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Taking a short-cut to maximize production

 

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Using high gravity brewing, a single fermenter like this can yield up to or even more than 150% of its capacity in packaged beer

By: Stephen Beaumont

 

One way in which large-scale breweries economize is through a process called high-gravity brewing. This space-conserving procedure is quite common at high-volume breweries all around the world.

 

The name “high-gravity brewing” is, in truth, a bit of a misnomer, since the focus of the process is more fermentation than it is actual brewing. What it dictates is the creation of a beer much stronger than that which is intended to be packaged and sold.


If a beer is meant to be packaged with a moderate alcohol content, breweries practicing high-gravity brewing will create a sugar-rich wort, sometimes with the use of the non-grain-based sugars referred to in the industry as adjuncts, and ferment it to a much higher strength. (Some common adjuncts are corn grits, rice, sugar syrups or even straight refined sugar.) So a beer that is intended to emerge from the brewery at 5% alcohol will be fermented to 7.5% alcohol or higher.

 

The key to this short-cut is the packaging of the beer, where water will be added to the strong beer, reducing its strength to the desired alcohol content and in so doing also produce more beer.

 
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The English brewing town of Burton-upon-Trent, a model of which is pictured, once boasted more than 30 breweries. With high-gravity brewing, MolsonCoors, the largest remaining brewery, can produce several times the output of all of them together.

What this does is free up valuable fermentation, conditioning and storage space for the brewery. To use the example referenced above, if a brewery intends to release a beer of 5% alcohol by volume and wants 1,500 hectolitres of it, they can brew and ferment 1,000 hectolitres of 7.5% alcohol beer and add 500 hectolitres of water when canning, bottling or kegging the brew.


This practice is rarely if ever pursued at smaller craft breweries.

 

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