When Battersea-based craft beer specialist, Sambrooks Brewery Ltd, wanted to install its first piece of steam powered equipment – a two-gear semi-automatic kegging line – the fast-growing company turned to CFB Boilers for a suitable steam boiler solution. Steam is used for keg sterilisation purposes before filling and has allowed Sambrooks to use stainless steel kegs instead of expensive disposable ones. This move has not only opened the doors to many more outlets and national accounts, but also resulted in significant cost savings – so much so that CFB Boilers’ steam boiler solution has a return on investment period of just six months. In fact, such has been the success of CFB Boilers’ 4VT steam boiler that it will soon be linked up to Sambrooks’ new brewhouse and hot liquor tanks, which will create substantial benefits with regards to reduced energy costs.
The idea for Sambrooks Brewery was first hatched back in 2006 when accountant Duncan Sambrook attended the Great British Beer Festival at Earls Court. Searching the beer list with a couple of friends revealed that there were no beers brewed in the central London area. Mr Sambrook set out to put things right, duly giving up his job in city and attending a course in brewing fundamentals at the University of Sunderland. He then befriended a successful brewer by the name of David Welsh who was the former managing director of Ringwood Brewery and, by 2008, the pair were fully operational at a 20-barrel brewhouse in Battersea.
A costly problem
Prior to installing the brewery’s new kegging line, Sambrooks had two solutions for its kegs. The first was to purchase disposable sterile kegs, at a cost of around £40,000 every two months. The second was to wash the kegs by hand in hot caustic rinse, and fill by hand, however, this was proving very labour intensive and always led to a certain amount of spillage and wastage.
Sambrooks already had one quote for an electric steam solution from a supplier recommended by the kegging line distributor when by chance a sales representative from CFB Boilers made a visit. This proved to be a stroke of luck as CFB Boilers soon discovered that the electric boiler initially specified was in fact too small for the kegging line. The team at CFB Boilers, resized the boiler and confirmed with the kegging line manufacturer that a much larger steam boiler would be required, over double the size in fact.
CFB Boilers was able to recommend its advanced 15hp 4VT Steam Boiler. Not only would this be able to easily accommodate the needs of the kegging line, it would also offer lower operating costs as it runs on gas, which is around five times cheaper than electricity. Moreover, the 4VT Steam Boiler offers a distinct efficiency advantage over similar vertical boilers due to its four-pass technology. Unlike two- or three-pass designs offered by other boiler manufacturers, four-pass technology means that combustion gasses pass generated heat over water heating surfaces four times, which maximises the opportunity for heat transfer. The result is exceptional energy efficiency and low exit flue temperature.
“We looked at a few suppliers but CFB Boilers provided us with a solution that best suited our present needs, as well as plans for future expansion,” states Head Brewer Sean Knight. “It was clear that the 4VT steam boiler was the most cost effective solution for our kegging line in comparison with an electrical steam raiser. Since we didn’t have any other steam on site we are now looking to move our hot liquor tanks and new 40-barrel brewhouse boiler to being steam heated. The latter has come about following recent investment in a larger fermentations capacity. Ultimately we are also hoping that our electrical usage will drop rapidly once steam is used more extensively throughout the brewery. One of our core business aims is to lower utility costs through the efficient use of energy.”
Among the impressive features of the 4VT is its steam chamber, which is approximately 30 per cent larger than most other vertical steam boilers. This not only ensures that the boiler can more efficiently fulfil variable steam load requirements – dealing effectively with peaks and troughs – but virtually eliminates boiler priming by preventing excessive moisture being carried over in the steam. Reducing moisture levels in the steam that is produced extends the boiler life and reduces the need for frequent descaling.
Automated kegging line
The new kegging line at Sambrooks washes and sanitises the stainless steel kegs before rinse, fill and sealing operations are performed. The boiler takes just 15 minutes to come up to full capacity after initial power-up, whereon it is ready to supply steam to the kegging line.
“The fire-up time for the boiler is perfect for our usage and the boiler is very simple to use,” says Mr Knight. “Furthermore, it has a small footprint, which is helpful in a brewery of our size.”
Installation is reported to have been completed free of problems, with the optimum position for the boiler and location of the pipe runs determined without difficulty.
“CFB Boilers took care of the pipework installation,” says Mr Knight. “The pipes had to be run right through the brewery and this occurred without any disruptions to production. Boiler commissioning was completed in a single day and CFB Boilers has not needed to return other than for a scheduled service.”
The kegging line and 4VT steam boiler represented a sizable investment for such a young brewery, but the savings in disposable kegs, along with reductions in staff labour and time, as well as product wastage, means the equipment will pay for itself within six months.
“We have seen a huge increase in our keg sales which has helped accelerate payback for the investment,” says Mr Knight. “In fact, we have tripled our keg sales over the past 12 months. Without doubt, being able to use stainless steel kegs has been the biggest benefit of having steam on site. In the near future we will be upgrading our brewhouse and hot liquor tanks, which will see large energy and financial savings from the use of steam. I think that as any brewery grows and expands it needs to think about energy efficiency and costs, and steam is definitely the optimum solution.”
Mr Knight is quick to praise the efforts of CFB Boilers in helping the brewery drive forward its kegging line project, as well as plans for expansion in the near future.
“CFB Boilers have been really great – they did a site visit and then came back with solutions for our situation,” he says. “The brewery and CFB Boilers have a good relationship and we plan to work together in the future as more and more of our new equipment is switched to steam power.”
Sambrooks is currently brewing 10 times a week with a team of seven employees. The brewery produces cask ale, keg beer and bottled products, which it supplies to pubs inside the M25 area via its point of sale operation. The company also sends beer around the UK using distributors and exports beer worldwide to a growing list of countries that include Singapore, Mexico, Thailand, Russia, Norway, Sweden and Italy, to list but a few. Sambrooks’ current portfolio of ales and beers includes Wandle, Junction, Pumphouse, Powerhouse Porter, Battersea IPA and Battersea Rye, all of which can be tried by visitors to the brewery’s newly refurbished bar/tap room.