Learning the hard way
When investing in a can filler, however, Steam Whistle had to learn its lesson the hard way. Initially, the brewery had installed a can filler from another manufacturer, which in view of the major teething troubles encountered failed to pass its acceptance test at Steam Whistle and had to be removed again. “That one was rusting away after a mere four months,” complains Greg Taylor. Steam Whistle got in touch with Krones. To quote co-founder and President Cam Heaps: “We had Krones issue a guarantee to us for the new filler’s delivery time, of three months – extremely short. The filler arrived, was installed – and ran to perfection.”
People at work
“The good experience we gained with Krones’ can filler resulted in our placing an order with Krones again in 2012 for installing the new bottle filler and the bottle washer as well. This has now evolved into a model filling operation for other microbreweries, too, because we’re very satisfied with both fillers,” explains Cam Heaps, and continues: “Oxygen pick-up at the bottle filler is a mere 17 ppb, and it’s 50 ppb at the can filler. The consistency of fill level accuracy has been significantly improved. The Lavatec E2 bottle washer runs without a hitch. If we had a bit more room in our filling hall, we would also have ordered a bigger model.”
Something that strikes you is that the empty bottles are fed in, and the full bottles packed, by a relatively large number of people, by hand. Cam Heaps explains: “We want to automate, yes, but we don’t want to do everything fully automatically. In a craft brewery, visitors want to see people at work. Manual labour here means being part of a team working in a cool atmosphere listening to lots of rock music in the background.” Steam Whistle’s payroll comes to 180 people, a third of them part-timers, and around 100 of them also holding a direct stake in the brewery, in addition to the three owners. The staff work in somewhat lengthened single-shift operation. Besides the can, only one bottle type is filled, a customised, green 341-millilitre returnable bottle with an ACL label.
“The best experience”
For brewmaster Marek Mikunda, too, filling quality is the paramount criterion: “What’s crucial in my eyes is not the output but the low oxygen pick-up and the good overall microbiological situation. Our beer is not pasteurised but downstream of the bright-beer tank is ultra-filtered, using deep-bed filtration, arrives at the filler in zero-bacteria condition, and that is how we want things to stay. With the two Krones fillers, we can safely assume that even after eight hours of operation they are still in microbiologically flawless condition,” he explains. This is of particular importance, because at Steam Whistle the storage and fermentation area and the filling operation are not topographically separated from each other. At present, the Modulfill HRS counterpressure filler runs at 12,000 bottles an hour, with 18,000 bottles per hour being the maximum output settable.
“Installing this bottle filler was the best experience we’ve ever had with a new machine. That went off almost without a hitch,” explains Marek Mikunda, who has already been involved in many modification jobs and new installation projects. When he joined Steam Whistle in 2005, production output came to 23,000 hectolitres. Ever since then, it has almost quadrupled, and any resultant expansions have always been handled during ongoing operation.
The most recent addition was the commissioning of a semi-automatic Steinecker TFS filter, which “runs like clockwork”, to quote the brewmaster.
Plenty of room to spare in the market for craft beers
For the future, Steam Whistle is looking at steadily rising demand. “The two-figure growth rates of recent years will still gather momentum for us,” is Cam Heaps’ firm conviction. “Consumers prefer local products. The more international the big brewing conglomerates get, the better it will be for us. That’s the best thing they can do for the microbrewery community. They’re going to lose their consumer base.” If the output growth rates analysed correspond to reality – and one has to proceed on that assumption – the capacities of the existing brewery will suffice for a good two more years. After that, they’ll need to be upsized.