Monday, May 22
Compressed Air in Craft Beer
This one is for all you craft beer fanatics. From a hoppy IPA to a light lager to a strong stout, compressed air played a role in creating that beer and giving it the proper flavor that you love! Let’s look at how this works:
Processes Powered by Compressed Air
Before a beer is made into its liquid form, it starts with a few simple ingredients. One of these ingredients of great importance to beer is grain. Before a grain can become a beer, it needs to be milled utilizing strong pneumatic crushers to be crushed into what is called a grist and then sent to be mashed. These pneumatic crushers are powered by compressed air, and it is how they receive their high power. Once the grist enters the mash tun, compressed air is utilized to power a mixer that will combine the grist with hot water and any other desired starchy grains. Once completed and all the natural sugars have been extracted into the malt, the mash drains into a separate tank, flowing through valves that are powered by compressed air. It is then separated into solids and the leftover liquid which is a sweet liquor called wort.
Next, yeast is utilized to convert the sugars in the wort into alcohol. In this stage, oxygen is introduced into the yeast cultures. When this happens, carbon dioxide (CO2) is created. Compressed air-powered valves then eject the CO2 from the tank, allowing the brewers to be able to control the carbonation levels in the beer.
Throughout the entire brewing process, clean, dry compressed air is utilized to manage many valves involved in transferring liquids from tank to tank throughout the facility. A continuous and reliable flow of compressed air is crucial to valves being able to open and close instantaneously to avoid any delays in production.
Clarification involves utilizing pressure-driven centrifuges to remove heavier solids and the cloudy look to the brew to create a cleaner, clearer product before effervescence is added. These centrifuges perform a high-speed spinning motion that separates any particulate from the liquid and gets discarded as waste.
In the final brewing stages, the beer is transferred to a conditioning tank to be carbonated.
Once the beer is done in the conditioning tank and has reached is proper carbonation level, compressed air moves it into a bottle or can for the final packaging stage. Dry compressed air is generally used to avoid any water entering the beer and diluting the flavor the brewers worked so hard to achieve. Then, after the bottles or cans have been filled, a topper is utilized to add caps to bottles powered by short, powerful jets of air that seal the cap to the bottles, thus preserving the carbonation.
As in many compressed air applications, compressed air also powers cleaning equipment such as pressure washers to help maintain a clean environment and clean finished products.
Types of Equipment Commonly Used
Reciprocating compressors are generally used for applications with an inconsistent air demand or higher-pressure requirements pushing 175 PSI. Brewing applications such as keg washing, small pneumatic tool operation, and other cleaning tasks would fall in line here. Reciprocating compressors utilize pistons to compress air in a single stage or in two, like how a car engine operates. These types of compressors are very popular for smaller microbreweries because they present a lower initial cost and the maintenance requirements are minimal.
Rotary screw compressors are used for the larger, heavier-duty applications that typically require a higher volume of air. Some of the brewing applications that would utilize a rotary screw compressor include bottling, driving assembly line processes, and for specific power tool usage. Rotary screws operate by utilizing positive displacement to draw air into the compressor and reduce its volume. These machines are generally used for larger or more intensive brewers who need continuous air.
Oil-free scroll air compressors are extremely quiet machines that do not introduce oil into the compression chamber and are used in many food and beverage applications. These compressors are generally used to automate processes during production, especially where the air comes into direct contact with the beer such as aeration. This machine operates by utilizing internal oscillating scrolls that create no friction while pressurizing the air.
Nitrogen generators are frequently used to replace CO2 in the inerting, purging, and bottling processes. Utilizing a nitrogen generator alongside your air compressor can reduce costs versus using CO2 in the right situation.
Process chillers are utilized to cool the liquid down very quickly such as in the fermentation process. Chillers utilize water and air from the outside to cool the beer quickly. These outside materials never come into direct contact with the beer, but it is within the system that is cooling a liquid for consumption, so it is crucial that the coolant is contaminant-free.
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