell can pack­age an­other eight kegs’ worth of beer from each 60-bar­rel fer­men­tor. That’s al­most a thou­sand pints of beer that the brew­ery can now sell in­stead of dump.

This all means that a brewer can sell more beer while also re­duc­ing the costs per batch of beer (“Biofine is ex­pen­sive!” quips Now­ell), and these are the kinds of busi­ness-friendly num­bers that bankers love. While the in­stal­la­tion of a cen­trifuge can range from $100,000 to more than $500,000, it’s the kind of cap­i­tal ex­pen­di­ture that brew­ery own­ers are find­ing it easy to fi­nance, and it’s an in­vest­ment that pays for it­self quickly. GEA’S Michael Fair says that about 90 per­cent of the cen­trifuges he’s sold to craft brew­eries take only 12−18 months to pay back the ini­tial cost.

On the Hot Side

In ad­di­tion to the gains that a cen­trifuge can pro­vide post-fer­men­ta­tion, sev­eral brew­eries are turn­ing to cen­trifu­ga­tion to im­prove ef­fi­ciency of wort pro­duc­tion. Con­fig­ured for the hot side, a cen­trifuge can take the place of a whirlpool in the brew­house, sep­a­rat­ing clear wort from trub, hot break, and hops par­tic­u­lates post-boil. A whirlpool tank acts as a low-tech cen­trifuge that fa­cil­i­tates the set­tling of trub and other solids as clear wort is drained off, but a pow­ered sep­a­ra­tor can do this job faster and with more con­trol. Craft brew­eries can use one unit for both hot side and cold side sep­a­ra­tion, or they can ded­i­cate a cen­trifuge to each process. Fair says Bal­last Point re­cently added a ded­i­cated hot side cen­trifuge to their Mi­ra­mar brew­house that re­duced the knock-out time on the 300-bar­rel boil ket­tle to just 58 min­utes. Be­cause of the in­creased speed and ef­fi­ciency (as much as 5 per­cent more wort can be col­lected via cen­trifuge than tra­di­tional whirlpool tech­niques), Fair ex­pects hot side sep­a­ra­tion will be the “brew­ery process of the year” in 2017 and 2018.

While a cen­trifuge doesn’t make sense for ev­ery craft brew­ery, size and pro­duc­tion ca­pac­ity are no longer the lim­it­ing fac­tors they once were, and even mod­estly sized craft brew­eries are in­te­grat­ing cen­trifu­ga­tion into their process. At Three Weavers Brewing, the qual­ity and con­trol the cen­trifuge sup­ports are a key to the brew­ery’s fu­ture growth.

Clock­wise from top » The GEA cen­trifuge at Three Weavers Brewing; a sight glass shows off beer post-sep­a­ra­tion; tur­bid beer flows in, and solids are sep­a­rated from the liq­uid; a bucket of sep­a­rated solids af­ter a run.

A pre-sep­a­ra­tion sam­ple on the left with a post-seper­a­tion sam­ple on the right.

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