Founders’ firm foundations

We’ve found something again. And we were so pleased with it that we want to share it here with our readers: a rediscovered article about the Founders Brewery, which appeared in the 4/12 issue of the magazine. Here, however, unfortunately, we only have space for a summary of the article; you can read the full-length version in the magazine.

Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers found that their day jobs left them dissatisfied, so the two homebrewers decided to turn their pipe dream of brewing beer for a living into a reality. In 1997, they formed Founders Brewing Company in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Their business got off to a rather rocky start, but today, 15 years later, the brewery is standing firmly on its own two feet. By now, Founders Brewing Company is one of the most popular craft breweries in the United States, repeatedly winning medals at national competitions.

In 2009, Founders’ output came to 13,000 hectolitres (11,000 barrels), it rose to 24,000 hectolitres (20,000 barrels) in 2010 and climbed to 52,000 hectolitres (43,000 barrels) in 2011. In early 2011, Founders modernized its filling operation and its fermentation and storage cellars, opting for a pneumatic Mecafill VKPV filler from Krones with 32 valves, a short-tube filler with double pre-evacuation.


The filler operates at a speed of 12,000 bottles an hour (200 bottles a minute) and formed the basis for capacity upsizing to 150,000 hectolitres (125,000 barrels). The Mecafill VKPV counterpressure filler has been combined with a Variojet bottle rinser (likewise featuring 32 bottle clamps) and a crowner, and has been supplemented by a fill-level inspector using X-rays: the Checkmat F-X. The line mainly fills 355-millilitre (12-ounces) bottles and also fills some 750-millilitre (22 ounces) bottles for specialty beers. Around two-thirds of the total production output is bottled, with the rest being filled in kegs. The prices for bottled beer definitely make you look twice: a four-pack or a six-pack costs 9.99 US-dollars, or just under eight euros. Founders currently packs its bottles in 24-bottle case boxes and 12-bottle cartons for its specialty, large-format releases.

The second major expansion step for the brewery was to install the first CombiCube B brewhouse on American soil. Founders was brewing on an older brewhouse with a cast wort quantity of 36 hectolitres (30 barrels), which produced three to four brews a day—not enough for achieving the 90,000 hectolitres (75,000 barrels) output targeted for 2012. That’s why, in August 2011, installation work began on the new CombiCube B brewhouse, which was completed just six short weeks later. In the first week of October, the first brew was completed. The vessels feature technological developments already familiar from the large-size vessels designed by Steinecker. CombiCube B for breweries with an output of 40 to 100 hectolitres of cast wort—this design advance at Krones means that mid-tier breweries, too, can now benefit from “technology made by Steinecker”. Crucial factors shaping this newly developed brewhouse were the requirements posed by small and mid-tier breweries, such as one-person operation, or non-continuous production rhythms, plus the need to be able to cover demand peaks during the main season effortlessly. Furthermore, Founders installed a Universella cold-glue labeller in the filling zone, plus a Checkmat E for checking proper label position.

So far, Founders’ beers are being distributed in 23 states of the U.S., mainly in the midwest and on the east coast. From here, the craft brewery is looking to fill in holes in its current footprint as well as expand markets into the southern and western states in the U.S.

Founders produces six different types of beer in the CombiCube B regularly the whole year round, including a porter, a rye beer, of course an American Indian Pale Ale (IPA), a Pale Ale, and the Scottish ale “Dirty Bastard”. All these beers are very strong-brewed: the weakest, the Dry-Hopped Pale Ale, has 4.7% ABV, and then it goes up to 6.8 percent, 7.2 percent, and, in the case of Dirty Bastard, an impressive 8.4% ABV. What’s really remarkable, however, is the extremely strong hopping of the beers, with at least 45 up to 70 bittering units for the best-selling beer Centennial IPA, with 7.2% ABV. The latest creation among the regular brands is “All Day IPA”, with “only” 4.7 percent ABV and “only” 45 bittering units. The six “standard beers” are complemented by nine seasonals and specialties, from “Breakfast Stout” and “Harvest Ale” to “Devil Dancer” and “Double Trouble”. So far, Founders has, at irregular intervals, brewed 15 other beers as well: their relish for experimentation is unmistakeable.

All this brought Founders closer to meeting the ever-growing demand for their beers, but they have plenty more initiatives up their sleeves: they are in the planning stages of expanding this modularised brewhouse.

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