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Ossie Bladine  |  obladine@newsregister.com

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Automated Brewhouse Introduces Students to 21st Century Technology

 

Oregon would NOT be the craft brewing leader it is without Oregon State University. The institution’s educational and research contributions spearheaded the growth of craft beer, locally and nationally.  

      
The brewing program itself, one of a handful in the country, just took a giant leap forward with its new state-of-the-art, fully automated research brewhouse.


“The addition of this equipment will allow our students to be better prepared to work in any of the regional craft breweries on their automated systems,” said Jeff Clawson, pilot brewery manager.


Students concentrated on brewing in the Fermentation Science program will continue to get their introduction on the original manual system. Here they get their hands and feet wet; turn valves; mix ingredients by hand; and physically adjust the temperature, pump and speed. “They see things changing,” said Clawson.


With the new 2-barrel automated brewery, custom-made in Germany, students adjust the brewing parameters before and during the process with computers — except for the initial weighing and loading of grain and hops.


Carlos Alvarez, owner of The Gambrinus Company in San Antonio, donated the funds for the new brewhouse. Gambrinus owns three brands, including BridgePort Brewing Company. Over the years, OSU and the Portland-based brewery have had a close association. “BridgePort comes down here routinely to do product development,” said Clawson. “Jeff Edgerton, BridgePort’s head brewer, is an OSU grad and every year they hire our students as interns and our graduates as brewers.”


“When Carlos first approached us about making a donation and asked what he could do to help, we put together an extensive list with the automated brewhouse as our top priority,” said Dr. Tom Shellhammer, OSU’s Nor’Wester professor in fermentation science.


Alvarez has a history of philanthropic giving to higher education and clearly saw the value of OSU’s scientific contributions to the industry. “We stretched his $1 million gift and were able to add several new pieces of equipment with the brewhouse,” said Shellhammer.


The German company that won the bid for the pilot brewery is Esau-Hueber. They have built similar pilot brewhouses for Deschutes, the Haas Innovations Center in Yakima, Wash. and Rahr Malting in Minnesota.

 

 

“The system was custom built for us; Esau-Hueber understands brewing and equipment manufacturing and automation,” said Clawson.


The brewhouse contains five vessels — two mash kettles, a lauter tun, a wort kettle and a whirlpool along with a glycol chiller.


Shellhammer said, “This is a very safe brewery to operate. There’s a great level of security with it. We also have greater reliability, predictability and consistency.”


Clawson agreed, “The cleaning is automated. All the vessels are closed during cleaning. The lids on the tanks cannot be opened during cleaning.”


The brewery arrived at OSU’s Wiegand Hall in January. “We assembled the components, put it together and plugged it in. Esau-Hueber sent a technician over to make sure everything worked properly. He spent the next four weeks here and was a big trouble-shooting guy,” said Clawson.

 

Even now, if Clawson and his students have questions or need help, they can contact technicians in Germany who are able to diagnose and problem solve from their offices there.
“We tested it in class at the end of winter term. We’re brewing on it full time now and will integrate the system into our brewing science courses in the fall,” said Clawson.


With the automated system, students must enter all the brewing variables on the computer beforehand. “We can make changes in the recipe as it’s developing and watch the changes on the computer screen,” said Clawson. “We can also physically view inside some of the tanks through the clear lids.”


Additional equipment will update and expand the capabilities for the entire brewing laboratory. “It’s like moving into a new house. We still have boxes in the garage,” said Shellhammer.


They have a new refrigeration unit to install that will replace an aging, smaller one. “We want to add some more fermentation tanks,” said Shellhammer. “We’re shy of fermentation space. That slows us down. We have to break projects up.” Clawson is still working on the cellar design and wants to double the number of tanks from nine to 18 or 20.


A new mash filter, a cutting-edge addition to any brewhouse, will arrive soon. It will be on casters, making it portable and operational with both the manual and automated brewhouses. Clawson explained its importance: “We’re looking at ways to educate students, to give them the experience. Mash filters use less water, increase efficiency, dry spent grain thoroughly and are very sustainable.”


The growth of the brewing program has mirrored the growth in the industry. “We had 56 undergrads in Food Science when we started the Fermentation program in 1996. Currently, we have about that many students focusing on brewing,” said Clawson. The popularity creates some dilemmas for how to manage the actual brewing classes. In the past with a class of 32 students, they have divided them into eight groups of four to do a complete brew from beginning to end. “We’re working on the best way for the students to get this experience,” said Clawson.


Students have the opportunity early on to work in the laboratory brewery. “They help us out and, in the process, get familiar with the equipment,” said Shellhammer.     


The brewing program started in 1996 when Jim Bernau, founder of Willamette Valley Vineyards and Nor’Wester Brewing, gave the school equipment. He saw a need for people with solid science backgrounds and came to OSU. Since then, the fermentation program has added a wine and brewing chemist, a wine microbiologist, a distilling professor and faculty research assistant, a brewing microbiologist and full-time support staff for Clawson. •

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