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Product development in the Steinecker Brew Center

As I reported back in August, James Abilla of Cebu Brewing travelled all the way from the Philippines to Freising to do some brewing in the Steinecker Brew Center. There are two reasons why he willingly endured the rigours of an 18-hour flight once again.

Firstly, of course, James wanted to sample the beer we brewed during his last visit. But because he enjoyed his first visit so much, there was a lot more than sampling on the agenda: “On the return flight following my first visit, I already knew: the days we shared in the experimental brewery were so great that I simply had to go back. In view of the brilliant options provided by the Steinecker Brew Center, I was clear in my mind that I wanted to continue my product development there.”


One team, one goal: the road to the recipe

This second visit, then, was primarily dedicated to doing a lot of sampling, talking shop, and exploring variations. Our shared goal was this: to finalise a recipe for the new Cebu beer – which was, by the way, to be a very light-coloured, low-alcohol (approx. 4.5 % abv) beer that can be enjoyed even at tropical temperatures on the beach. James and I formed a really good team here: I with my expertise in terms of brewing beer and Krones’ equipment, and he with his knowledge of the local market in the Philippines.

It’s precisely this local knowledge and roots that James also wants to incorporate in his beer, using regional products, which is why, for instance, in the grist he is opting for a content of 30 per cent rice to complement 70 per cent malt. And otherwise, too, he wants the beer to taste of authentic Filipino beach atmosphere – which is why James brought the (still secret) fruit that will be giving the beer its characteristic taste specially with him to Germany in his hand luggage. Back in the summer, we tested different brewing variants and verified experiments: in terms of both the fruit puree quantity and the timing of its addition. We then agreed on a relatively early addition together with the hops during wort boiling – firstly quite simply because this version tasted best when we sampled it. What’s more, the trial and error involved proves very helpful: “It’s great that I can work together here with brewmasters who have so much experience. In addition, it’s quite simply a lot of fun to test out the many different technologies and processes in the Steinecker Brew Center,” is James’ enthusiastic verdict.

So on the first day of the visit we did some joint brainstorming, for optimising the recipe still further – which went to confirm that in August we were on the right track with our initial trials.

THE place for experiments

On Day Two, we then started on the actual brewing – once again in our (meanwhile smoothly functioning) team. I still coordinate the general programme, but meanwhile James has become so versed in Krones’ technologies that he does a lot himself, thus acquiring an enhanced familiarity with the kit and the BOTEC F1 process control system. When he’s working with what are new technologies for him, he’s visibly enjoying himself. “Even on my second visit, I keep on discovering new technical refinements in the experimental brewery. That I can run all my wishes here in a fully automated system is a genuine highlight for me!” he beams.

Much as James likes experimenting with the brewing process, when it comes to his ingredients he’s very traditional in his thinking: “I want to brew beer as naturally as possible. Which is why with my fruit puree I refrain from adding sugar or artificial aromas, just as I don’t add any enzymes to the mash. It’s fantastic that I can process the rice here in the Brewing Center even without any technical enzymes.” In order to make this possible, we use what’s called a “decoction process” and boil the rice separately from the malt mash in a cereal cooker  – it needs higher temperatures than conventional malt, you see. We then mix the two mashes with each other, so that the enzymes from the malt can work their magic on the rice. With a rice content of a “mere” 30 per cent, we can then, by the way, do the lautering quite normally in a lauter tun.

Learning with a smile

What was particularly nice for me this time as well was to see how much James was enjoying himself in the Steinecker Brew Center. We repeatedly took some time out to smell and to taste, while philosophising about the craft of brewing as such. I was able to help out with a few tips and tricks from the German brewing community, and as a side-effect, so to speak, to learn something about the beer scene in the Philippines. James, who is an experienced brewmaster and a mechanical engineer with an MBA from UC Berkeley, said candidly: “From both a technical and business standpoint, the services offered at the Steinecker Brew Center are unique in the world. I have been to many breweries and interacted with many equipment manufacturers and professionals and I can say that the facilities and personnel at Steinecker have no equal.”

I’m looking forward to tasting the finished “new” beer – not least because I have such happy memories of this delightful client premiere in the Steinecker Brew Center.

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