Skip to main content

Centrifuges in Brewing

I clicked into a link to catch up activities at local brewery Jack's Abby, and was surprised by one of the ads on the site.  A Westfalia centrifuge?  Did clever ad AI figure out that I was a little interested in quoting a pilot unit for work?  Nope.  This ad was sold directly to the site.

It just seemed wildly out of place on a Craft Beer and Brewery website There's a lot of respect for tradition among craft brewers, and frankly not many large scale breweries where this type of equipment makes financial sense.  The captains of industry the defined so many styles in the Victorian era never would have imagined the insanity that is a continuous flow disc stack centrifuge.  I can barely comprehend it despite having worked with them for six years.  GEA Westfalia's video on Separation technology is fairly instructive, even if the music makes me giggle.

That's not to say centrifuges have no place in brewing.  They are nice pieces of equipment, and offer brewers a clarification technique that's faster than real-time settling and decantation, yet not as aggressive and non-specific as depth filtration. In a high volume situation, centrifuges can save considerable time.

The equipment can be tuned to remove yeast, and any finings without stripping the beer of much flavor or nutrients. They can sepaate a thick and fairly dry yeast cake, increasing yeilds of drinkable beer.  Honest, and even surly, marketers can call centrifuged beer "unfiltered."  Unsurprisingly, running the separation at higher g forces decreases the viability of recovered yeast.  Centrifuges do impart a lot of energy to the beer and may cause some protein aggregation and degradation which wouldn't necessarily occur in filtration, or if the beer just sat and waited to brighten.  That can mean beer haze.  Some breweries, including Victory, follow the centrifuge with some filters to balance this effect.

Centrifuged beer should taste somewhere between an unfiltered, and a filtered version of the same brew.  It's the best of both worlds clarity and rich flavors.

Paul H. Chlup's piece in the The Oxford Companion to Beer indicates that it's uncommon to see fuges in breweries producing less than 100,000 bbls a year.  Given those numbers it's unsurprising that I can't recall seeing one on a brewery tour (outside of Anheiser Busch).  But I'm left wondering if the ad buyer really understands his market.

There's probably less than 20 craft brewers of that size in the US (I could only find 2010 numbers).  A handful more are on the cusp of that scale, or just weirdly interested.  What makes the ad worse, and may explain everything, is that there's really only two and a half brands of disc-stack centrifuges.  This is much more of a coke/pepsi debate than a quest to find the right IPA.  Few companies spend centrifuge money without soliciting a bid from at least one other vendor.  Maybe this very targeted advertising is an attempt to get an elbow in the door on a big plant build out or retrofit.  Centrifuge maker, Alfa Laval gets a lot of milage out of partnerships with Sam Adams.

Comments

Greatest Hits

Beer Destinations: Prague

Beneath a fairy tale skyline of spires, domes, and towers, a modern city of industry and commerce sits upon cobblestone streets and ancient bridges.Prague is a maddening riddle.Brilliant minds like Franz Kafka and Bohumil Hrabal relied upon surrealistic visions to make sense of it.Despite the city’s complex and frankly tumultuous history, there’s a millennia of brilliantly preserved architecture, miraculously spared the devastation of fire, war, and tasteless modernizations that have continuously reshaped many European cities.

Located between the noble hop fields of Žatec (Saaz in German) and Moravia’s cascading barley fields, Prague is within easy reach of the ingredients to needed to sustain a vital brewing scene. However, the city was not spared the 20th century’s assault on local beer culture.In the early 1990s, international breweries monopolized the city’s tap handles.Brewpubs were mostly forgotten, a novelty for tourists, at best. This Prague earned a reputation for drinking hol…

Fathers Day Gift Ideas for the Beer Lover

June is a busy month with graduations, the coming of summer, and the wind down of the school year.  Fathers day always seems to come out of no where.  No worries.  Here are some ideas for the last minute father's day shopper.

Beer Tour
Beer tourism is a real and growing business segment.  Your city probably has one or two operators guiding minibus loads of attendees to typically 3-4 craft beer destinations.   It's a great way to sample a lot of new beers, and meet like minded folks.  Operators are a quick google away.  Consider companies like Boston City Brew ToursThe New Hampshire Beer Bus, Portland OR's BeerVanaThe Chicago Beer ExperienceIndy Brew Bus, the Evan Rail designed Eating in Prague Czech Craft Beer Tour, and even a Napa Valley Hop Train

Books
I read a lot in the summer.  If your dad does too, here are some books he may enjoy.

Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out: Goose Island, Anheuser-Busch, and How Craft Beer Became Big Business  by Josh Noel.  Long term C…

Nostalgia and New Ideas: Craft Beer Luminaries Find Ways To Stay Relevant

I'm not envious of the youngsters starting out in an era when good beer is available on every street corner.   Yes, things have never been more exciting in US Micro brewing but I feel the grip of  nostalgia.  New breweries are opening almost weekly.  New taprooms draw crowds to taste new, photogenic beers.  Novelty, at times, seems to surpass quality in importance to today's promiscuous drinkers.  Which isn't to say that we didn't get around in my day.  It's just that we didn't make such an effort to make an obvious trail, or tally our conquests.  Which were, admittedly, somewhat smaller in number. 

Might today's craft drinkers missing some great beers from great breweries, in a quest for the next big thing, and a desire to avoid drinking one of dad's many microbrews?  The good news is that many are doing cool things to stay interesting, and remain in conversation.

So many brewing luminaries of my youth are now ancient.  Great Lakes Brewing is 30.  Bel…