Used kegs are washed when returned to the brewery, and are cleaned internally with a caustic, an acid, and steam before being rinsed and refilled with beer, Fraser says. Sierra Nevada also uses a keg line monitor system (Rotech, Swindon, England) to validate the cleaning process, and occasionally opens kegs to make sure they are being cleaned properly, he says.
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As the craft brew industry is growing, so are the educational opportunities for those in or entering the field. The Master Brewers Association of the Americas (MBAA) has identified 32 colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada that plan to start, or have recently started, certificate or 2- or 4-year degree programs in brewing.
“We are working to assist these institutions in formulating their curricula so that what they teach and the credentials they offer are recognized by the brewing industry,” says Karl Ockert, technical director for the MBAA. These programs are in addition to a number of existing brewing schools and organizations.
People enter the craft brewing industry with a range of educational backgrounds, Schier says.
“We look for people to work in our quality department who have chemistry, microbiology, or food science degrees. To work in the brewery they are better off with a mechanical, electrical, or chemical engineering background. But at a brewery like ours, there are also plenty of ways to get into the industry as a novice trainee,” he says.
“Having a science background helps a lot with brewing because there’s a lot of biochemistry in mashing and microbiology in the actual fermentation,” says Pringle, who is also an examiner for the Institute of Brewing and Distilling in England, which provides internationally recognized qualifications in the brewing industry.
Integration is taking place between the brewing industry and the more general food industry, says Kuhr, at least partially as a result of greater awareness of food safety issues among brewers.
“The FSMA has shined a light on the fact that we share some of the same risks, and the brewing industry needs to integrate a lot of those practices,” he says. “I don’t know if this had been on the radar of a lot of brewers, especially startups who don’t have a food background. I have seen interest going both ways, with brewers recruiting people from the food industry, but also people with food safety experience seeking out opportunities in craft.”
This year’s Craft Brewers Conference, April 8 to 11, in Denver, drew 9,000 industry professionals, the largest attendance to date, according to the Brewers Association. A glance at the list of almost 500 exhibitors demonstrates that there is no lack of instrumentation available for the brewing industry.
One trend in the industry is toward miniaturization, automation, and making things simpler for brewers and equipment operators.
“For 30 years, every time you went to a meeting somebody had a bigger instrument that was more complicated and more expensive, and that’s really not what the craft industry needs,” says Pringle. “It needs simpler methods, smaller instruments. For instance, we used to measure haze in beer with a meter that cost $18,000. Now you can buy an LED turbidity meter for $600. This is the way the craft industry needs to go. Because these small brewers can’t afford the highly specialized technical people that the large breweries have, but with the newer equipment they can do just about the same.”
Kuhr agrees: “A lot of brewers are on brewhouse version two or three, stepping up from a fully manual operation to a pretty highly automated operation. The accuracy and robustness of a lot of the lab equipment has improved a great deal.”