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A home-made bottle filler

Among our own staff as well, there are many passionate home brewers – like Markus Fehringer, a Project Manager in Sales North America at Krones. He had gathered his initial brewing experience back in his days as an undergraduate at Weihenstephan and four years ago he transformed his scullery without further ado into a small brewery. That sounds very interesting, I thought, so of course I want to share our portrait with you.

Markus Fehringer likes everything to do with the brewing process: the fragrance, the ambience and creating his own recipes. And (not totally unimportant) his wife likes his beers – which is also why she supports him in his costly, and often pungent-smelling hobby. Brewing is occasionally time-consuming as well, since it’s not only while Markus is tending the brew-kettle that he’s thinking about his beers. After all, there’s always something new to learn, to try out, and to talk shop about. This is why, for mutual feedback with like-minded colleagues, he’s also set up the Home Brewers of Krones group in our company’s internal social network. And his work at Krones, of course, provides him with additional know-how of his own as far as filling processes are concerned. And so it comes about that Markus is always on the lookout for potential optimisation, not only for brewing but for filling as well – and promptly crafted his own DIY bottle filler.

But notwithstanding all the new things he’s learned, Markus has always remained a bit of a traditionalist as well – after all, even with the truly classical types of beer you never stop learning, there’s always something to improve: “Actually I brew all traditional varieties of German beer, meaning pilsner, Märzen, smoky-tasting Rauchbier, Bock, and of course wheat beer. I prefer to have a classical portfolio, rather than creating a new recipe every week. That doesn’t mean, of course, that I don’t try out something new now and then.” Last year he brewed no less than 8.5 hectolitres of beer, and this year he’s targeting as much as 10 hectolitres.

The home-brewing business and its taxes

Like every home brewer, for each of his brewing projects Markus Fehringer has to register with the customs office responsible – even if all that’s involved is one litre of beer. For this purpose, the place of production and the number of hectolitres scheduled to be brewed during the year have to be informally stated. The exemption amount is two hectolitres a year. If he exceeds this exemption amount, the hobby brewer has to pay taxes for this excess beer at a reduced beer-tax rate. This tax rate is 0.4407 euros per hectolitre, and degrees Plato (the beer’s original gravity). But if, for example, you are brewing in your neighbour’s garage or selling your beer, this is classified as an entrepreneurial activity. This means that officially you’re no longer a home or hobby brewer, and thus do not qualify for this exemption.

A rather special bottle filler

But now let’s move on to our chosen subject: the home-made bottle filler. “So far, I had been filling my beer in 50-litre barrels. That was pretty heavy work, you know, and quite laborious. What’s more, then I could only store four different barrels – meaning four different types. Sometimes, I transferred from the large barrels into smaller ones, or occasionally filled my bottles using a dispensing nozzle. For preserving the full flavour, the oxygen pick-up in the beer after fermentation needs to be minimised. That’s why I wanted a counter-pressure long-tube filling system that removes the oxygen from the bottles before they’re filled” is how Markus explains how his idea materialised. At first he estimated he would need about two days to build his system. Ultimately, though, he needed several weeks, since he repeatedly identified points that he could improve still further. There weren’t any major difficulties in constructing the system – the only “problem”, really, was procuring special tools, like a welding kit for stainless steel or a lathe. But a friend came to his aid, and lent him the equipment. And all the work paid off: “I now need about a minute per bottle. Filling a 50-litre barrel into bottles took one and a half hours.” But Markus Fehringer is very far from resting on his laurels, and further optimisations are in the pipeline: he’s currently planning a guard he wants to install in front of the filler in case a bottle bursts during operation. He’s also planning to build an electric drive for his grist mill from a windscreen-wiper motor.

Markus Fehringer is always up for some technical tinkering. So we’re looking forward to finding out what’s in store, and wish our colleague every success and lots of fun with his hobby in future!

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