HE-BREWS: A Micro View into A Microbrew

Introduction
If there is a word that can be used to describe the unprecedented growth of microbreweries it is explosive’. There are more microbreweries than ever in the U.S., accounting for $22.3 billion of revenue and 21% of market share. In 2015, the brewery count stood at 4,269 breweries: 2,397 microbreweries; 1,650 brew pubs; and 178 craft breweries. In essence, this dynamic growth has in essence reshaped the playing field, both in quality and new offerings. Of course, the success of the microbrewery is changing the face of the beer industry from traditional to innovative, which obviously impacts the typical kashrus perception of a microbrewery.
It was previously assumed that microbreweries were more purist than their ‘big brother’ counterparts. This means that they would not deviate from the strict rules of the reinheitsgebot-German Beer Purity laws. Is this still true today? And if not, what is the kosher status of a contemporary microbrewery?
Kashrus Kurrents has the extreme pleasure of interviewing two former brewmeisters of The Boston Beer Co., Head Brewmeister Grant Wood, now of Revolver Brewery, and Brewmeister Colin Willard. Below are their answers and perceptions on this dynamic and changing industry.

KK: What qualifies a brewery to be classified as a microbrewery?
Grant: This definition varies. I think most people consider a “Microbrewery” to be under 15,000 bbl [Imperial measurements actually include the measure of barrels. A 15 barrel system is 15 bbl.] of production per year. Some may put it at 30,000 bbl/year.
Colin: There is a definition from the Brewers Association of what qualifies as a craft beer. They have guidelines around being small, independent, and traditional. “Small” meaning brews less than 6 million barrels/year. “Independent” means that a brewery cannot be more than 25% owned by an alcohol industry member who themselves are not craft. And finally, “traditional” means you are adhering to standard must-follow historic brewing processes and ingredients. They have loosened this part of the definition in the past two years to accept the use of adjuncts (corn, rice, oats, etc.) as traditional ingredients.

KK: What is the difference between a “microbrew”, “craft beer” and “artesian beer”?
Grant: Not much difference. I think they are all describing the same thing, though artesian beer might be a very small batch brewery.
Colin: For me there is no difference, as the process and ingredients are the same. The only difference is the scale at which they are produced. All three of these beer “categories” are likely going to produce interesting, full flavored, and traditional beers. Again, the brewers association provides some perspective and definition here.

KK: Typically, is the equipment in a microbrewery new or used?
Grant: There is no ‘typically’. If I had to guess, I’d think that there is a good market for used brewery equipment and that small companies tight on money will go the used route.
Colin: The startup capital costs for a brewery are significant because of all the tanks and vessels which are required for brewing. I would guess brewers that started up 10-20 years ago often sourced used or repurposed equipment and tanks. As the industry has exploded in the past 5 years, the number of equipment manufacturers making brewing-specific equipment at all size ranges has increased, such that most new breweries are starting with new equipment. However, I am aware of several brewers that sell equipment as they grow bigger. For example, since one local craft brewer was growing they bought equipment from a larger brewer who was looking to trade out their smaller stuff for larger. It’s like when I moved with my family as it became larger and we bought a bigger house. A family with younger kids almost always ended up buying the house we were leaving behind.

KK: Describe a boilout.
Grant: What you call a ‘boil-out’ we will call a CIP, or Clean in Place. In the brewhouse, this means rinsing with hot water (180°F) and then cleaning with a pump and sprayballs with 2-3% caustic solution for 30 minutes, followed by a water rinse with hot water. Once a week we will also run a hot (170°F) dilute phosphoric acid solution through the kettle and other brewing equipment. Fermentation tanks are cleaned after every usage: Rinse, caustic CIP (160°F), Cool Acid rinse, sanitize with peracetic acid solution.
Colin: For us, a boil-out is making a cleaning solution inside the kettle/vessel, recirculating it through associated piping and then back into the kettle so there is some turbulence in the cleaning process, as well. The cleaning solution is a caustic (NaOH-sodium hydroxide) based solution which is sourced specifically for cleaning and has other additives to assist in the breakdown of soils.

KK: Do the kettles require boilouts between production of products?
Grant: No. The brewhouse side of the brewery that makes the wort (the liquid extracted from the mashing process during the brewing of beer or whiskey) will not always be completely cleaned between types of brews.
Colin: Yes, however the frequency will vary based on the brewery and specific design elements. We use external wort heaters, which are cleaned frequently to avoid fouling and getting dirty. This allows us to clean the kettles less frequently because the heating doesn’t actually occur in the kettle. We clean the kettles once per week currently and never go more than 2 weeks during our busiest part of the year.

KK: Is there a boilout after each ‘specialty’ brew?
Grant: Highly likely. I imagine most brewers would want to make sure they were clean after such a brew.
Colin: Again, it is hard for me to say. It likely depends on the brewer. However, while some cleaning of the kettle is likely it may not be a full boil-out.

KK: Are boil-outs at or above cook temp?
Grant: Likely below. Wort is boiled at 212°F. Most brewery brewhouse cleaning occurs at 160°-180°F with 2 -3% caustic solution. The fermentation vessel, which contains the cooled wort/beer, will likely be cleaned above the fermentation temperature.
Colin: No, it is not likely the boil-outs are higher than the cook temp especially if chemicals are used that may become less effective at high temperatures.

KK: Do microbreweries adhere to the Reinheitsgebot German purity laws?
Grant: Typically, no.
Colin: Often times yes they do. However, the use of flavors, fruits, spices, and other novel ingredients is increasingly popular so it is safe to say the Reinheitsgebot is not strictly followed in most American craft breweries.

KK: Are there any regulations that must be followed for microbreweries that don’t follow the purity laws? If yes, what are they?
Grant: We must follow Federal TTB1 regulations that are primarily tax based regulations. Breweries are not covered under the FDA or USDA directly. Brewers do mostly follow sanitation guidelines and Good Manufacturing Practices to maintain sanitation. Larger breweries will often use FDA style inspections for accessing sanitation procedures. The brewery may also be subject to state and local sanition inspections.
Colin: The regulations which apply to all breweries regardless of size, are that of the TTB. They have regulations on what is considered a beer and which types of things must be declared in a statement of process before a beer can be sold. I do not think all of these regulations apply if beer is sold only at a microbrewery on tap and not actually packaged. I am not an expert on these regulations by any means.

KK: What percentage of microbreweries use 100% barley vs. other grain additives, such as rice?
Grant: Unknown, but many breweries use other malted grains aside from barley, like wheat and rye. Many use sugars of various origins. I use some flaked maize, agave, and honey in a few of my brews.
Colin: The use of adjuncts, rice and corn predominantly, requires specialized equipment in most cases. It is my guess that most microbreweries do not have this equipment and are, therefore, brewing with predominantly malted barley. However, malted wheat is very popular and is likely used in all microbreweries. I would expect to find oats and rye in most microbreweries, as well.

KK: What percentage of microbreweries use flavors and spices?
Grant: Unknown, but many will.
Colin: I would guess most microbreweries are using these in some frequency in a portion of their beers.

KK: When a flavored variety says “honey porter” or “spiced”, are other flavorings added other than 100% honey or pure spices?
Grant: Perhaps. It can be hard to know. Many beers are simply listed as “brewed with natural flavors”. Natural flavors is a pretty broad collection of things.
Colin: The TTB provided expectations on what you can call a beer and how it can be labeled. For example, ‘brewed with honey’ means the honey is added in the hot side or brewing part of the process, but if it says ‘flavored with honey’ it is added in the cold side, or finishing of the beer. If other flavorings are added and the package is labeled, it would have to declare in some way that the beer was made with flavorings.

KK: It is rumored that lactose (milk sugar) is typically used as an additional ingredient. Is lactose used only in milk stouts, or is lactose used in other varieties?
Grant: Lactose is sometimes used to add body and a mild sweetness, particularly to stouts. It would rarely be used in other styles.
Colin: Yes, lactose is an ingredient several breweries use. I would guess that yes, lactose is primarily used in milk stouts; however, we are using it in a different style. I think in general it would be out of place in other beers. It could, however, be used.

KK: What is the purpose of adding lactose?
Grant: To add mild sweetness to beers that are very astringent or bitter. Lactose is not fermentable by brewer’s yeast.
Colin: Lactose helps give the beer a “creamier” or fuller body. Some of the unfermented portion of the lactose also helps give the beer a little sweetness.

KK: Do any varieties of beer use grape wine as an ingredient?
Grant: No specific varieties, but some brewers may use barrels that previously contained grape wine. You can’t really clean a wooden barrel.
Colin: I am aware of some beers which are aged with wine grapes, but I am not aware of any blending wine and beer together. Some beer is aged in used wine barrels. While this beer is likely not kosher, it is delicious.

KK: It has been rumored that specialty brews use actual oysters or bacon as flavorings. If used, what percentage is comprised of oysters or bacon flavoring?
Grant: There are beers occasionally made with oysters or shellfish- Oyster stouts. I have heard of ‘bacon’ beers, but it is unlikely that it’s actually bacon. Bacon is very fatty. Lipids and beer do not go well together. Bacon flavor is often derived from smoked barley malt.
Colin: Yes, these sorts of things have definitely happened. I would expect they are a very minor portion of these beers and that the solids are removed from the final beer, so only the flavor or essence is left behind. I am not an expert here and would hate to hazard a guess on percentages.

KK: Does the oyster or flavoring go into the brew tank or is it added later?
Grant: It is usually added raw to the brew kettle and is cooked by the heat of the boiling wort.
Colin: Flavors can be added to the brew kettles on the hot side, but more likely true flavors are added on the cold side as the beer is being finished. There may be non-kosher ingredients added to kettles. However, things added to the kettles are more likely natural ingredients because there is an advantage to the label stating that it is brewed with an ingredient rather than flavor. Of course, oysters would be considered natural from a labeling perspective. Perhaps we should study the TTB labeling rules a bit more closely. For instance, if a beer states “Brewed with Oysters”, my guess is these were added to the hot side.

KK: Are isinglass finings typically used in a microbrewery as a clarifier? If not, what is used as a clarifier?
Grant: Typically no, though some do. There are other methods of clarifying: mechanically by centrifugation or filtration, non-animal derived finings, etc.
Colin: Yes, some brewers may still be using isinglass. I know it can be purchased but am not sure how prevalent its use may be. Some use chill proofing aids such as silica gel and PVPP,2 which help bind with impurities in the beer so we can then remove both the impurities and the chill proofing aids.

KK: What GMPs (Good Manufacturing Practice) are generally employed to clean the kettles after a variety using non-kosher ingredients?
Grant: CIP with hot water and caustic solution.
Colin: We would perform a kettle boil out or brewhouse CIP. The brewhouse CIP is more comprehensive and would include all tanks and vessels in the brewhouse. Additionally, we would clean the wort line from the brewhouse to the fermentation vessel.

KK: Aren’t beer products subject to ingredient declaration?
Grant: I don’t think they always are. “Other Natural Flavors” covers a lot. There are more that will issue allergen statements, such as for wheat, nuts, peanuts, or shellfish.
Colin: As discussed above, there are labeling regulations associated with the label panel and name of a beer, but the TTB regulations do not specifically require labeling beer with an ingredient statement. Beer does not fall under FDA (Food & Drug Administration) regulations, so not all FDA laws and regulations apply to beer as defined by the TTB.

KK: Thank you, gentlemen.

SUMMARY OF STAR-K MICROBREWERY STANDARDS:

1) When a microbrewery ‘deviates’ from the German beer laws, it generally means that they will use cereal grains other than barley, (i.e., rice or corn) that would not affect the kashrus status of a microbrewery.
2) When a microbrewery brews other ingredients in the brew kettles, the product label will state, “With Natural Ingredients” or “Brewed With Natural Ingredients”. This could include non-kosher ingredients (e.g., oysters). There is no set limit or percentage for additional ingredients. This could affect the kashrus of a microbrewery that brews these varieties.
3) Typically, after a specialty production the brew kettles are cleaned. However, a brewery CIP (Clean In Place) does not qualify for a kashering.
4) When a microbrewery states “Flavored With”, ingredients are added cold. Flavors that are added in a cold blend would not affect subsequent productions of non-flavored varieties.
5) If a microbrewery is not venturing into the “sea of oysters”, then stout, standard lagers, IPA’s and pilsners are acceptable. Once STAR-K research has determined that the microbrew has met the kosher criteria, the microbrewery is acceptable.


1. Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau
2. Polyvinylpolypyrrolidone (polyvinyl polypyrrolidone, PVPP), is a highly cross-linked version of PVP, making it insoluble in water, a highly cross-linked modification of polyvinylpyrrolidone.