We know that, from a financial perspective, smaller is definitely better for brewers. But until recently, keeping your operation small meant locking you into older and less efficient technologies for removing yeast, haze particles, clarification, and beer polishing. Installing a good beer centrifuge increases yield and quality (especially consistency and shelf-life) without increasing the size of your entire operation–and is within reach for an increasing number of microbreweries and taprooms.
How a Beer Centrifuge Increases Yield without Increasing Your Size
In the recent past, you really couldn’t afford to install a beer centrifuge unless you were producing more than 5,000 barrels (BBLs) per year. But steady improvements in centrifuge technology–and the stable profitability of smaller breweries–have made them a reasonable option for brewpubs producing under 1,000 BBLs annually.
Using a disk-stack beer centrifuge generally allows you to bump up production by 30 to 50 percent overall. In part, this comes from being able to extract beer bound up in the sediment that collects in the bottom of conical fermenter tanks. That alone tends to net an additional 7 to 12 percent from every batch.
But the big production win comes from substantially decreasing batch time. Not only is a centrifuge much faster than traditional DE (diatomaceous earth) filtration, but you also don’t have to wait for yeast and other particulates to settle out before moving on to clarification and polishing. The right beer centrifuge can reduce the brewing process by days or weeks, without increasing your number of fermenters on-site (and everything that goes with that: increased HVAC expense–even moving to a bigger space altogether).
Finally, there’s good news for whoever gets stuck maintaining the filter beds: A beer centrifuge is much less labor-intensive than filtration. Using DE filters means dealing with DE filters, and everything it takes to keep them running properly (monitoring pressure during operation, washing them down after each run, disinfecting, disposing of the spent DE, all the dust). Using cartridge filters means dealing with long transfer times and disposing of filter after filter. A good beer centrifuge is very low-cost to service, can have extremely short washing times, and should be CIP (“clean-in-place” –i.e., self-cleaning).
Tuning Flavors with a Beer Centrifuge
A beer centrifuge isn’t just a faster, low-effort equivalent to a filter. In fact, it’s not filtration at all, it’s separation (which means your beer is still “unfiltered”). It also makes it possible to “tune” the character of a beer while increasing your margins. This is especially obvious with “hoppy” beers. In general, filters have trouble handling the heavy sediment loads of hop-heavy beer styles (or, really, anything with lots of solids). You’re going to clog up your filter faster, increasing batch times. On top of that, the hops oils are going to get bound up and removed from your beer. With a centrifuge, you extract the hop material but leave the hop oils in the beer. You worked hard to put those aromas and flavor into the beer and the right centrifuge will keep them there.
Installing a beer centrifuge doesn’t always eliminate filtration. For example, with a bright pilsner, you may still want to polish it with a filter. But that filter is going to last longer, and the filtration run will be shorter if you’ve spun the beer down first.