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Must be something in the water at MadTree Brewing Company

Don’t underestimate the importance of water in brewing beer. Because water comprises about 95 percent of beer, many craft brewers contend it is the most essential ingredient in brewing, insisting that it can make all the difference between a good beer and a great beer. That’s why MadTree Brewing Company invested in a reverse osmosis (RO) technology that purifies the water it uses for its beers, helping the award-winning craft brewery create authentic regional-style beers from around the world with consistency and repeatability. 

Since it launched in 2013 in Cincinnati, Ohio, MadTree has used a RO system to produce its worldly and diverse range of classic and specialty beers. The brewery makes four core beers and eight to 10 seasonal, limited-edition beers every year. They range from a German Kölsch-style beer to a spiced Scottish ale to a bourbon barrel-aged American super stout to a Belgian saison. The company has since become the second largest beer producer in Greater Cincinnati, on track to produce 35,000 barrels of beer this year. It distributes its craft beers to restaurants, grocery stores and sports arenas in Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee, as well as serving them in its own taproom.

To keep up with growing demand for its craft brews, in February, MadTree relocated to a 52,000-sq-ft, 100-barrel manufacturing facility, which includes a 4,500-sq-ft taproom and bar and a 10,000-sq-ft outdoor beer garden — a space that is more than quadruple the size of its original 12,000-sq-ft, 15-barrel brewhouse. The move prompted the company to upgrade its RO system to ensure it can continue to consistently create high-quality beers efficiently and sustainably at greater capacity.

Reverse engineering

MadTree installed the SIRION Mega Reverse Osmosis system from Veolia Water Technologies. The craft brewery uses the water purification equipment to treat the incoming municipal water before it enters the brewing process. The SIRION Mega Reverse Osmosis system exerts about 150 to 250 psi of pressure to water and forces it through the pores of a semipermeable membrane that removes up to 97 percent of dissolved inorganics and more than 99 percent of large dissolved organics, colloids and particles. By stripping out the hardness and alkalinity from the water, the result is a high-purity water that serves as the foundation for all of MadTree’s beer recipes.  

Once the water is purified, MadTree brewers adjust and manipulate the water chemistry to replicate the water profiles of particular regions where various beer styles hail from. This typically involves incorporating one or more of five main salts (calcium sulfate, magnesium sulfate, sodium bicarbonate, calcium chloride and calcium hydroxide) at specific ratios to create the right balance of hardness and alkalinity to match the water sources of the beer styles. For example, to make the Czech pilsner, MadTree brewers recreate the mineral-free soft water of the Czech Republic city of Pilsen. On the other hand, the hard water of Burton-upon-Trent in the United Kingdom is laden with calcium, magnesium and sulfates — ideal for India pale ales. While the bicarbonate-rich water of Munich, Germany, and Dublin, Ireland, yields the dark German dunkel and Irish stout, respectively. 

With the SIRION Mega Reverse Osmosis system, MadTree is able to continue to treat the art of beer making as a science. The high-purity water from the RO system provides a neutral base to consistently and reliably produce a variety of global beers that are true to their origins. 

“We’re unique in the brewing industry. We’re one of the smaller segments of brewers that choose to treat all their incoming process water through reverse osmosis. From a brewing perspective, it gives us more control, another kind of artistic canvas to operate on in terms of water,” says Matt Rowe, director of brewing operations for MadTree. “Obviously, the primary ingredient of beer is water. So the taste in mineral profile has a big impact on the final product flavor. So having RO allows us to have a little bit more flexibility to replicate beers from around the world as well as just another artistic palette to operate on.”

Efficiency at work

The SIRION Mega Reverse Osmosis system also enables MadTree to increase throughput while reaping the benefits of water efficiency. The recovery rate for the SIRION Mega Reverse Osmosis unit is 85 percent, as compared to the 75 percent recovery rate of the previous RO equipment MadTree used. In addition, the brewery’s previous RO equipment could only process approximately 10 gallons of water a minute. The SIRION Mega Reverse Osmosis system purifies about 100 gallons of water a minute.

“It was a much slower process before. We were really hampered by how fast we could produce beer in the process by how fast we could essentially produce water to use in the process. So with a much higher rate of throughput with this new system, we never have any processed water issues, which is fantastic,” Rowe says. “We don’t find ourselves waiting around for the RO to generate the water needed for the brewing process anymore or having to worry about how much water is left in our storage tank. We’ve got a system that can easily outpace what we need for production with this new unit from Veolia.”

MadTree is also saving energy with the SIRION Mega Reverse Osmosis system. The unit is equipped with variable frequency drives (VFD) to control the speed of the pumps without wasting energy. The VFDs ensure the pumps operate at an optimum flow rate based on factors such as the volume of water being processed and the amount of ions, molecules and other particles that need to be removed from the water. Because the pumps don’t usually operate at full speed, the unit yields about 20 to 35 percent energy savings, according to Rowe. In addition, the low-energy membranes require less pressure and energy to move the water through the membranes while still maintaining a high impurity rejection level, further saving on electricity costs. 

In addition to the energy and water savings, MadTree is impressed that Veolia was able to integrate the brewery’s existing Ignition plant management software from Inductive Automation into the RO system along with Veolia’s cloud-based program that monitors the unit for predictive maintenance. 

On the horizon

The RO system will play a crucial role as MadTree hones in on expansion. The company aims to become a strong regional player on the craft brewery scene. It wants to expand to at least five to seven states over the next five years, with the goal of producing about 100,000 barrels of beer a year. That means the company may install another SIRION Mega Reverse Osmosis system in its facility to ensure it has a steady and reliable source of high-purity water, which is key to producing more of its craft brews with consistency and repeatability, according to Rowe.

“We spent countless hours manipulating and charting each batch of beer brewed to achieve a desired result, then defined the specific steps to be repeated to consistently produce the desired recipe and process,” Rowe says. “Controlling the incoming water for our brewing process is critical to ensure we maintain consistent quality and taste as we grow.”