September 1st, 2021 (JUNEAU, AK): How does beer originally brewed on a 26 foot boat in the harbor of America’s most isolated capital city become an international sensation popularly distributed up to 3,000 miles away? The Alaskan Brewing Company would love to simply chalk it up to darn good beer – and that’s part of it – but staying competitive also requires a sturdy commitment to innovation, risk-taking and a fearless can do attitude. This is that story. This article will make part 3 of 4 in the story of our behind-the-scenes edge, the process known as “Beer Powered Beer”.
A problem that the Alaskan Brew Crew encountered early on was the question of what to do with the leftover malt grains from the brewing process. Breweries in the contiguous US traditionally sell their grains to local farmers as a source of feed. However, being without any local livestock, the Brew Crew decided to ship the grain South in a complicated and often expensive attempt to not overflow the local landfill. “This was a wasteful way to do it,” Geoff Larsen, Founder, notes, “but we knew of a different technology being used in Europe, the Mash Filter Press, and we decided to try that out here.” In 2008, the Alaskan Brewing Company became the 1st American craft brewer to install a mash filter press in place of a traditional lauter system.
Whereas the traditional lauter system works much like a drop coffee maker, the mash filter press is an espresso machine. It finely grinds the grain and then presses it with water and an intense amount of pressure. Using less water and grain, the process reduced Alaskan’s grain requirements by five percent and water usage by millions of gallons per year.
But perhaps most importantly for the Brew Crew, this innovation left the crew with a much drier leftover grain ultimately paving the way for a final innovation which would forever change the breweries operation: a grain-fueled boiling system. While you might assume grain burns easily, it’s actually one of the least consistent fuels – especially when wet. After years of failed forays into a cutting edge technology, the Alaskan Brewing Company would be able to patent a brand new system for drying and repurposing that grain to power brewing operations. Pioneering the process that we would dub “Beer Powered Beer”.