Gear­head: Au­to­mated Pi­lot Brewing Sys­tems

Thanks to tremen­dous growth, Fire­stone Walker is now ac­cus­tomed to mak­ing large-scale batches. For its newvenice Beach, Cal­i­for­nia, lo­ca­tion, the brew­ery went small to fos­ter cre­ativ­ity and col­lab­o­ra­tion. By John M. Verive

Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine - - Contents -

THE BREW­HOUSE—THE col­lec­tion of equip­ment that con­verts raw in­gre­di­ents into wort—is the heart of a brew­ery. From a cus­tom-fab­ri­cated one-bar­rel nanobrew­ery setup to the worka­day turnkey sys­tems from man­u­fac­tures such as Pre­mier Stain­less and Braukon to large-scale multi-mil­lion dol­lar brew­houses that cook away at the coun­try’s largest craft brew­eries, there are no one-size-fits-all brew­house de­signs. And with more than 5,000 brew­eries now op­er­at­ing in Amer­ica, there is an ex­am­ple of ev­ery con­ceiv­able con­fig­u­ra­tion of tuns and ket­tles. In the Los An­ge­les com­mu­nity of Venice Beach, there’s one brew­house that’s unique in both con­fig­u­ra­tion and in how it’s used. The 10-hec­to­liter sys­tem at Fire­stone Walker’s Prop­a­ga­tor brew­pub is as stream­lined, as ef­fi­cient, and even as stylish as a Ger­man lux­ury car, and it gives the lauded re­gional brew­ery a nim­ble ve­hi­cle for chas­ing trends, ex­plor­ing new ground, and even re­vis­it­ing some old fa­vorites.

“Los An­ge­les is our fastest-grow­ing mar­ket,” Fire­stone Walker Co­founder David Walker says, and the Prop­a­ga­tor gives the brew­ery a per­ma­nent foothold in L.A., join­ing the tap­room restau­rants in Paso Robles (home of the main brew­ery) and Buell­ton (where the wild ale–fo­cused Bar- rel­works is based). The Venice cam­pus, a lit­tle more than a mile from the beach, is the base of op­er­a­tions for Fire­stone Walker in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia and in­cludes a tap­room restau­rant, re­tail store, of­fices, and other sup­port in­fra­struc­ture. At the core of the com­pound is a cut­ting-edge brew­house built by Kas­par Schulz—a 340-year-old man­u­fac­turer that’s been fam­ily-op­er­ated in Bam­burg, Ger­many, for ten gen­er­a­tions. Kas­par Schulz is known for their brew­pub-scale sys­tems and ad­vanced brew­house au­to­ma­tion.

“I find Schulz set­ups all over the world,” says Fire­stone Walker Brew­mas­ter Matthew Brynild­son, and when the idea for a Los An­ge­les-area brew­pub be­gan to take shape, he knew he wanted a Kas­par Schulz brew­house for the project.

The Prop­a­ga­tor was orig­i­nally con­ceived as a test bed for new Fire­stone Walker beers and as a train­ing ground for Fire­stone Walker’s brewing team. The Schulz sys­tem was con­fig­ured as a fully au­to­mated brew­house that mim­ics the con­trols and in­ter­face of the pro­duc­tion brew­ery in Paso Robles, but its mis­sion has changed.

“We’re re­ally push­ing on ex­per­i­men­tal beers here,” Walker says, and though the brew­pub’s out­put is com­par­a­tively small (just less than 1,000 bar­rels in the first year of brewing), he says the Prop­a­ga­tor has a “pro­found ef­fect” on Fire­stone’s brewing cul­ture. “We were pi­lot­ing beers 50 bar­rels at a time,” Brynild­son says, and the 8-bar­rel scale of the Prop­a­ga­tor makes for a more ag­ile pi­lot brewing sys­tem. Be­yond brewing test batches for projects in de­vel­op­ment, the Prop­a­ga­tor makes a line of ex­clu­sive beers for ser­vice at Fire­stone Walker tap­rooms in Paso Robles and Buell­ton. The smaller sys­tem is also used for in­gre­di­ent tests—in­clud­ing a line of sin­gle-hop beers—and a line of “throw­back” brews that re­visit some fan fa­vorites that no longer fit into the pro­duc­tion sched­ule in Paso. There’s also a steady stream of col­lab­o­ra­tion brews sched­uled in the Venice brew­ery, now per­ma­nently staffed by two brew­ers: Head Brewer Evan Par­tridge and As­sis­tant Brewer Va­lerie Hicks.

“We were pi­lot­ing beers 50 bar­rels at a time,” Brynild­son says, and the 8-bar­rel scale of the Prop­a­ga­tor makes for a more ag­ile pi­lot sys­tem.

The pair works in the close con­fines of a brew­ery an­nex at­tached to the tap­room and restau­rant. The space is tight, but man­age­able, and the brew­ery is dom­i­nated by the three steel cylin­ders that com­prise the skid-mounted brew­house. A dual hot/cold liquor tun feeds the other ves­sels: a com­bi­na­tion mash tun and ket­tle and a lauter tun stacked on top of the whirlpool. A maze of pip­ing runs be­tween the ves­sels, and ev­ery­thing is con­nected by a net­work of sen­sors and pneu­mat­i­cally ac­tu­ated valves that con­trol the flow of wa­ter and wort. At the top of the brew deck, mounted be­tween the two main brewing ves­sels, is a com­puter ter­mi­nal where al­most ev­ery as­pect of the brew can be mon­i­tored and con­trolled. The Brew­maxx soft­ware—the same sys­tem used at the brew­ery in Paso Robles—is the key com­po­nent of the Prop­a­ga­tor’s mis­sion. But don’t call the au­to­ma­tion setup the brain of the sys­tem—the brains be­hind the beer are wear­ing boots and gloves.

“Eat­ing lunch dur­ing vor­lauf usu­ally doesn’t fly,” jokes Erik Men­doza dur­ing a re­cent brew day at the Prop­a­ga­tor. The crew from lo­cal L.A. fa­vorite High­land Park Brew­ery was col­lab­o­rat­ing with the Fire­stone Walker team on a hoppy lager. The brew­house was qui­etly re­cir­cu­lat­ing wort through the lauter tun, and the group of brew­ers and hang­ers-on, in­clud­ing Fire­stone Walker Brew­mas­ter Matthew Brynild­son, had some down­time to en­joy a leisurely lunch. Oc­ca­sion­ally, a brewer would run back to check on the lauter, just to be cau­tious. Brew days are stream­lined and re­mark­ably hands-off. Even grain-out is sim­pli­fied by a plow at­tach­ment in the lauter tun that pushes the spent grain from the man­way with min­i­mal shov­el­ing.

It takes two turns of the brew­house to fill the 20-bar­rel fer­men­ta­tion ves­sels (there are four fer­men­ta­tion ves­sels cur­rently, plus a bright tank), and the team brews twice a week on av­er­age. Much of the la­bor is col­lect­ing sam­ples for qual­ity test­ing, adding hops to the ket­tle or whirlpool, man­ag­ing yeast, or set­ting up for trans­fers. Brews be­gin by milling grain in to the grist case the day be­fore a brew. The next morn­ing, grist is augered over to the brew­house where an over­sized grist hy­dra­tor pre­con­di­tions the grain as it heads into the combo mash tun/boil ket­tle. The steam-jack­eted ves­sel heats and stirs the mash as pre­scribed by the au­to­ma­tion soft­ware and spe­cific recipe. Af­ter mash out, the thick por­ridge is trans­ferred into the lauter tun. Once the grain bed is set by re­cir­cu­la­tion, the lau­ter­ing be­gins. Soft­ware con­trols the fre­quency and depth of cuts made by the tun’s ro­tat­ing rakes based on the flow rate and tur­bid­ity, and the run­nings are pumped back into the combo tun/ket­tle. Wort is heated in the steam-jack­eted ket­tle, and an ex­ter­nal ca­lan­dria (a tubu­lar heat ex­changer that heats wort quickly) in­creases ef­fi­ciency. As with all the au­to­mated pro­cesses, the brew­ers can make ad­just­ments on the fly or take over con­trol man­u­ally.

“Some­times there are still lit­tle hic­cups,” Par­tridge says as he calls up an “in­stant re­play” of an­other morn­ing’s brew, a batch of Gen­er­a­tion 1 IPA, on the Brew­maxx con­trol panel. He switches the dis­play from the brew­house lay­out, with graph­ics rep­re­sent­ing each ves­sel in the sys­tem con­nected by col­ored pathways rep­re­sent­ing the flow of wort and wa­ter, to an­other col­or­ful graph that logs the in­com­ing stream of data. He iso­lates the yel­low line de­not­ing mash tem­per­a­ture and zooms in on the first hour af­ter mash in. A hot spot had de­vel­oped in the mash tun, and when he in­creased the spin rate of the ra­dial ag­i­ta­tor that stirs the mash, the yel­low line an­gled sharply up­ward. The spike was fol­lowed by a swoop­ing de­cline back to­ward the tar­get mash tem­per­a­ture, then a sec­ond more pro­nounced down­ward plunge. Par­tridge had cor­rected the tem­per­a­ture with two cold-wa­ter ad­di­tions.

Ev­ery de­tail of the brew is logged by the Brew­maxx soft­ware and sup­ple­mented by mea­sure­ments and notes taken by the brew­ers. All this data, along with sam­ples of fin­ished wort and fer­mented beer, is sent for anal­y­sis at the main brew­ery. Twice a week, a bear-and-lion–em­bla­zoned truck ar­rives in Venice from points north loaded with full kegs, ma­te­rial, and

The Brew­maxx soft­ware—the same sys­tem used at the brew­ery in Paso Robles—is the key com­po­nent of the Prop­a­ga­tor’s mis­sion. But don’t call the au­to­ma­tion setup the brain of the sys­tem—the brains be­hind the beer are wear­ing boots and gloves.

in­gre­di­ents from Paso Robles. It re­turns to the main brew­ery with kegs of Prop­a­ga­tor beer and sam­ples of wort, yeast, and beer des­tined for the brew­ery’s ex­ten­sive qual­ity lab.

Par­tridge can call up the Paso brew­ery if he needs a bag of grain or a box of hops or even a fresh yeast pitch, and Brynild­son gets a low-drag brew­ery where he can test recipes (such as those for the se­ries of Leo V. Ur­sus dou­ble IPAS) or au­di­tion new hops va­ri­eties. He says the Prop­a­ga­tor’s se­ries of sin­gle-hop pale ales has helped him for­mu­late the ro­tat­ing hop bills fea­tured in the widely dis­trib­uted Luponic Dis­tor­tion IPA. The Prop­a­ga­tor both in­forms the di­rec­tion the main brew­ery will take with new re­leases and fills in stylis­tic gaps in the com­pany’s tap­room restau­rants (as with Tap­room Brown ale and a hefeweizen). It’s a sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ship that ben­e­fits both the brew­pub and the par­ent brew­ery.

The brew wraps up when the boil con­cludes and the hot wort is pumped into the whirlpool (of­ten onto a fresh dose of hops), then through a heat ex­changer and oxy­gena­tor and into a fer­men­ta­tion ves­sel. The yeast is pitched in­line as the ves­sel fills, and the sys­tem is cleaned and pre­pared for the next day’s brew. About thirty or forty kegs of beer are pack­aged per week: a quar­ter is served in Venice, and the rest gets trucked to the Buell­ton or Paso Robles lo­ca­tions. Par­tridge is work­ing on a plan to ramp up pro­duc­tion to al­low for more ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, and Brynild­son is ea­ger to fit a few oak bar­rels into the Prop­a­ga­tor space to be­gin ex­plor­ing more “rus­tic ales.”

The Prop­a­ga­tor took longer to launch than Fire­stone Walker an­tic­i­pated, and the cost was much higher than the ini­tial es­ti­mates as bu­reau­cratic de­lay and con­struc­tion chal­lenges dogged the project. Walker, ever the ro­man­tic op­ti­mist, quips that while the Prop­a­ga­tor is the source of 90 per­cent of the brew­ery’s headaches, he’s still ex­cited by the pos­si­bil­i­ties it of­fers. The brew­pub’s unique iden­tity within the larger Fire­stone Walker fam­ily is be­gin­ning to emerge, and Walker wants the Prop­a­ga­tor to be as iden­ti­fi­able and as re­spected as Bar­rel­works.

That as­pect of the Fire­stone Walker brand demon­strates that the largest im­pact on the fi­nal beer isn’t bac­te­ria or oak but the hu­mans shep­herd­ing those wild cul­tures and mixed fer­men­ta­tions, and the Prop­a­ga­tor will be most suc­cess­ful if it fol­lows that model. Even with a com­puter-con­trolled sys­tem, it’s peo­ple on the brew deck who have the big­gest im­pact on what the fi­nal beer tastes like. Au­to­ma­tion is no sub­sti­tute for pas­sion, and Fire­stone Walker is look­ing to their small-scale brew­pub to help bal­ance their brand ex­pan­sion.

Left » Hicks mon­i­tors the Brew­maxx au­to­ma­tion soft­ware.

Op­po­site, clock­wise from top » While au­to­mated, the Schulz sys­tem al­lows for op­er­a­tor over­ride and some man­ual in­volve­ment in the brew day; Prop­a­ga­tor Head Brewer Evan Par­tridge works closely with Brew­mas­ter Matthew Brynild­son to de­velop and test new recipes and in­gre­di­ents; mash­ing out is sim­pli­fied by a plow at­tach­ment that min­i­mizes shov­el­ing.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.