German Firms Export Beer-Making Expertise

Breweries large and small are leveraging technology and techniques honed in the beer production and consumption capital of the world.

By Kevin T. Higgins, Managing Editor

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Alcoholic beverages are part of most cultures. The consumption of certain types are most often identified with particular cultures: wine and France (nice try, Italy). Vodka and Russia (sorry, Poland). Brewing traditions exist almost everywhere, but when it comes to beer, it’s gotta be Germany.

Czechs edge them out on per capita consumption and America’s brewery count is triple Germany’s at 4,000 and growing, but Germans are world class drinkers and brewers, and Bavaria is the heart of the German beer culture. More than 300 breweries operate in the Nuremberg area alone, including four in a village of 1,500.

Mature understates the situation, which is why both brewers and their suppliers cast their gaze outward for growth. People in China, Brazil, Mexico and other countries with growing middle classes helped drive a 50 percent-plus increase in worldwide beer production since 1996, to 1.67 billion barrels. One of the oldest and largest fabricators of the lauter tuns, brew kettles and fermentation tanks that produce that beer is Ziemann International GmbH, which lays claim to constructing the world’s first copper steam wort kettle in 1881.

Based in the Bavarian town of Ludwigsburg, Ziemann established a global profile early in the 20th century, with a 1903 project for Tsingtao, currently China’s second largest brewer. The Chinese are relative lightweights in per capita consumption, but collectively they quaff almost twice as much as Americans, the second largest market.

Materials of construction migrated from copper to aluminum and then stainless steel. Ziemann uses 10,000 tons of stainless a year, making tanks for brewers and other liquid-food processors. It partnered with Bavarian neighbors at Siemens AG in the 1970s in the development of the Braumat process control system, which first was used to automate Venezuela’s Polar brewery in 1978. The system has since been applied to breweries large and small, from Anheuser-Busch and Miller plants to craft operations such as New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins, Colo.; Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton, Del.; and Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo, Mich.

Operating a high-volume, industrial brewery with fast-fermenting sugars and inexpensive starch is different than a craft brewery making small batches of highly hopped and high alcohol beers, allows Klaus Gehrig, managing director and CEO at Ziemann, and that is reflected in the automation they use. Regardless of size the tanks used and the need to respond to consumer demands for a broader portfolio of beer styles are similar, and that puts a premium on production flexibility.

Corona Extra accounts for most of the throughput at Piedras Negras Brewery, 13 miles South of Eagle Pass, Texas, in the Mexican state of Coahuila. Ziemann has been part of the brewery project since its inception in 2007. Two years ago, Grupo Modelo was forced to sell the plant to Constellation Brands to satisfy antitrust considerations resulting from Modelo’s acquisition by Anheuser-Busch InBev.

The purchase catapulted Constellation to North American brewing prominence, and the distilled spirits and wine specialist accelerated an expansion plan that will make it the world’s largest brewery. Besides Corona, the plant also produces Tsingtao, Pacifico, Negra Modelo and Modelo Expecial for U.S. consumption.

Piedras Negras was envisioned as a three-phase project, each with a capacity of 10 million hectoliters (8.5 million bbls). Two brewhouses serve each stage. The second stage was commissioned this year, bringing capacity to 26 million hl, on par with Coor’s facility in Golden, Colo., and equivalent to the combined volume of America’s craft breweries, which command 11 percent of the U.S. market.

Everything at Piedras Negras is on a massive scale. A 37-mile pipeline brings in process water. The lauter tuns have a 15.5 meter OD (50 ft. diameter), “the biggest lauter tuns ever built and running successfully,” according to Gehrig. “The biggest fermenters have an inside diameter of 10 m and a total capacity of 12.3 hl (325 gallons).”

Size isn’t everything. Energy consumption also was a consideration. If Piedras Negras was built a decade earlier, heat from the wort kettles would have been vented; instead, it is recovered and used to heat the next batch. “The level of automation also is much higher, with only a few manual valves and the rest double-seated,” Gehrig adds. With a touch of a button, brewers can route a completed batch to any available fermentation tank via the piping network’s mix-proof valves.

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