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Alamo Beer Automates Specific Gravity over the Cloud, Improves Throughput

Picture of a Alamo draft house brew in front of one of it's locations.Like many breweries looking to excel in a highly competitive market, Alamo Beer Co. was faced with a production conundrum: do more with less while still ensuring the quality of its products.

Tanks and real estate are expensive. Reliable labor is hard to find and even harder to keep. Time is limited, and the brewing process is complex and labor intensive. Take fermentation, for example. Brewers need precise control of the temperature of the beer in their tanks for fermentation to be successful but finding that “sweet spot” can be difficult. Lagers and ales require different settings, and even the same variety of beer can vary in its performance, batch to batch. If the slightest aspect is off, the quality of the product can be affected – resulting in bad batches that cost time and money. What’s more, breweries are increasingly changing recipes to keep up with consumer demand, adding greater complexity to their operations.

Considering those obstacles, delivering more quality beer with fewer tanks doesn’t seem realistic – but that’s exactly what Alamo Beer is learning to do, thanks to enhanced automation of its San Antonio brewery. In fact, Alamo Beer’s use of automation has shown that a 20 percent increase in beer production per brewing cycle is possible after implementing a system of sensors and transmitters from Emerson that provide real-time measurement of density and enable improved temperature control of its fermenters. 

In addition to increasing throughput, reliability and quality, these technologies offer another significant benefit: a quick return on investment. How quick? Edwards estimates that a brewery with a 90-barrel fermenter can achieve ROI in nine months or less – and that ROI decreases as the fermenter size increases. And for smaller breweries, the cost of a system like this is less than the single annual cost of a full-time brewer.

So, what’s the secret behind Alamo Beer’s improved production? Simply put, Alamo’s brewers can now enter a stepped fermentation profile into their system and know that the temperature changes will happen at the exact moment necessary for good beer to be made as quickly as possible.  This enables them to more swiftly move product through the production process, freeing up valuable real estate and available resources for further experimentation and increased production.

This is in stark contrast to the standard operating procedures of many breweries where brewers rely on unreliable manual density tests and low-accuracy temperature control for each batch to control and check the progress of fermentation. These tests take time and offer limited insight into what’s happening with the batch. For example, density is typically measured every couple of days and can take up to 30 minutes for each sample. 

By shifting from manual settings to automated readings, brewers have access to continuous data so that they can make their adjustments faster, or even automatically, and know exactly when the beer is finished. Early estimates show Alamo Beer is saving at least three hours of labor per batch. This speeds up production by anywhere from hours to days, depending on the batch. For example, using non-contacting radar, two pressure transmitters, and a temperature transmitter, specific gravity of wort can be calculated accurately and in real time as it becomes beer in a fermenter.

But as any brewer knows, it’s not just about throughput; it’s about quality – and Alamo Beer also has leveraged Emerson technologies to ensure it maintains the product quality for which its brand is known.

Utilizing magnetic flowmeters, Alamo Beer is improving batch consistency by more accurately determining yeast transfer volume – a key factor in beer quality and finishing time. Flowmeters also help prevent finished beer from being wasted when yeast is transferred from one tank to another or from the fermenter to the brite tank, and they enable breweries to more accurately report production to save on taxes.

In addition, a facility’s cleaning processes are made more efficient with flowmeters that deliver only the amounts of cleaning solutions necessary to ensure cleaning efficacy. This enables breweries to use less water, shorten cleaning times and produce less waste. Alamo Beer also has incorporated pH and dissolved oxygen (DO) sensors to ensure batch recipe consistency and quickly identify bad batches early in the production process before they are transferred to fermenters, slowing production.

Learn more about Emerson Fluid Automation for craft brewers here.