The Decanter Centrifuge Paid for Itself in Less Than a Year - Interview with Cole Hackbarth, Rhinegeist Brewery
Dry hopping has developed from being just a trend in recent years, especially in aspiring breweries from the craft beer scene, to an established technique in the entire brewing industry. Rhinegeist Brewery—located in an area called Over-the-Rhine in Cinncinati, Ohio—has undergone a huge development from 11,000 barrels a year in 2015 to more than 100,000 barrels a year in 2020. Cole Hackbarth from Rhinegeist Brewery explains to us how COVID has affected their business and how Flottweg helped to optimize their production performance.
We are here to talk about your continuing expansions, which we realize has been a journey, Give us a little background describing where have you come from to where you are now.
I came out here in 2015 when Rhinegeist was a year and a half old and producing 11,000 barrels a year. From there, the company just started growing. At that time, craft beer was really starting to take off in Cincinnati. The local market was eager for hoppy beer and craft beer. Now we have this massive brewery that is 20,000 square feet and we are producing about 100,000 barrels a year.
How has COVID affected your operations during the last year?
Obviously, it’s been a huge impact, as it has been to the whole world. Ohio was one of the first states to completely shut down. So, kind of overnight, taproom operations shut down. Everybody went into quarantine, so grocery sales surged. Everything became about putting beer in cans, so there was a lot of pressure to really ramp up our canning operations to keep up. Fortunately, we have a great packaging team, so they were able to answer the call. It's been a tough year up and down, but we've maintained and we're doing well. We are ready for 2021.
When we are talking about some of the heavier beers, and the material that's in the fermentation tanks that's maybe not able to be handled by a separator, this is where the conversation began with using the decanter centrifuge on the tank bottom. Talk a little bit about what tank bottoms are, and tell us why it is important to think about processing that material.
In a modern fermentation tank—it’s called a uni-tank—the key feature is a steep conical bottom that collects all the heavy solids, be it yeast or dry hops. You can pull all of that stuff off as a thick slurry to leave a cleaner, more processable beer. A traditional disk stack centrifuge is great for light solids in that processable layer, but it cannot handle the heavy solids in the cone. The challenge was to find a machine which can do this. Even as you are dumping that stuff out, it looks thick, but you can still have up to 80% of that as beer, and normally you are sending that down the drain or sending it to a waste treatment system. This does not help anybody, financially or environmentally. It was key to find something that could, so when Flottweg came with the decanter centrifuge, that was kind of a game-changer for us. Both so we could recover a lot of that beer out of those heavy hopped solids, but it also helped side-stream a lot of that to pull it out of our municipal waste stream in the system. We are just now getting into surcharges and having to work with them on the waste treatment side. So being able to side-stream all of that saves us a lot.
Since installation, you said there is like up to 80% beer recoverable. Do you have some rough figures that you can provide?
This is more than 50% of our production. That is our flagship IPA, and we are seeing probably upwards of 10% yield increase per batch. When you are doing 50,000-to-60,000 barrels a year, it adds up pretty quickly! The machine paid for itself in under a year, so it was kind of a no-brainer. We got the test unit, the Z2E, and that thing worked great. So, we went ahead and got ourselves a Z4E, expecting to let it rip!
Talk to me about how the decanter installation has impacted downstream equipment. Obviously the separator is involved, but maybe there are other things, too?
All of our stuff is unfiltered. We do not do any polish-filtration. It is the decanter and/or the separator for everything. That has obviously helped to take a lot of load off the disc stack centrifuge. Previously, we were running our disc stack centrifuge around 40-to-80 barrels an hour, at best. Now, post-decanter, we can have some of our unfiltered UC IPAs up to 140 barrels an hour—which is crazy! It has upped our throughput. It has been easier on the machine, and less discharges on the disc stack centrifuge, so there is less maintenance overall and better reliability.
How has the training been going? What is the ease of use of the machine?
The thing about testing out new equipment is that there is always stuff to learn. It is unknown—which we love to do here at Rhinegeist. We love to be innovative and try new things. The support has been great. Flottweg is local, so it has always been nice to work with you, and you are always a phone call away. There has been a lot of trial and error and we have optimized our process. There are so many different methods for dry hopping these days—how you process those solids, how your tank collects them—aand brewery-by-brewery, there are different ways to do it. But I think the decanter, overall, since Day 1, has been showing benefits.
Has there been any impact on the flavor profile by using decanter centrifuges?
We have not noticed a marked impact. The beer is as good as it has ever been. We are removing more hop solids, so in some of the 'hazys' there is less of that 'yeast bite' sometimes, and less of that little hop-bitterness.
Do you check that through sample-testing in your lab each time?
Yes. We measure IVU and then obviously do sensory on everything. We have noticed that it has helped to pull some of that out. Our dry-hopping process is a recirculation through a high-shear pump, so we pulverize all of our hops and extract all the oil we can. When it hits the decanter, we are pulling out those leftover solids.
In this venture of knowing when it is time to look at a decanter, or how you want to go through the process, having gone through it, what advice can you give?
Just look at your portfolio mix. How many hoppy beers are you doing? If at least half of your portfolio or more is hoppy, which most breweries probably are, I think a decanter is probably a smart choice. In fact, Flottweg has the Z2E, which is a nice little skid-mounted system. It is pretty plug-and-play, and I think that is a great option for a small regional player and craft brewer.