Gas the key to fledging micro-brewing industry

Craft brewing has taken off in Australia over the past five years. Driven by consumer demand for something a little different outside the main brands. These usually one- or two-person bands are making inroads into traditional markets right across
the country.

From Perth to Sydney, Adelaide to Brisbane, micro-breweries aren’t just putting down roots in the main cities, regional Australia is getting its fair share of beer aficionados, too. Some craft breweries are driven by wanting to be in an industry they love, others believe their unique blend of hops, barley, yeast and malt offer an exquisite taste to a discerning public, while yet others are hoping one of the big breweries will buy them out.

According to a 2018 report by IBIS World, the craft brewery market in Australia is worth about $520 million and is growing at a rate of about six per cent a year. Not only are the brewers themselves excited about the market’s potential, but those providing products and services can also see that the sector offers lucrative opportunities.

As well as the four basic ingredients, there are peripheral – but just as important – constituents that need to be taken into consideration, such as packaging, distribution and gases.

READ MORE: Putting wine on ice – gas’s role in winemaking

Gases are the unseen heroes of a good brew, something that Air Liquide’s Western Australian sales representative, Gavin Lee, is all too aware of. Having a background working at brewing giant Lion, has helped Lee gain momentum in supplying a variety of gases to the large number of micro-breweries popping up on the west coast. And it’s only going to get bigger, according to Lee.

“The micro brewing industry in Western Australia is going gangbusters at the moment,” he said. “There are more than 60 micro-breweries in Western Australia – ranging from Exmouth down to Albany. The majority are in the Perth area.”

Like wine-making, gas plays an important role, from the brewing of the amber fluid, through to it being dispensed at the tap. Oxygen is both the friend and enemy of the brewer. The only time it is necessary is when there is the oxygenation of the wort, which is the liquid extracted from the mashing process that occurs during the brewing of beer. Wort contains the sugars that will be fermented by the brewing yeast to produce alcohol.
“Oxygen and light are the two things brewers don’t like. Dissolved oxygen in beer ruins the taste and flavour,” said Lee.

If gas was a workhorse its name would be carbon dioxide (CO2). It is used extensively to move beer around from one vessel to another, as well as during the bottling process. It has a multitude of uses, and because it is an inert gas it has no effect on the end product. Nitrogen can also be used but CO2 is the preferred option among most brewmasters. CO2 is mainly used in the carbonation process, giving the beer its fizz at the point of bottling, canning or kegging.

“When using it in the bottling process there is tank inerting,” said Lee. “Currently, if the brewer has the brew in the tank and there is a bit of head space in that vessel, they can pump CO2 on top of that beer so it blankets the surface, and that provides a protective layer for the beer, or they can use nitrogen.”

And when it comes to setting up the delivery mechanisms for the gases, Air Liquide has that covered, too. There are two main options.

“Typically we like to use copper piping because it won’t leak and it won’t corrode and can last for a very long time,” said Lee. “Or you can use food-grade nylon, which is a cheaper option, but over time it does have a tendency to spring a leak because it is under pressure.
“We have engineers and an installation team that are very experienced. We swapped out a vessel, down at Little Creatures in Freemantle, which had been there for the past 18 years.
“We swapped out to a 10-tonne vessel and within a couple of hours they were back in full operation without any down time.”

Another growing part of the company’s business is providing mixed gases for the dispensing of beverages in hotels and pubs throughout the state.

“It is often a mixed combination of CO2 and nitrogen,” said Lee. “It is the gas that pumps the beer through to the glass. As with the brewing process, it is inert so doesn’t affect the quality or the taste of the beer.”

Another reason Lee believes Air Liquide is making inroads into the market is that it supports the industry in other ways other than just providing gases.

“Air Liquide supports WABA – the Western Australian Brewing Association,” he said. “We try and support a lot of the brewers who start a business. Although some would argue gas is a small part of the process, it is a very important part. We offer cost-effective safe solutions and are able to provide the right product, at the right time and the right price,” he said.

“We’ve got fantastic aftersales service and logistics solutions to provide any type of gas delivery – whether it be in cylinders, skid tanks, mini-bulk or bulk vessels. All ALIGAL products we supply to breweries and wineries are of food-grade quality and our CO2 is FSSC 22000-certified, guaranteeing maximum quality and food safety.”