Would Day Zero mean zero beer?

Beer comes first!

That is the philosophy by which Ross McCulloch, co-owner of Jack Black’s Brewery and Taproom, lives by. In light of Cape Town’s devastating drought we, at Burger Brews, found ourselves asking the question: With the possibility of Day Zero on Cape Town’s horizon, how will beer come anywhere, let alone first without its most important ingredient – water?

We spoke to Malcolm Human, operations manager at Jack Black’s, who helped put our greatest fear at ease….

The Jack Black’s brewing principle

Jack Black’s, by way of their original German Brewmaster, Jonas Krebs, have taken on board the Reinheitsgebot principle. This principle refers to a set of regulations, determined by German brewers way back in 1516, which govern what can and cannot form part of the final beer product – the main one being that zero chemicals are to be added to the mix during the brewing process.

The importance of water in beer production

The fact that the quality of the water in an area often dictates the type of beer produced (think the beer regions in Germany as an example) should help to explain the importance of water to any brewery. Since the water content of every beer they produce is roughly 90%-95%, Jack Black’s have to ensure that their water quality is of the highest order. In their brewing process, currently only potable water is used. A water treatment plant has been set up which ensures that all municipal water is treated to ensure that it has the necessary qualities required prior to being added to each brew.

Preparing for a possible Day Zero

The brewery has also had a borehole sunk, however the water derived from this is currently only being used in the general running of their offices and cleaning of their premises. The high iron content in the underground water makes it impossible to be used in the brewing process as it oxidises the beer as well. The iron will also add an unwanted metallic taste element to the beer. A borehole treatment plant is currently in progress and is due to be commissioned in May. There are three options available to treat borehole water: physical treatment; ultra-filtration; and reverse osmosis. There are problems associated with the first two methods, which includes the end result fluctuating too much (in the case of the physical treatment), as well as the fact that unwanted elements can still find its way through (in ultra-filtration). Ultimately, Jack Black’s has settled on treating their underground water using reverse osmosis. This method strips the water of all its elements which leaves a virtual “blank canvas” of water. This has the benefit of allowing the brewers to “craft” the water’s mineral levels, hardness and other chemical setpoints to suit the particular beer style being brewed. Another added benefit is the fact that due to the purer water being used, less water is then required to clean the tanks after brewing as it is able to dissolve substances more readily.

Current water efficiency in production

The breweries’ production operates using a fully enclosed brewing system. The basic way of explaining this is that the entire process – from start to finish – is carried out within an intricate network of pipes, connections, valves, pumps and tanks. Also in operation is an automated CIP (cleaning in position) system which allows a large portion of the water used in the process to be recycled. Currently, the brewery is using on average 5l of water for every 1l of beer produced (this includes water used in the beer itself, cleaning and other associated processes). “This is extremely favourable when compared to the global average of up to 7l water per litre of beer produced for equal sized operations”, Human says. The multi-stage method of production works in a queue system. This system, which is fully automated, allows each stage of production to follow each other “in-step” instead of having to stop and start each process, thus a further water saving.

Further energy efficiency

The design of their kettle allows them to achieve a rolling boil at 97°C making it more energy efficient than achieving boiling at 100°C. Further to this, cold water circulates through their wort chiller, back into the hot liquor tank. This means that the energy used to bring the water in the kettle to a boil is now seamlessly transferred towards heating up the water for the next brew.

Future sustainability plan

Jack Black’s has a sustainability plan which it is working towards. This includes being able to double their production within 5 years. A large part of this plan is for the brewery to go off the water grid in their operations (save for areas such as their kitchen, public basins, etc) as well as to install solar panels which, Human explains, would mean a roughly 25% electricity reduction due to their roof size. This, for a high-energy manufacturing plant, is a huge saving. Ongoing training of their staff, according to Human, is one of the key ways the brewery can continue to ensure that water consumption can be reduced. From having indigenous plants to simply changing their cleaning methods, such as the use of squeegee mops instead of hosing down an area, they have been able to massively reduce their water consumption.

None of this, of course, comes easily. To become energy and water efficient, as required in the current Cape Town drought, means an incredible capital expenditure as well as an entire organisational mind shift. It is fantastic to have seen, first-hand, that Jack Black’s has not only understood and embraced this challenge, but they are using it as a way to be able to offer a far better product….better for the consumer and, more importantly, better for the environment.

I’ll drink to that!

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