Insights Into Brewing at High Altitude

Periodic Brewing has some unique challenges.

Not even getting into the business aspects, which can be tough for any brewery owner, Chris Labbe, the co-founder and president of the four-year-old facility has something else he had to overcome when opening the brewery in the fall of 2015.

Brewing its beers at nearly two miles above sea level means adjusting calculations to perfect the process.

“Being up at 10,156 feet does have some interesting challenges,” Labbe said. “We have managed to work through them, however, it took most of our first year.”

Most may think that oxygen would be the main problem when they travel to altitude. But Labbe said it is actually an issue with the pressure and humans’ ability to absorb the oxygen.

Beer also has a lot of pressure-related processes, the most important being the reduced temperature for boiling liquids.

“Our pressure is around 30% lower than sea level so we boil at 196F as opposed to 212F,” he said. Less evaporation is also a subtle effect with the most important aspect meaning there is less conversion of alpha and beta acids from the bittering hops. The Periodic team has to add approximately 20% more hops or boil longer to compensate.

Another really important problem that needed to be solved was that serving pressures have to be 5% higher (1 PSI more for every 2,000 feet of altitude) as well.

“So a beer normally poured with 13 PSI now has to be 18 PSI which is above the allowed pressure for most serving tanks,” Labbe said, noting that Periodic uses 20 PSI for serving. The solution is expensive high-pressure rated tanks or serve only from kegs.

“[It] gets a little crazy in our tiny serving room swapping out kegs on busy weekends,” he said.

The adjustments have worked though, and the brewery is making quality beer that has helped grow the brand. In 2018, Periodic was named one of the fastest-growing breweries in the country by the Brewers Association, listed at No. 8. The brewery produced 1,000 barrels in 2018.

Labbe said that so far there has been no significant shift in the business or day-to-day activity from the announcement.

“We’ve had a few new customers and initially a burst of curious visitors from all around Denver,” he said. “That’s settled down now and the remaining side effect is that I no longer answer my phone.”

Labbe did point out that although it seems natural to associate growth with success, he thinks that many of the 50 breweries that make that list have made significant investments to get to the new volumes.

“We are working hard on continued growth to make the changes pay off,” he said. “Then we’ll need even more equipment and people of course, so the chase continues.”

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