A corner of Deschutes Brewery’s production facility in Bend is home to a brand new, 2.1-barrel pilot brewing system designed to dissect the finer points of beer.
The system, manufactured by Esau & Hueber, of Germany, allows Deschutes to play with variables such as varieties of malt, hops and yeast in smaller quantities and in several batches to find what makes beer better. The pilot brewhouse is the new research and development arm of the brewery.
“Previously, we used our pubs as our R&D facilities, but our Bend pub typically makes 10-barrel batches, our Portland pub makes 18-20 barrel batches,” said Veronica Vega, brewmaster for new product development at Deschutes Brewery. “For this facility, we can push the boundaries a lot more and feel comfortable dumping beer if we don’t get something right.”
The pilot brewhouse also produces the right amount of beer to supply the internal decision makers, the sensory panel of beer tasters, the after-work in-house taps for the “shifties,” or brewery employees, and the brewery tasting room, Vega said.
The pilot brewhouse, two years in the planning, arrived in shipping containers in February and by May was assembled in a first-floor corner just off the brewery entrance on SW Colorado Avenue. The brewhouse, broken in by brewing some Black Butte Porter, has created 20 batches thus far, but nothing ready for public consumption just yet, said Chris Dent, assistant brewmaster and pilot brewhouse superintendent.
“We’re doing a Pilsner project right now. We have about four batches cold and ready to taste this afternoon by our development team,” he said Tuesday during a media tour. “We have some dark lagers in there and we’re testing a pale ale tomorrow.”
Lagers and Pilsners typically have lower alcohol by volume than the lowest content, 5 percent, in Deschutes products, Vega said.
She said the pilot facility will also help tweak beer recipes specific to consumers in Roanoke, Virginia, where Deschutes opened a downtown taproom this year and plans to break ground in 2019 on a new production brewery.
The pilot brewhouse is controlled by software that automates the system. For example, lagers ferment at a lower temperature than ales and are then kept in cold storage. The automated system monitors glycol jackets around the tanks and adjusts the temperatures accordingly, Dent said.
The pilot system can split the early stage production batch between two brew lines for comparison purposes. The system includes 13 fermentation tanks and seven bright, or conditioning, tanks. The same software runs the production brewery, so the pilot is a good training tool for new brewers, Vega said.
She declined to say how much the system cost. “A good amount of money — it was an incredible investment,” she said. “I’m proud to work for a company that invests this much on research.”
Deschutes Brewery used the pilot brewhouse for a malted barley study by Oregon State University, Vega said, and expects to do the same type of research for hop growers.
“You’ll notice we really didn’t spare any expense on probes and sensors and those things because we really want good research to come out of here, not only for product development but for the craft beer community,” Vega said. “We’re just learning how to use some of our high-end analytical tools like our (gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer) and how that relates to something like hop aroma.”
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