150 years of brewing: Everything remains different

Crises, climate change and AI are shaping industries around the world, including the brewing industry. As GEA celebrates 150 years of brewing, we look at how challenges are spurring technology. Our journey through the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world shows where we are coming from and why we remain enthusiastic.

A group of people enjoying a beer
Brewing history since the industrial revolution: GEA in the thick of it

In the 13,000-year history of beer, the past 150 years may sound trivial. But in that time, the brewing landscape has changed more than ever before, thanks to a technological leap forward. For centuries, brewing consisted of short-lived, rapidly fermented pub beers, which were transported in wooden barrels by teams of sturdy draft horses. With the industrial revolution, however, key technologies took over brewing that have held ever since – and shaped our predecessors at Huppmann, the basis of GEA's brewing business, from the very beginning.

Since the end of the 19th century, refrigeration has made it possible to brew, preserve and store beer year-round. Constant fermentation temperatures are now possible, and these increase the quality of the beer. Initially, Huppmann produced its own refrigeration technology. Energy recovery and control technologies were on the brewer’s agenda early on. Pasteurization was also finding its way into breweries at this time. It involves heating the beer to kill off unwanted germs. As a result, beer can be kept for longer and transported uncooled.
Springboard for brewing innovations

In the 20th century, wort boiling for the addition of hops represented a huge leap in efficiency, making hopping become much faster and more energy-efficient via a low-pressure process. Cleaning, consistency and hygiene in beer production improved massively at this time. As an example, corrosion-resistant stainless steel replaced the common materials of wood and copper for brewing and storage tanks. Automatic filling also helped the industry increase the filling speed and the quantity of beer sold. Above all, the aluminium can, invented in 1935, became a practical alternative to the glass bottle; it is lighter, more robust and stackable.

At the end of the 20th century, computer-aided brewing laid the foundations for precise control of brewing variables such as temperature, timing and the addition of ingredients. To this day, automation leads to consistent beer quality and greater efficiency in brewery operations.
A person working in the front of a computer

As early as the 1970s, Huppmann automated and controlled cooling and heating systems in breweries for efficient energy use. In the picture the automated brewhouse of San Miguel Mandaue Brewery, Philippines, in the early 1990s. Source: GEA

On the fermentation side (called "cold block"), hop extracts and pellets are becoming popular. They add bittering and aroma to beers much more efficiently than traditional whole-leaf hops. One of the key cold block achievements is the fully automatic cellar piping, which routes beer to the tank via short distances. This puts an end to product loss and contamination in the former hose mazes. In general, advances in microbiology are helping to better understand – and control – the fermentation behavior of yeast bacteria and other microorganisms.
Brewing technology: Here to stay

Do these technologies sound familiar to you? Probably, because they define brewing and fermentation today as they did back then – optimized for high performance by GEA, of course. Improvements in cooling, preservation, packaging and automation have all catapulted the production quantities, quality and efficiency of beer production upward and continue to dominate the KPIs of production planning. The history of brewing over the last 150 years reflects a web of cultural, technical and economic influences that have shaped the perception of the industry worldwide. If brewing deserves an adjective, then it is surely enduring.

And while the key topics in brewing haven’t changed, their weighting has. Consumers' expectations and companies' aspirations to operate with fewer resources in environmentally friendly ways bring new variables into the production equation.
Trends challenge technology

On the one hand, there are the trends of the zeitgeist: These include revived and new craft beer creations, from Belgian triple blonds to hazy IPAs, Italian grape ales and sour beer goses, which play with ingredients inside and outside the traditional German beer purity law and with aromas. These experiments demand a lot from the machines as they introduce cold or dry hopping, for example, and that's just as much fun for technologists as it is for the brewers!

Or look to non-alcoholic beers, which are now allowed into the holiest of places, even by the most tradition-conscious breweries: the Munich Oktoberfest! (Spoiler: We won't give any more away, but it's going to be really, really tasty.) No post-composition or flavor additives necessary.

Sustainability as an innovation lever

The other innovation levers – sustainability and digitalization – are not fads but opportunities. What we understand as crises for the brewing industry – high energy costs, raw material prices, CO2 shortages and supply bottlenecks – can make us dizzy at times. But brewers have a choice. When their product innovation cycles shorten to keep up with the trends, the real catalysts come into play.

Breweries can do so much more than just brew. They react best to changes in demand and use production facilities to flexibly process other beverages and when holistic engineering concepts adjust production to late manufacturing.

In the future, these holistic approaches will be strictly necessary. In order to achieve climate targets and comply with ever stricter regulations in terms of emissions, water consumption and waste disposal, topics such as heat recovery – from the refrigeration systems as well as many other process steps using heat pumps – will be indispensable. Imagine breweries without steam! Nothing is impossible.
Don't waste anything, reuse

Breweries can not only be low-energy or even CO₂-neutral but also take into account other considerations such as water requirements, residual materials and packaging materials. Think of which waste or side streams could become new business ideas. How can breweries open up their energy concepts to other external heat sources? And isn't a brewery as a supplier of excess heat the perfect hub in the municipal heat supply network? Heat can be recovered, and we can also capture CO₂ from fermentation in breweries to ensure our own carbonation. Using CO₂ instead of emitting it makes a virtue out of necessity.

And digitalization – not as a specter but as a powerful tool for operating faster and smarter, for avoiding energy peaks and for optimizing the efficiency of the brewhouse and cold block in the long term. Real-time production monitoring using AI is becoming more and more powerful at training brewing processes and fermentation across varieties and seasons. It also calculates energy and water consumption as well as material and brewing data. Who would want to do without these AI capabilities?
GEA InsightPartner, monitor your brewery performance

GEA has integrated predictive AI elements into its real-time monitoring solution for breweries to advance the sustainability of brewing processes. Image: GEA

Crisis, climate change, AI – fear not

The average brewer might see challenges on the horizon, but we see solutions. GEA is once again shaping the market, with high-performance technology and circular economy concepts on the path to digital transformation. The future of brewing is right under our noses asking that brewing industry acquire a second adjective: adaptable.

"In the evening, one becomes wise for the day that has passed, but never wise enough for the one that may come," wrote Friedrich Rückert in the 19th century, when Huppmann was created. Today, these words feel as inspiring as ever. We cannot predict tomorrow today. But we are smart enough to shape it.

Happy anniversary to all our colleagues who have helped create a product that has been creating community for 13,000 years. And many thanks to all our brewing customers around the world as well as our partners, competitors and friends who continue to challenge us.
GEA Brewing Club: The lucky ones

GEA Brewing Club: We do it ourselves

She has converted the garden shed into a small farm brewery. He furnishes the former children's room with brewing equipment. Taste testing among friends is pure joy. In the GEA Brewing Club, beer enthusiasts share their love of brewing. Everyone is welcome, whether skilled or unskilled, with or without a technical background. "Being a brewer is not compulsory with us. But having a passion for beer and its production is a must," says Dr. Mark Schneeberger, Senior Director Application Development Beverages and Beer at GEA. "For us, beer is an expression of creativity. We can shape every preference and mood into taste. We are among the lucky ones to be able to share this experience in our hobby brewing and also to do this professionally." A bock beer has just been bottled and distributed among the staff, and the next variety will be served at a summer party. So cheers, dear beer lovers!
Receive news from GEA

Stay in touch with GEA innovations and stories by signing up for news from GEA.

Contact us

We are here to help! With just a few details we will be able to respond to your inquiry.