By Anthony St. Clair
Ninkasi Brewing has opened a new facility that will help Oregon’s fourth largest brewery meet demand for the next 10 years. Located across the street from Ninkasi’s current Whitaker-area headquarters, the new location has been designed for efficiency, safety, and increased production of ales and lagers.
Bridging Old & New
To understand how much planning went into the new brewery, you have to go outside first. A small, narrow black and white bridge not only spans Blair Boulevard, it physically connects the old and new buildings.
“The bridge isn’t for people,” explains CFO Nigel Francisco. “It’s just for moving beer.”
Pipes transport CO2, coolant, and beer between the brewery on one side and packaging operations on the other. The bridge also contains communications and data cabling, so personnel in one building can operate systems in the other.
All this does more than save someone a walk. “Doing the bridge meant Ninkasi could do one location, one line,” explains Francisco. “It made it more feasible to stay put.”
Inside the new brewery, a steel labyrinth of tanks, pipes, valves, computer systems—and Ninkasi’s trademark teal—weaves together to crank out beer.
“With our current system we can brew nine batches and yield fifty-five barrels in twenty-four hours,” says Francisco. “In twenty-four hours the new system can brew twelve batches and yield eighty barrels.”
Initially Ninkasi expects the new brewery to add a 550-barrel capacity to the existing brew house, which will continue producing 95-105 barrels of flagship and seasonal beers.
From top-access hatches for dry-hopping, to water, heat, and chemical recapture, the 29,748 sq. ft. brewhouse both contains costs and makes brewing faster and safer.
Instead of brewers manually hauling and dumping 50-lb. bags of malt, the malt handling area’s super sack station provides automated handling of a palate of grain at a time. In addition to lowering the risk of employee injury, the system cuts time, energy, and material waste.
Outside, two silos each hold up to 80,000 lbs. of malt, or 160,000 lbs. total capacity—about 2 days worth of malt at total expected production. One silo is a split-bin with two 40,000-lb. compartments, enabling storage of different malts. Via control panel, grain is fed to a 6-roller mill, then brewers specify an amount to augur into a mash mixer.
The Five Icebergs
Above the labyrinth, five steel tanks, their hatches covered with Ninkasi’s “N” logo, stand above the teal floor like the tips of icebergs. This is the “brew deck:” mash mixer, lauter tun, wort receiver, kettle, and whirlpool.
Wort is heated during transfer from wort receiver to kettle, decreasing production time and saving energy. From the kettle, a specially designed strainer filters out spent hops.
Across from the tanks is a windowed room full of computers. “Brewers will do a lot of work through touch-screen interfaces, similar to our current system,” says Francisco. “It’s a more sophisticated system for better quality control.”
Finished wort is piped into the fermentation room, where nine 552-barrel combination fermentation/brite tanks stand 32’ tall. At the other end of the space, a tall door can open to add more tanks—up to 18 more, or 27 total.
From here, the beer then crosses the beer bridge for packaging and its final trip to pubs and stores across Ninkasi’s distribution area.
Additional rooms house yeast propagation, sensory analysis, a hop cooler, and a new in-house lab. “This is where we’ll take gravity, monitor fermentation, do yeast cell counts, check for infection, test for IBU and ABV,” explains Francisco. “We’ll also keep warm and cold samples to see how beers change over time. Plus, if someone says they have a bad bottle, we can test from the same batch to see if there’s a problem.”
As of press time, Ninkasi was test-brewing Total Domination IPA on the new system. With plans to add more lagers to Ninkasi’s line-up, brewers are also determining if lagers will be brewed on the new or current system.
Footprint on the Future
Over the next two years, Ninkasi plans to add 15 new full-time positions. Ninkasi has purchased other properties in the area, including a new administration building, currently under construction.
“It’s an exciting, motivating, dynamic time,” says Francisco. “I like to see Eugene going forward. We’re expanding, but we balance that with being respectful to our neighbors. It’s fun to be part of how much is happening. Lots of people say they never used to come to this area. Now they do.”
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