Monday, June 29, 2009

The Restaurant Business

Last November, I noticed this ad near the back of an issue of Restaurant Startup & Growth magazine:


When I followed web address, I was shocked at what I saw:

-No mention of boiling the wort.
-No mention of tank cleaning.
-No mention of oxygenation.
-No mention of how to deal with the CO2 produced during fermentation.
-No mention of how to troubleshoot problems without a qualified brewer.
-A requirement for a hot water source, but no warning that the water can't be softened.
-A 7-day fermentation cycle that includes two days of cooling. No maturation.
-A claim that three tanks equals five beers on tap at all times ("ask about mixing beers to produce additional flavors").
-A claim that ingredients alone cost $0.26 per pint, which makes a total cost of $0.30 per pint highly suspect.
-A claim that SPI's beer won a bunch of awards from a competition that I can't find any record of.
-A claim that a book written by Leigh Beadle, the company founder, started the US homebrewing revolution.

That's the short list. It's possible that Specialty Products International conducts itself with the utmost integrity and addresses all of these issues in their dealings with individual customers. I doubt it, though. If their system was really a convenient solution to a whole host of brewing problems, I'd expect to find at least find one mention of it in a search of brewing industry publications. One thing is certain: SPI isn't marketing its products to people who know how to make beer.

That bothered me quite a bit, but what bothered me more was RS&G's response when I wrote to one of their publishers to point out that the ad was likely exploiting their subscribers' ignorance: no acknowledgment of any sort. A "thanks for the info, but we need to honor our current agreement with SPI" or "you're biased and have insufficient credentials for us to take action on" or "we care more about ad revenue than actually helping restaurateurs" would have been fine. Pulling the ad would've sufficed as well, but it's appeared in every single issue since. I'm sure it brings in more money than my subscription, which will hopefully expire soon.

Does anyone who reads this weblog have firsthand experience with a Beadle Brewing System? I'd call SPI and ask a bunch of questions myself, but doing so with no intention of becoming a customer would make me feel dirty. That's why reporters are paid the big bucks.

14 comments:

Shane said...

I saw that the process had a patent. Here's the abstract to Patent # 5718161:

The invention utilizes a cooker to heat water and a pre-blend syrup of ingredients. Once the beer mixture is boiled for a sufficient length of time in the cooker, the mixture is transferred to a brewing vessel. A spiral spray nozzle is used to add water to the brewing vessel in a conical spray pattern which causes the water to be oxygenated once it passes through the spiral spray end of the nozzle. Yeast is added to the brew mixture and oxygenated water [ooh, sciency!] in the brewing vessel. The beer mixture is permitted to ferment in the brewing vessel for a sufficient length of time. The fermented beer mixture is transferred to a plurality of kegs, each of which contains a mixture of sugar and gelatin [mmm, mmm, good! I loves me some gelatin beer!]. The sugar and gelatin allow the beer mixture and age and clarify. Once the beer mixture has aged a sufficient time, the beer mixture is dispensed from the kegs. The system of the invention includes a keg cleaning device for simultaneously depressurizing the keg while hooking up the device to the keg.

So you get a can of 'pale ale' syrup, 'stout' syrup, or 'red ale' syrup, throw it in the tank, set it and forget it! It's the Ronco way of brewing!

It's amusing that this person is trying to claim the crown of the originator of the homebrew craze from back in 1971, when the act wasn't legalized until Jimmy Carter repealed homebrew restrictions in 1978.

All in all, sounds like it works to get 'beer', if only by definition. IMO, this is treading the line between caveat emptor and deception.

...and with one last google search, I found more folks calling Mr. Brew-it-Yourself out (link)

Joe said...

Ok, so the patent addresses the oxygenation issue (although I'm skeptical about its effectiveness). I'm still concerned that a lack of boiling in the brewing vessel would pose a sanitation problem, especially since an employee has to manually mix everything together. It's interesting that the patent includes kegs, which aren't part of the system being advertised. You could pump much more beer through each tank with kegs, and the kegs could be served through a bar's existing draught system instead of needing to make room behind the bar for bulk tanks. Maybe the additional liquid transfer was the "straw on the camel's back" in terms of reliably noticeable microbial contamination.

Anonymous said...

Joe,

These are no more than over priced uni-tanks. It's a hot water / liquid malt extract process.

You have to read the detail more close. The line no spent grains to get rid of should have given it away. And your a rocket engineer.

They sell you liquid malt extract you mix with hot water, it's pre hopped. At $65-$80/bbl is not a bad price.

The best lines are.

And Most Important-No Brewmaster!

Just Real Profits For Your brewpub

Our malt extract brewpub systems assure absolute consistency and very drinkable beers.

On another note;
Congrats to you and your wife on the new little one.

Joe said...

Hey Anonymous, thanks for the well-wishes!

I never questioned that the system uses hopped extracts and a single tank for mixing, fermenting and serving. Convenience and compactness don't exempt the brewer from cleaning, sanitizing (more than just the tank), oxygenating, managing CO2, fixing broken hardware and making sure the water supply doesn't flow through a salt pile. None of that stuff is mentioned in the website, and that's why I want to know about people having firsthand experiences with the system.

Jeff S - Sun Prairie Wort Hogs said...

I don't have any experience with the system (brewing with keggles at home), however I have certainly tasted the poor results of unscrupulous (or perhaps unwitting) restauranteurs who have added extract-only systems to their business. In one specific example, the beer was pure cidery drek. To that end, I had the blessing to work part-time at the Appleton Homebrewmarket. On one saturday afternoon, a restaurant operator with an extract (no-boil?) system purchased every pre-hopped LME can off the shelf and every last pound of cornsugar we had in stock. Amazing.

Gage Mitchell said...

Wow, this quickie-cheap "beer" system sounds scary at best.

This reminds me of a problem we have in the graphic design industry where we have to compete against a whole slew of cheap logo design websites offering $149 logos.

"A fraction of the market price. Cheap logo design now means quality. Arguably the best logo designers portfolio on the net. Unbeatable high quality design."

Riiight. All for $149. I'm sure the cheap logo will be very original, well thought out and remain effecting for decades.

Anyway, I digress, but I'm sure you see the similarity here. The good news for you is that your brew pub will be in Wisconsin, a real beer living state. So you probably won't have to compete against any people buying this "beer" system and trying to drive you out of the market with your fancy grain brewed beer. You elitist you. :)

Thanks for sharing.

Regards,
Gage

Joe said...

Haha, "type your name in the form field and watch it appear in the logo! Only $149!" We're such snobs.

Anonymous said...

Joe,
Can't say I've brewed on such a system (would not stoop that low), but I have tried the "beer" at 2 bars that have the system, and heard from other beer judges about a third.
Both places I went served watery thin, heavily infected blends of various concoctions that came out of the system. Wild yeast phenols were rampant. The third location has the same reputation amongst judges and beer-o-philes (aka Beer Geeks! LOL).

Good luck in WI. Wish I could come by and see what you are brewing. Kind of a long drive from VA just for a beer.

-Beerking
BJCP Master Beer Judge
Head Brewer, Battlefield Brewing

Joe said...

Hey Beerking, it sounds like my suspicion is confirmed. If you're at next year's Craft Brewers Conference, hopefully I'll have some beer to share!

GroverDill said...

Shane wrote:
"It's amusing that this person is trying to claim the crown of the originator of the homebrew craze from back in 1971, when the act wasn't legalized until Jimmy Carter repealed homebrew restrictions in 1978."

I can't speak for the quality of the beer produced by this system (though extract beer does generally suck, in a big way).

Well I agree that this guy certainly didn't start the homebrew "craze" in 1971, but in his defense, he did write a book on homebrewing back then (even if it was basically a commercial for his own brand of malt extract, then called SUPERBRAU...which, a;; things considered, was a good product of its type).

But the reality is that homebrewing has been around for a lot longer than 1976 (when it actually became legal_...I myself started brewing at home on a regular basis in 1969. Hell...my grandfather in Pittsburgh was brewing at home every two weeks back in the 1920's.

I will agree though, that the idea of a brewpub without a brewmaster essentially making the beer equivalent of canned soup is pretty sad. Most brewpub beer is lousy enough WITH a brewmaster...I can't begin to imagine what THIS stuff must taste like.

Joe said...

GroverDill,

I don't think anybody's disputing that Leigh Beadle wrote a book on homebrewing. It just seems unlikely that his book was responsible for a massive resurgence of the hobby. If it was, then the homebrewing community pulled off one hell of a cover-up.

Where are you drinking all of these bad brewpub beers? The ones here in Madison (as well as in Ann Arbor, MI) are wonderful.

Anonymous said...

I am a brewer for many years now who is considering buying this sytem to open a brew pub. I too am very sceptical. after calling leigh and asking many questions i learned more about the sytem.. here are a few things he told me: yes there is no actual boil... because the liquid malt extrats have all ready been produced and the sugar are there but the need for sterilization becomes apparant.. he said the unit heater heats the LME to 150 for 30 minutes.. he claims that this will pasturize any bacteria's.. then the wart is cooled by adding water.. just how we cool 5 gallon buckets now.. while the unit is filling up and cooling down it is also mixing the wart. then the yeast is added.. fermentation takes about 5-7 days.. one issues for me is do i have to use thier pre fabbed LME with hops added or can i use briess LME, purchase my own hops and yeast.. he said yes that other products will work in the system.. he also mentioned that people do take their "kit recipes" and modify them by adding flavor grains and hop teas to the batches. i would think this would dramatically improve flavor but also drive up the cost of the beer.. as far as cleaning and sterilization I asked about that too.. leigh said they tanks are easy to clean and steralize.. there is a small trudge tray that catch the hops.. there is access to the tank from above and there is drain out valves on the bottm. so it seams as if steam water and sterilzation solutions would easiy take care of bacteria's. I am really wondering about this sytem.. for me the boil isnt about the LME.. because the sugars are produced.. but pasturization and sterilization are a must. my concerns about no boil is the hops and the procedure here. many of the hop oils are lost in the first 30 minutes of boil but some crucial oils do stick around. this sytem would seem to utilze dry hopping techniques. a technique i am not that familiar with. but i am thinking boiled hop teas could be added to the batches for better flavor as well as specialty grains.. I am seriously considering buying this sytem.. does any one else have any pertinat information regarding these SPI systems.. or can any one refer me to a better LME tank system that could be used in a brew pub. Mahalo David

Anonymous said...

also forgto to mention on the water issue.. off course we would plumb in a reversed osmosis water system to fill the tanks.. any help on this sytem in this discussion is greatly appreciated before we drop the coin and any referal to other uni tanks would be great.. aloha david

Anonymous said...

I just got done looking at one of these systems for an unfortunate soul that bought one. They are a joke. For starters the tanks are cheaply and crudely made. If you notice the location of the faucet on the tank you have to ask yourself how do pour off the entire thing. You attach beadles special basket strainer that has a ball zip tied to hit and it just floats around in your beer. They also come with a modified TC cap for the bottom. It has three ball valves welded to it. One is just a hole through the cap. this is for pumping in your water. the other two have barbs. one for a carb stone that is attached to a six inch bit of hose and just lays in your yeast. the other is for said floating basket(you would use this instead of the faucet for a long draw system). It is said that SPI is selling these things and getting away with it. It should be criminal. It is an insult to the craft beer industry.