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Crafting the future of beer

Quality is paramount to The Boston Beer Company. Its handcrafted beers are the result of generations of brewing skill combined with the right processes and equipment. The brewer has found that new machinery not only enhances its current product range but also provides inspiration for new styles.

DATE 2015-02-27 AUTHOR Paul Redstone

Just six weeks after The Boston Beer Company launched its first beer, the Samuel Adams Boston Lager®, in 1985, it was voted “Best Beer in America” in the Great American Beer Festival’s consumer preference poll. The success has continued ever since, making The Boston Beer Company® one of the top craft brewers in the United States and world famous for its Samuel Adams family of beers.

In 1984, when Jim Koch founded The Boston Beer Company, the company had no office and no distributors. The first beer was simply offered in some two dozen bars and restaurants in Boston. But the timing was perfect, coinciding with growing interest in traditional beers and the dawn of the US craft brewing industry.

There are six generations of family brewing tradition behind the beer. The original Samuel Adams recipe dates back to the 1870s, when Louis Koch, great-great-grandfather of Jim Koch, opened his brewery in St Louis, Missouri. Jim Koch named the beer after Samuel Adams, a revolutionary thinker from Boston who fought for independence in the 1700s. Adams was also in the brewing trade, inheriting the tradition from his father.

Today The Boston Beer Company is a leading independent American brewer. And Samuel Adams beer is still made according to the historical brewing traditions--handcrafted from all-natural ingredients with painstaking attention to detail.

“Our mission is to remind people what beer can be, what beer is supposed to be,” says David Grinnell, vice president
of brewery operations for The Boston Beer Company.

While protecting the tradition of beer and interpreting traditional recipes, the brewer is also moving into more extreme, flavourful beers. “Our goal is to give beer its noble position on the white linen tablecloth,” Grinnell explains. “We want to challenge spirits and wines and move toward a noble position on that table.”

In 2008 the Boston Beer Company acquired the Lehigh Valley Brewery near Philadelphia, now the Samuel Adams Pennsylvania Brewery. Alfa Laval was chosen to upgrade and modernize the brewery. More than 25 varieties of craft
beer are now brewed here, and Alfa Laval’s products are relied on at most stages.

Grinnell describes the acquisition as a homecoming. “We were familiar with this brewery,” he says, “because we had brewed here during the 1990s. We already knew its ability to make our beer to our high standards. But there had been advances in the industry since then, and solutions like the centrifuge were available to bring the brewery up to date. We brought Alfa Laval into the picture to deliver solutions across the brewing process.”

Grinnell notes that there is a certain irony in the relationship between modern techniques and traditional brewing, but Alfa Laval’s equipment makes an important contribution to the craft, giving The Boston Beer Company more control over the flavour of the beer and enabling greater variety. Another irony, he says, is that the process is actually gentler on the beer than the filtration methods previously used.

“Historically we used horizontal tanks and antique solutions like stand pipes to pull back the solids,” Grinnell says, “and we were losing a lot of product as a result. Alfa Laval centrifuges allow us to take the volume of the entire tank and separate solids from the tank bottoms. Only the beer moves forward, and we’ve experienced a tremendous improvement in quality. It means we can offer a wider variety of flavours and control every factor to suit the needs of a particular recipe.”

Controlling each part of the process also allows greater creativity in developing new recipes. “It’s like having a whole box of crayons instead of just one,” Grinnell says. “Now we can design a variety of different styles.” He adds that every stage is essential to the final outcome. “At Sam Adams we see the entire brewing process as our kitchen, and we’re always looking for new ways to introduce flavours. Some brewers don’t need centrifuges in the places we have them, but we’ve added stages to the process to add spices, chocolate or whatever the recipe calls for.”

Grinnell explains that the company’s relationship with Alfa Laval was an important factor in choosing it to refit the Pennsylvania brewery. “We’ve worked with Alfa Laval for over a decade,” he says. “We bought our first brewery in Cincinnati over 10 years ago, and one of the first things we installed was Alfa Laval Brew 2000. Alfa Laval was also willing to take on much of the project management. They successfully managed the full process and were there for us throughout with technical support.

“In addition,” he says, “they sent us to training at their Greenwood facility in the Midwest. When we opened the Pennsylvania Brewery Alfa Laval sent trainers for on-site instruction. This is key in ensuring safe and proper use of the equipment.”

The Boston Beer Company sees a bright future for craft brewing, says Grinnell. People and tradition are the ingredients for its success. “Our people are the heart of this operation,” he says. “They’re here for all the right reasons: Either they’ve brewed here before or their families have. They’re excited to be here, and they work with passion. We’re most proud of them.”