Brauerei Locher, a medium-sized European brewery in Appenzell, Switzerland, was growing. They needed to increase capacity and, at the same time, focus on sustainable development. Together with brewery experts from GEA, a solution was found that met all their requirements.

Owned by the Locher family since 1886, a combination of tradition and innovation has been key to the company’s success. The specialty beers brewed there each have their own unique and distinctive character, derived from craftsmanship and diligent manufacturing. Wishing to improve their filtration procedure, however, GEA worked with the forward-thinking brewery to install the first industrial-scale GEA clearamic BeerFiltration process line.

“As a long-term customer, Brauerei Locher was the perfect partner to pilot our new technology,” said Sonja von Lieres, GEA’s Product Manager, Beverage and Filling Technologies. “GEA had previously installed its brewhouse, a cold block and an automation system, so we already had a close working relationship with the operating team. That’s not to say that the recent project didn’t involve a number of challenges to overcome.”

Ceramic filtration

Beer is normally filtered to remove any remaining yeast and solids such as protein and hop-based polyphenols. This is often done using a fine mineral powder called kieselguhr. However, many countries have now implemented strict rules regarding the handling and disposing of kieselguhr, which can be expensive to adhere to. As a result, GEA has been exploring ceramic filtration as an alternative.

“It’s a perfect solution,” adds Sonja: “With GEA clearamic BeerFiltration, beer can be filtered completely waste-free and, as the membranes are ceramic, they can be cleaned with standard chemicals and have a long lifecycle. This makes them more sustainable and cost-efficient.”

Having discussed the benefits and advantages, Brauerei Locher agreed to try the new technology. The Locher system comprises a block of eight ceramic membrane modules, each with 45 membranes, an unfiltrate buffer tank, a media connection and its own clean-in-place (CIP) rail, which provides a throughput of 100 hL/h of filtered, waste-free and sustainably produced beer.

It's a perfect solution, with GEA clearamic BeerFiltration, beer can be filtered completely waste-free and, as the membranes are ceramic, they can be cleaned with standard chemicals and have a long lifecycle. This makes them more sustainable and cost-efficient.”–Sonja von Lieres, GEA’s Product Manager, Beverage and Filling Technologies

The sensory evaluation

“It was an exciting journey because, first, we had to keep adjusting the process to get the taste and quality parameters right; secondly, we had to meet the high standards of the brewmaster and the brewers because the quality and unique taste of their beer is so important to them,” notes Sonja.  

During sensory evaluation, however, the Locher staff tasted beer that had been filtered using either kieselguhr or new ceramic system to see if they could tell the difference. And, after a few adjustments, everyone was satisfied.

Convinced that clearamic delivers in terms of both taste and quality, and that it works automatically (during a week-long program), they plan to use it make Quöllfrisch, their flagship beer. Karl Locher, who owns the brewery, commented: “The sustainable approach that this system offers perfectly matches our corporate claim of being innovative and respectful towards the nature in the Swiss Alps. As a responsible owner and manager, the use of kieselguhr or plastic material in the production process is no longer an option.”

For GEA, the success of the pilot project means that the team has reached a point when they can sell the product to a broader audience. For all intents and purposes, the concept has been proved and is now in commercial operation. “Ceramic membranes have a long shelf-life of 10 years or more,” adds Sonja, “which positively impacts waste, maintenance and, of course, cost. GEA clearamic BeerFiltration meets the next-generation filtration needs of environmentally minded brewers and complements our whole-process solutions.” 

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