The two founders recruited Alec Mull as Director of Brewing Operations. Alec had already clocked up ten years of experience in the brewpub and the micro brewery segment, including time as the chief-brewer at Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo, where he’d been working with a Steinecker brewhouse. His primary responsibility at Founders was to progress technical expansion, because, you see, demand had really started to pick up. In 2009, Founders’ output came to 13,000 hectolitres (11,000 barrels), it rose to 24,000 hectolitres (20,000 barrels) in 2010 and climbed to 52,000 hectolitres (43,000 barrels) in 2011.
Pneumatic short-tube filler was “the biggest quality enhancement for Founders”
In early 2011, Founders modernized its filling operation and its fermentation and storage cellars. For bottling its beers, the brewery had until then been using a small filler from a German manufacturer with nine valves, a long-tube filler without pre-evacuation—not the optimum tool for bottling beer with a low oxygen pick-up. The oxygen content of the bottled beers was running at 0.5 to one milligram per litre, though this is a relatively normal figure for craft breweries. Founders opted for a pneumatic Mecafill VKPV filler from Krones with 32 valves, a short-tube filler with double pre-evacuation. Alec Mull was reluctant to have a pneumatic filler for a while because he wanted to stick with the mechanical variant: “I was nervous at first, but I was eventually persuaded by Krones. Now, though, I’m a fan. This investment was the biggest quality enhancement for Founders…The filler has been running just fine since February 2011. The biggest advantage is that we no longer have to worry about the quality of the bottled beers. An oxygen content of 0.35 milligrams per litre is good, but we’re achieving 0.1 milligrams per litre. This extends the shelf-life from its previous five or six months to one year now and helps us to expand our market.” So far, Founders’ beers are being distributed in 23 states of the U.S., mainly in the midwest and on the east coast. From here, the craft brewery is looking to fill in holes in its current footprint as well as expand markets into the southern and western states in the U.S..
CombiCube B: three vessels for the brewing process
The second major expansion step for the brewery was to install the first CombiCube B brewhouse on American soil. Founders was brewing in an older brewhouse with a cast wort quantity of 36 hectolitres (30 barrels), which produced three to four brews a day – not enough for achieving the 90,000 hectolitres (75,000 barrels) output targeted for 2012. That’s why, in August 2011, installation work began on the new CombiCube B brewhouse, which was completed just six short weeks later. In the first week of October, the first brew was completed. The vessels feature technological developments already familiar from the large-size vessels designed by Steinecker. CombiCube B for breweries with an output of 40 to 100 hectolitres of cast wort – this design advance at Krones means that mid-tier breweries, too, can now benefit from “technology made by Steinecker”. Crucial factors shaping this newly developed brewhouse were the requirements posed by small and mid-tier breweries, such as one-person operation, or non-continuous production rhythms, plus the need to be able to cover demand peaks during the main season effortlessly.
Founders‘ staff are musicians
The brewery even has a band of its own: “The FBC All-Stars,” whose members all work for the company, like the lead guitarist and Head Brewer Jeremy Kosmicki, who discovered his love of beer as a home brewer, continued educating himself on his own time, and has now been with Founders for twelve years. Almost all the staff are committed musicians. “The craft brewers in the U.S. are very passionate about their products. This attracts creative people, like musicians, for instance”, Alec Mull explains.
“The craft brewing scene in the U.S. is flourishing vigorously and is still growing,” he adds. “In America, there’s a movement towards tastier foods and beverages, and a more diversified choice. It’s consumer wishes like these that the craft breweries meet, by firstly producing top-quality beers and secondly always searching for something new. Craft brewing in America stands for quality and creativity.”