Steam to thermal switch produces perfect pint for brewer
25 Sep 2021
While their rivals said no, Rebellion Beer Company broke ranks with the help of Fulton’s experts to switch from steam to thermal and achieved a welcome return on investment. But more benefits came after the Covid pandemic began to bite…
Anyone running a brewery knows how critical the boil phase of the brewing process is. So when an independent brewer based in Marlowe, Bucks sought to replace its ageing steam boiler with a thermal fluid system, their peers warned that they’d never succeed in replicating the clean flavour achieved from a steam-driven rolling boil.
However Rebellion co-founder Mark Gloyens was aware of the downside to the traditional steam system.
“A steam boiler is essentially a pressure vessel and regulations state that pressurised systems must undergo an annual insurance inspection. This inspection would often take the steam boiler offline and mean our brewing processes were down for a day or more, with disruption from the downtime potentially being felt for several days after,” he explains.
And even with the best water treatment programme in place, steam at pressure can be very corrosive, he says, leading to problems with steam traps, flanges and pipework, which seemed to require constant maintenance, presenting further potential for process downtime.
The switch required a leap of faith admits Gloyens. Rebellion turned to heat transfer specialist Fulton to ensure the most cost effective and productive solution.
In putting a figure on the annual cost savings of maintaining a steam system – including servicing, water treatment, chemical dosing, etc. – compared to thermal fluid, he estimates that the thermal fluid system is much lower and could be at least half that of the previous steam boiler installation.
It has also saved on the costs of maintaining the old steam system despite the thermal fluid installation being a more expensive capital outlay initially and contributed significantly to the ROI, with the investment now fully paid for.
“The warnings received from other breweries have been proven to be incorrect,” says Gloyens.
“Product quality has improved because we now have more control over temperature for the wort boiling process than ever before. We’re getting a very good quality boil that is controllable and we have achieved everything we wanted from the move from steam to thermal fluid”.
“With thermal being more of a closed loop system, we’ve not experienced the same issues with leaking gaskets, flanges, etc., making the whole installation not only look but also feel so much more reliable than steam.”
However, more recently, the Covid pandemic revealed further benefits from the new system. The control and flexibility that thermal affords allows Rebellion to achieve various size batches as and when required.
Pub closures decimated production throughput but the brewer was enabled to pivot its business, selling direct to the consumer via a home delivery service returning rates to pre-pandemic levels – currently two to three batches per day, with each boil lasting up to 90 minutes.
“The beauty of the thermal fluid installation is its flexibility and ability to very easily adapt our changing brewing strategies.” says Gloyens.
“Historically we would have been doing two brews per day to achieve maximum output, but because of its flexibility, we are now able to shut the thermal fluid heater down for a day per week to deep clean the brewhouse and increase output to three brews per day for the remainder of the week.”