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In Mills River, we continue to push on at full speed, reaching new milestones nearly every week as we get the brewery up and running. Last week was a big one: our boiler systems were fired up, quite literally.
Working boilers are a massive step toward making beer in North Carolina. The boilers—as the name suggests—make steam, which provides the heating source for the brewhouse to run. The hot steam is also important for sterilization in our sanitation systems, on the bottling line, as well as in our clean-in-place systems. In short, without steam, there is no beer.
The boiler room itself is not the most scenic area of the brewery and we doubt it’s ever mentioned as anyone’s favorite stop on a tour, but to ponder its purpose is truly fascinating. The room is a maze of pipes and valves, humid with water vapor and warm from the radiant heat. The sight glass on the edge of each unit offers a peek into the heating element, which looks like something out of “The Lord of the Rings” and billows with rolling flames.
The use of boilers is certainly not new technology. They have been drivers of industry since the start of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century. What is new are the efforts to increase the efficiency of boilers and even reuse the residual heat they provide. Through a series of heat exchangers, vapor condensers and other re-use and re-direct efforts, we can use the heat and energy produced by the boilers in other applications. For example, we use steam to heat wort in the kettle; that same boiling wort produces steam of its own. In the brewhouse attics above the kettle stacks, heat exchangers recover some of this vented steam and heat, which is then directed back into the boilers, creating a loop that drastically reduces energy needs.
The boilers are the workhorses of the brewery—another one of those key elements, tucked behind the walls, that are essential for so much else. With roaring boilers, our first batch of Pale Ale in our North Carolina home is just around the corner.