13 Nov ChemStation is an Integral Part of Indiana Craft Beer – You Just Didn’t Know It Until Now
Beer and atmosphere are how we rate breweries. We taste the beer, we see the service, we enjoy the amenities, and in some cases we eat the food, but what we don’t experience is everything that goes into producing craft beer. We may talk malts, hops, yeast, and everything people throw into beer nowadays, but those are really just the surface elements of what makes the beer so good.
Among the things we don’t see are the cleaning and sanitation involved in making beer and spirits. Craft producers to a person will tell you that they are really just janitors that occasionally produce a product. Dirty equipment makes flawed beer, and you can taste it. Even cleaned equipment will make bad beer if the cleaning agents aren’t formulated properly and used correctly.
If cleaning the equipment is that important, then it must also be important that brewers have chemical companies that are as devoted to their processes and products as they are to their beer. In our continuing series discussing people and companies that are integral to craft beer, let’s talk about a local company that specializes in keeping brewhouses immaculate and up to date on practices and products.
ChemStation. ChemStation was started in Dayton 37 years ago, and now has more than 60 local manufacturing centers across the country. They started out offering their refillable tank system of cleaners to the automotive manufacturing industry in the early 1980’s, and about a decade later they expanded into the food and beverage processing industry, including craft breweries and distilleries.
I talked to Dan Hubbard of ChemStation of Indiana about his love of craft beer and how that has translated into ChemStation’s current roster of 40 Indiana craft breweries and distilleries that use their expertise, products, and processes. For Dan, his love of craft beer started years before his career at ChemStation. He enjoyed his first pints of Indiana craft beer almost a decade ago, long before he learned about all the factors that are required to produce a safe, clean brewhouse.
Dan was excited to start working with his first brewery customer (Grand Junction Brewing) in 2016; he was able to combine his technical expertise with his passion for craft beer. Over time he learned that cleaning a brewhouse is like a ball player that has the same meal before every game; you just don’t mess with karma. Brewers have individual rituals and ideas about cleaning. Change one thing and they’re sure that the next 100 batches will end up down the drain.
There is certainly more than one way to properly clean and disinfect a brewhouse, so with the different preferences of brewers and the different chemicals available it’s almost assured that no two breweries will have the same exact products and protocols. As a company making cleaning products, this means that customer service and an intense knowledge of the processes are necessary to do the job well. And this is what ChemStation prides themselves on.
Dan told me that ChemStation sees themselves much like a local, craft brewery. They have local manufacturing centers that allow them to put the needs of individual customers first. The offices are small and independent, like most breweries. They develop products individually, and they put needs/desires of their clients first. They care about all aspects of craft beverage production, from innovation in formulations to safety of the workers and patrons, to the desire to present the product in the best light. Take all these things together and ChemStation sounds alot like breweries.
This philosophy of caring and best practices by ChemStation often starts even before a business opens, as with their latest client, Feed Store Beer Co. in Bloomfield. Feed Store is just opening now, but they’ve been working with ChemStation for months in order to get their sanitation processes ready for their customers.
ChemStation will evaluate several aspects of a brewery, including the unique water profile to determine the best cleaners. They come in to test the water coming in to the brewery and the effluent leaving the cleaning process. They consult the brewer on what he/she wants and how they work, they test the system and the environmental issues, and then they make a plan and custom blend the cleaning chemicals the brewery will need/want to clean their brewhouse.
Cleaning processes. As a very short primer into cleaning, let’s discuss what happens when you make a beer and then have to clean up after it. You extract sugars from grain in the mash tun. That mash tun then has to be cleaned and sanitized so microbes from the grain don’t build up. You boil the sugars with hops in the kettle to produce something ready to ferment. You have to clean that kettle and all the parts attached to it so that proteins and other compounds don’t build up and cause spoilage microbes to be carried into the fermenters.
You ferment the wort with yeast in the fermenter and then have to clean and sanitize that fermenter because that is basically a microbiologic zoo. Then you mature the beer in a brite tank which also has to be cleaned and sanitized to prevent contamination of the next batch. Today, much of this cleaning occurs as a recirculation of chemicals through the tank, called clean in place (CIP) instead of getting inside the tanks and scrubbing them out by hand.
That short explanation didn’t even mention all the pipes, hoses, attachments, heat exchanger plates, and other things that touch the beer and require meticulous cleaning. Each piece of equipment will need a particular process and order/set of chemicals. You want them to be clean for cleanliness sake, but also as a way to maximize the life of the brewhouse; those tanks and equipment are expensive.
To clean them, the most common process is to wash them down with an alkali solution (often called caustic) at high temperature (140-180˚F), rinse them, wash them with an acidic compound to dissolve minerals at high temperature, and then rinse them very well. Other than the kettle, all the other pieces then get sanitized with a disinfectant. It’s time consuming, dangerous, and costly, but it has to be done after every batch of beer goes through the system.
Variables in the processes. Like we said above, brewers will riff on the most common practices to come up with what they believe works best, and each brewery is going to be different in terms of size, water profile, storage of chemicals, and other aspects. For example, a brewery or distillery will have to consider the concentration of chemicals they want to use, the temperature they will employ, the time each chemical will be in contact with the stainless steel, and the amount of agitation use to get the chemical into every nook and cranny.
This is why custom blending of cleaners and disinfectants is such an important factor for ChemStation. Every variable will affect every other, including what chemicals are used. ChemStation has to take the location, the sources, the brewer, and the environment into consideration. The ChemStation truck may visit several clients in a day, but the truck is divided up into different tanks because you can bet that every one of those clients are getting chemicals designed for their particular situation.
The situation gets even more complicated when you start talking about distilleries. Distillery equipment often uses copper, whereas brewing equipment is almost always stainless. The processes and chemicals needed for copper are different, so it’s important that a producer work with a company that knows those differences and can customize a program just for them.
Safety. Dan visits his larger clients monthly and his smaller clients at least quarterly because he is devoted to making sure they are getting what they need and are getting the best of his advice and experience. For example, ChemStation offers advice for safety and design because cleaning brewhouses is a major source of chemical burn and thermal injuries in the industry. We have talked about this before and you can read about it here.
ChemStation uses refillable tanks and pumps to reduce the personal danger to the brewers/cellarmen. Dan audits for safety practices, urges OSHA compliance, and advises on better ways to deliver chemicals to the tanks, like the controlled pumping and mixing system used by Grand Junction Brewing in Westfield. There have been significant improvements in chemical safety in the last few years, like reducing chlorine use and the growth of water based sanitizers, and Dan makes it his business to keep the breweries and distilleries apprised of these advances.
ChemStation is more than willing to do free consults for safety SOPs, PPE for brewers, and for OSHA regulations. Many breweries are still behind on writing SOPs and knowing what’s needed for people coming in behind a brewer. It’s important to standardize your sanitation procedures, and ChemStation is there to help you make that happen. Personnel safety is so important – we don’t want to send our brewers into retirement from injury during cleaning….but the brewers aren’t the only group at risk, the environment is important too.
Indiana breweries are good stewards of the environment, and ChemStation helps them out there too. Many small breweries don’t even know that they’re responsible for the chemicals they release into the sewer system – but they are. Neutralizing acids and alkalis are crucial for keeping the waterways healthy. That’s why part of the safety mandate by ChemStation is safety for the environment. They will help breweries and distilleries stay with the best practices for effluents and therefore keep Indiana’s environment safe as well.
The Future. ChemStation is looking to be even more involved with the Indiana craft beverage community. If you are looking to up your cleaning game, making it more efficient and cost-effective, or you are in the design stages for a new brewery, make sure to consult Dan and his partners. ChemStation holds these items as paramount in importance – Indiana craft beverage safety and quality, Indiana craft beverage worker safety, and Indiana environmental safety. What more could you want as a brewery, distillery, or craft fan? Contact Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org and move your sanitation processes to the next level.