Planning Equipment Purchases for a Brighter Future

When John Trogner and his brother Chris discuss plans for Tröegs, the concept comes down to a few different groups of metaphysical buckets.

“Either they’re temporary pieces to bridge a gap of some kind, or they’re a long-term piece that gets us to one of those horizons, timeline-wise,” he said, saying that the brewery is always looking ahead to where they want to be in three years, five years and even 15 years from now. That even comes to having additional equipment purchases that go beyond basic brewing and fermenting.

“If it’s a three-year, five-year … or 15-year need, we kind of right-size the piece that we’re deciding on,” Trogner said. “It doesn’t matter what it is, it could be anything, it could be a pickup truck or a mower, it could be anything in the brewery.

“[We] let those different horizon visions guide our equipment purchases. In this case, it actually guides everything for the company.”

Continuing with the buckets theme, Trogner shared they look into various aspects of why the equipment would help on a day-to-day basis and as a growth piece to better the brewery.

First off, they look at it from a safety aspect, followed by how it helps in the balance of the art and science of brewing along with its ROI.

“[We’re] asking ourselves, how can we solve for any safety functions,” Trogner said. “Can we make our environment better for our co-workers from a safety aspect?”

When the Pennsylvania brewery moved from its original headquarters in Harrisburg to its current home in Hershey, Trogner said adding on something like an automatic hop doser was important for the 100-barrel brewhouse. He explained the purchase through the lens of these three aspects.

“Usually [safety is] in regards to repetitive motion,” he said. “So we are asking ourselves, can we eliminate repetitive motion? Can we eliminate noise and heat … any sort of environmental aspect, because that’s a huge benefit. That means we’re all happier if we’re working around the equipment that’s quiet, not hot, and doesn’t need repetitive motion to operate it.”

The first reason Tröegs added these dosers was because of safety.

“Opening up a 100-barrel kettle, tossing in hops, that’s a lot of steam coming out of there,” he said. “So we saw the safety aspect, through the hop dosers and through automation.”

That second aspect, finding the balance of art and science was taken into account before the purchase.

“On the creativity side, we made it so we can easily add larger dosers — or others dosers — if needed,” Trogner said. “Sure enough, about a year in, we created Perpetual IPA which needed a much larger hop doser. So we just uncapped the pipe, plugged a new one in and we had an expandable, hop dosing system. And that was more a safety solution than it was anything else.

Trogner said brewers love to make new things, but if you can’t make it in a repeatable way, then you’re not really working towards a promise to your customers of consistency.

The automatic hop dosers can be predictable, he said.

“It’s repeatable and super safe, but it didn’t get in the way of creativity, because we made it expandable,” he said.

Finally, Trogner said ROI can be a bucket to factor in as well.

“Some pieces have an ROI, some pieces don’t,” he said. “Some we just purely do, because we want to try something out and we’re having fun with it. Some pieces have a financial aspect to them.

“So framework-wise, that’s kind of how we go at it.”

Moving from a fully manual brewhouse, where it’s really hard to be repeatable, to pretty much a fully automated system was a huge step on a lot of different levels for Tröegs.

“It was the biggest step on the creative level, which sounds weird to say you put in an automated system to be creative,” Trogner said. “But what it allowed us to do, is as we are creating all these new recipes, we can rule out our own user error as a contributor to taste.

“Because we knew that there was always going to be what we set out process-wise to do. It allowed us to be so much more creative. And then learn from that creativity.”

Looking at the ROI side of equipment purchases, both Urban Artifact and Ecliptic shared with Brewer that the addition of a centrifuge was a key to financial ROI.

“That thing straight prints money,” said Bret Kollmann Baker, Urban Artifact Head of Brewing Operations. “Efficiency gains of 5%-plus on total yield is absolutely bonkers.”

Added Ecliptic owner, John Harris, who said the brewery was heading toward around 15,000 barrels of production around the time they were in the market for a centrifuge: “The purchase radically changed our brewery.

“Being able to get beer processed through when it is ready — and not having to wait for time and gravity to settle the beer — was huge.”

Be it a centrifuge, a hop doser, or any auxiliary equipment you are looking to add to your brewery, Baker said to ask for recommendations, start making cold calls, and get a minimum of three quotes from manufacturers before making a purchasing decision.

“If there is a quote that is significantly far off from the others, ask the supplier why,” he added “Find a fourth quote if need be. Don’t settle here, you’re buying something that is going to last 15-plus years.”

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