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Brew Basics

It’s an Australian brand known more for its unique name and blue-tongued lizard and less for the features of its brewery, but Bluetongue Brewery is set to push technological and environmental limits at its new site.

Almost three years ago, Pacific Beverages, a joint venture between Coca-Cola Amatil and SABMiller, acquired Bluetongue Brewery, which was located in Cameron Park, NSW.

However, the brewery was close to capacity and therefore ill-equipped to meet the needs for their expansion plans, which led to the development of the new site in Warnervale.

Paul Feasey, Bluetongue brewing and quality manager, said SABMiller undertook the planning of the new brewery and, taking a cue from the market and Bluetongue’s existing portfolio, designed a site around flexibility, sustainability, and environmental footprint.

Technology

Bluetongue’s Warnervale site boasts decoction technology that Feasey said isn’t used anywhere else in Australia.

“In standard Australian brewing, most of brews are a mixture of 70 to 80 per cent malted barley and 20 per cent sugar,” Feasey said. “Decoction brewing, which is really more of a European practice and is used in some American brewing, allows a greater flexibility in range of materials to be used.”
According to Feasey, the brewery’s decoction process includes the use of two vessels.
The technology is in the form of a two process vessels, a mash vessel and a decoction vessel , that includes an agitator , and extremely efficient heating jackets.

“To do a decoction mash, we’ll start off by milling and adding warm water to the malted barley, a portion of which we’ll put into the decoction vessel. On top of that malted barley, which is probably about 4 per cent of the total raw material usage, we can add whatever the alternative source – some form of starch material required.

“In that vessel when all the water’s added, it’s then taken through a series of heating steps, and the accumulation of that heating step is a boil step, which fully releases all the starch.”
At the same time, he continued, they’ll mash in the rest of the malted barley into the mash vessel. And over the period of the decoction process we’ll move a portion from the mash vessel into the decoction cooker and back again to the mash vessel.

“There are very few if any, and I think it’s probably more if any, breweries in Australia using this technique.”

Heated up

This process necessarily involves heat. A benefit of the decoction process is that it has its own built-in thermometer, which, Feasey said.

“Back in the days before thermometers were invented, and particularly in Europe where raw materials were of inconsistent quality, brewers realised if they mashed in the barley at 37, 40 degrees, they needed to heat it up somehow,” Feasey said. “They take a portion of that mash away, boil it, and then when they re-added it, the temperature would be increased to another 20 or 30 degrees. And by amazing coincidence, this decoction process without having temp control actually got the raw materials to a level where the enzymes would work quite successfully.”

Of course, fresh beer is always best, said Feasey, and any process that applies heat to any product will degrade and damage it to some extent.

This is where another process comes into play at the new site. Bluetongue’s sterile filtration technology. and the beer undergoes no further heat processing once out of the brewhouse.
“It means that we have extremely high standards of hygiene and process control in order to maintain that throughout the process.”

Environmental impact

One of the biggest messages from Blue tongue is that it tries to make the best beer while treading lightly on the environment.

Brewing beer requires a seemingly endless flow of water in and out of a facility. For Bluetongue, developing and maintaining a responsible manner of water use was paramount. As such, the brewery invested in a water recovery plant to aid the process.

Feasey said that once the plant is up and running, its water-recovery techniques will help it keep its water usage down to a level of about 2.2 litres of water per liter of beer produced. He said they’ll achieve this through a combination of aerobic and anaerobic water treatment, followed by reverse osmosis membrane filtration technology to bring the water back to a level of cleanliness — better than the water that’s coming into the plant.

“It’s a three-stage process: The anaerobic stage works with a couple of different types of bacteria,” he continued. “We take all the biological matter in there and convert it to methane. We’re able to recycle the methane through our boilers, which means our environmental gas discharge is going to be pretty low. And then it goes through an aerobic plant, which does basically the final polishing of the process by the introduction of oxygen and aerobic bacteria, and then it goes through reverse osmosis, which removes pretty much everything else. The recovered water is used for maintenance, wash down and toilets.
Water monitoring is not the only way Bluetongue fulfils its sustainability measures. The actual construction of the brewery, which took place over the course of the last 18 months, was done with completely local resources.

“The total spend of the construction project was $120 million,” said Sarah Dennis, marketing services manager at Bluetongue. "Of that, $80 million was spent in Australia and $40 million of that was spent in the local region.

“We’ve deliberately designed the brewery so that we have got the flexibility but at the same time do it in the most sustainable, most environmentally friendly way."

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