Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Chances are you or someone you know will be enjoying a pint of cold beer in celebration of Ireland’s most popular saint. On the day when rivers turn green (literally, thanks to green dye), bars are jam packed, and the bro-dudes are out in force, it’s time to reflect on beer itself and how it gets to your glass, either today or any day. Here are some interesting facts about beer, how it’s made, and the innovative thinking behind the industry.
Image: Benreis at wikivoyage
Fact 1: Cleanliness is next to godliness. No other industry needs to be as clean as brewing does. If you’ve ever made your own beer, you know you need a sterile environment. If it becomes contaminated you’ll end up with skunk beer. You will be shunned. Think of a brewery as a science lab. The white coat is optional.
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Fact 2: There is such a thing as green beer. No, not the green beer you’ll see flowing around St. Patrick’s at bars around the world. Green, or organic beer, is becoming more popular. Usually made with organic ingredients (hops, barley) these beers taste the same, though in order for a beer to carry the USDA organic seal, it must contain 95% organic ingredients, with the other 5% being non-organic ingredients. Do you know how to define green, sustainable beer? This guy has an answer:
Fact 3: Engineering in breweries part 1. How? Let’s say you’re opening a small brewery, you find the space and you’re ready to brew. Hold up, pal. You’re going to need tanks, a cooler system, boilers, ventilation, pipes, vessels, pumps, motors, and valves – all items that need to be built, set up, and calibrated—and often customized. Thankfully, you’re an engineer.
Fact 4: Beer brewing drives innovation. First there was the bucket, then bottles, then cans, then six-packs, then growlers, and now: crowlers. This fairly new technology was designed to let bar patrons can their own beers from their favorite taproom or brewery and take them home. See one in action here:
Fact 5: Engineering in breweries part 2. If you’ve ever home-brewed you know the pain that is bottle capping. However, a recent tour of a brewery reveled the automated, robotic action of filling bottles, then capping. And one brewer is going further by using KHS’ Innofill Glass System designed to replace corners and edges with curves and slopes, so liquids run off and cleanliness improves.
Fact 6: You can automate uncapping too. In some places (think Okoberfest), you can’t open those bottles fast enough. That’s why PTC customer Jemtab designed a high-volume opener that handles 70 bottles a minute. The multi-bottle opener is portable and entirely mechanical. Just watch:
Fact 7: Pouring is important. Have you ever poured a Guinness? Did you pour it correctly? To pour the perfect pint, Guinness recommends you let it rest for exactly 119.5 seconds between the first pour and the top-up — a period they call “the surge and settle.” That sounds like the name of the hippest restaurant on the planet, or some millionaire’s yacht.
Fact 8: Engineering in breweries part 3. Large breweries rely heavily on mechanical engineering in the production of cans and bottles (think Coors or Bud). They also need someone to monitor programmable logic controllers to regulate flows and temperatures. Or, if that doesn’t sound like your thing, there’s always (aka, the most popular job ever): quality assurance.
Fact 9: A special day for beer? Do you know what April 7 is? It’s National Beer Day, an unofficial holiday in the United States celebrated every year. It marks the day in 1933 that people could legally buy, sell, and drink beer after 13 years of prohibition. Mark your calendars. And never forget.
Fact 10: There’s a word for it. The study and practice of yeast fermentation in brewing is called Zymurgy. It’s also the name of a longstanding home brewing magazine.
Fact 11. Nanos are going big. Are the macro beers too boring for you? Are micro beers not cool enough any more? Consider the nanobrewery. Usually the step between the kitchen and a larger facility, nano breweries are mostly in garages, licensed, have almost zero distribution out of their neighborhoods, and produce small batches of (for the most part) some fantastic beer. Chances are your own neighborhood might have one. Right next door to the DIY robotics dude.
[Ed. Happy St. Patrick’s Day. If you enjoyed this you might also enjoy a look at how PTC helped a Portland, Ore., company design a unique pint glass. If you’re looking for more inspiration beyond beer and breweries, read our case studies here.]