The Briess Extract Plant and Brewhouse were commissioned in 2002. Today the plant literally roars with activity as its staff works 24-7 operating, a fully automated system that controls almost all aspects of production and cleaning, to churn out a dizzying array of ingredients for beer and food manufacturers. The impressive, 18,000-square-foot manufacturing facility is home to the state’s second-largest operating brewhouse (500 bbl), state-of-the-art evaporation, blending and drying equipment, a sophisticated lab and precise packaging equipment.
The plant, the vision of the late Roger Briess, not only brought in-house the production of more than a dozen malted barley extracts that had been made at outside facilities, but greatly expanded capacity and the ability to introduce new products.
Production Superintendent Larry Boettcher was hired in 2000 to help bring the plant online. “Things are constantly changing,” he agreed. “What we do this year might be completely different than what we did last year. We all need to keep an open mind and be ready to accept changes,” he explained.
Procedures and training are critical
Developing procedures and training a staff from the ground up to operate such a sophisticated, unique facility proved to be one of the most challenging tasks, explained Larry. “It takes about 3 months for an operator to learn the brewhouse,” he explained. “That includes learning the basic concepts of brewing, how to utilize the process control, understanding how to complete required documentation and carry out sanitation work orders.”
Since the plant was commissioned, the original staff of eight has now grown to 49, as has the number of ingredients being produced. Additional equipment has been added over the years, such as a piece of machinery that was installed to increase capacity and the dryer was commissioned in 2005.
Writing and implementing new procedures is required when equipment is added or changed, and new ingredients are introduced, like the company’s line of BriesSweet™ syrups that are processed from tapioca and sorghum.
Responding to daily hiccups in the process keeps operators on their toes, too. “There are so many variables in the operation,” Boettcher continued, “such as raw materials variations, outside temperatures and humidity that affects the dryer.”
“We operate under the assumption that if there is a deviation, there has to be a reason and a way to fix it. The operators have been involved in helping to solve the concerns,” he said.
“We’re working as a team with R&D to increase brew sizes, decrease brew times and run more efficient operations,” Boettcher explained. “That’s part of an initiative that the plant is undertaking. It’s called ‘Lean Manufacturing’ and focuses a great deal on organization, cross training and other aspects. The goal is to reduce costs and waste.”
The production process
A production schedule that is prepared about 45 days in advance guides daily operations, and operators work from controlled recipes to prepare the finished products. Enormous amounts of raw materials, water, and energy are used in the production of more than a dozen styles of malt extracts, just as many BriesSweet™ syrups and the company’s signature Malted Milk Powder. The malthouse provides the specialty malts while other grains are sourced. Most of the grains are milled at the Insta Grains® Plant in preparation of processing.
Milled grains are first mashed and boiled in the brewhouse, then the filtered “wort” moves to the evaporator. About 70% of the brewhouse productions are evaporated into a thick liquid about the consistency of molasses, most of which is used by food manufacturers and some by breweries. Another 30% is evaporated into less dense liquid that heads to the dryer where it is dried into a fine powder. A unique characteristic that makes handling the dried ingredients a challenge is that they are very hygroscopic which means they rapidly absorb moisture from the air. A small pile of dry powder left on a counter will soon turn into a thick gooey blob.
While operators closely follow schedules, procedures and recipes, the entire operation relies upon the carefully orchestrated movement of raw materials in, and finished product and scrap out. And, because the facility is a food-grade facility that must meet strict audit requirements, it’s all done under exceptionally sanitary conditions. Everyone entering the plant must walk through sanitizing footbaths, and hair and beard nets are required. Shirts can have no buttons, pens can’t be kept in shirt pockets, and no jewelry is allowed. Operators must also use a hand sanitizing station upon entering the plant.
The rewards of the job
“It’s rewarding when we know that the products we make work for a manufacturer,” Boettcher explained. Extracts and syrups produced in the plant can be found in many food products in the grocery store such as cereals, breads, energy bars and pizza crusts.
“The operators ask Jason (Batterman, Quality Manager – Ingredients) about the results of productions,” he continued. “They are a group of guys who care. They wouldn’t be asking if they didn’t care.”
Knowing how the products perform is rewarding, as is working in such a unique facility, added Boettcher. “I like the flexibility of my job and not being tied down in one area. It’s challenging, but I enjoy my job,” he continued.
“When I started working here I thought that (malt) extract was mostly used by the brewing industry. And a lot of people around here know the Briess name and associate it with beer, or they think we make beer. Of course that’s not the case, and there are so many different foods we’re into, and that’s really interesting. Not to mention all that malted milk!”