Eliminating Inconsistencies in Scaling Up

Fermantation mash vats or boiler tanks in a brewery factory. Brewery plant interior.

As a small brewery, innovation can be fun. When starting out, small-batch production is the name of the game and there is always hope that a beer will be a smashing success and garner the need for more of it. Yet, that can also be a problem when you don’t have the time or money to get as much as you want out the door. Scaling those recipes on new and bigger equipment can be a challenge as it’s not a straight conversion. That’s where using a contract brewing partner can be a help.

Chris Geany is the QA/QC Manager at Dorchester Brewing Company and shared with Brewer recently a bevy of tips for breweries that are either working with contract breweries to get more of their beers made or just increasing their system size and need a few pointers.

“A lot of the issues really come down to that, it depends on what a customer is currently brewing on,” he explained. “It’s one thing to go from our pilot system to our 30-barrel system. We’ve done it with all sorts of different beers over and over again, we kind of know the differences between those two systems.

“But when you’re introducing a third system that none of us have actually brewed on or had any experience with, it really just comes down to asking a whole lot of questions about exactly how they’re brewing their beers at wherever they currently are.”

Geany said hops are definitely one of the first things the Dorchester team will ask about.

“We know here that when we do a whirlpool addition on our pilot system, the wort has not really cooled down all that much,” he said. “So we know we’re going to be getting more bitterness from a whirlpool addition than one would traditionally expect on our pilot system. We know to adjust that when we’re going up to the 30-barrel system.

“That’s an example of something we’d be asking the customer. Here’s your recipe, say these are your Whirlpool hops, but has the beer really cooled at that point? Or is it just kind of slowly free-falling from just below a boil during that time?”

READ MORE: Finding Innovation in Pilot-Batch Brewing

General efficiencies and little, almost unexplained differences can come up as well.

“That comes from the fact that it’s a biological process, and all the numbers can read the same at the beginning, and cell counts can look good but you might wind up at a slightly different finishing gravity,” Geany said. “We may have to go back and talk about the grain bill or how we can adjust and that sort of thing.

“It’s basically just knowing our system, and trying to learn as much about their system that they’re brewing on.”

Dorchester also gets to take advantage of the economy of scale that a lot of places don’t get to take advantage of.

“We have our silo of 2-row that lasts us quite a while so we know exactly what’s going in,” he said. “We know if it’s slightly different than the silo before. For these breweries that we’re brewing the same beer several times, we know we’re using the same ingredients and we can rely on that whereas some of these smaller places are much more used to just buying things on the spot market or they might have overbought and using grains that are older than they should be.”

Even the way the grain bed is set up in the tun, a brewery can be pulling slightly different percentages even if they’re mashing at the exact same temperature as you are on a different system.

“It’s definitely one of those things where it’s just usually a conversation between our head brewer and their brewer over there to try to translate: here’s our recipe, but here are the numbers we’re really trying to hit,” Geany said. “Our head brewer will go through and adjust the percentages how he sees fit, and kind of get them to sign off on slight tweaks on the recipe. So a lot of it we can do ahead of time, and make the tweaks and hope we get closer to the numbers than we would have with that recipe they had initially given us.”

​Hold That Haze

​Dorchester has been brewing for Newburyport​ for a while now, including a Hazy IPA.​ The difference of having a different voice in the room helped in that conversion to better the quality of the product.

​”​They had one batch that they’d made previously and they came in​ and​ talked about dry hop timing​,” Geany recalled. ​”​We’ve got our hazy beers pretty well dialed in here. ​So we talked with them about why you might have that timing on the dry hop​,​ but rather than do it on that day, we’re gonna do it at this percent of fermentation and try to swing some things that we knew best.

​”With the hazy beers, you can have similar grain bill differences, where just a bag of oats or wheat is all that we need on our system. And other people who are kind of struggling to get the stable haze can tend to put too much protein into the solution. You’ll look at their recipe and it’s, it’s just absolutely full of these things. ​We know we can cut some of that out and get the product to look exactly what you’re aiming for.​”

Dorchester worked with Newburyport on that one IPA, and Geany said they were so happy with it that ​Dorchester is now producing their full core lineup.

​”They’ve quickly become one of our bigger customers these days​,” he said.​

Photo courtesy Adobe Stock

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