Friday, February 3, 2012

How to make a Panama

I finally got my tour of the production aspect of the brewery. I believe it was the last major function for me to meet with but obviously the most important because this is our lead product. I´ll explain the process as best I can and how I understood it. Those of you who are very familiar with beer, sorry if I miss steps, don´t know english terms, or tell it wrong. Feel free to correct me, Im still learning.

My tour guide was a wonderful woman, relatively new to the business, who works in TQM (total quality management) and was a hoot to tour with. She was funny and bubbly and made everything light hearted, pretty much a joy to be around. 

As with the tour of logistics, I had to put on some safety equiptment including the lovely beast boots, reflective jacket, goggles, ear plugs, and for the bottling area, a hair net. Completely decked out, we headed to the first phase where they bring in all the raw material. I received a lot of information in this step because we were able to rope in one of the scientists from quality control. Now don´t get too excited about quality control, at this point in the process it is not what you think. He worked on testing these machines and their output which is not excactly delicious to consume. As you can see in the picture, there are 5 tanks with the majority of the contents below the floor. The two in the foreground is where it all begins. Trucks bring in the grains and they are tubed into here to begin breaking the shells and remove the seed or whatever it is within. from there, water is added and it is heated to soften and begin extracting. From there it moved into the large center contained to begin draining the water and continue seperating the solids from the brewed liquid. The neat part is you can see into each of these large containers and check on the progress of the contents. The gentleman in the picture is Dutch, from Heineken International and is checking the machine's progress. I also have to tell you that this area smells like a field after a harvest... or a wet hot field after a harvest. After the shells and debris are seperated, they are transported to waiting trucks who carry the discharge back to the fields to be used as fertilizer. It is one of the bi-products of the process that the brewery sells back to continue the cycle. The last part of this first process takes place in the back two containers where the liquid is heated to boiling and brewed and stirred more. This is the point in the process where the beer begins to develop its bitter taste and starts becoming alcohol.

From the back two containes, the beer moves into the silos to fermente and essentially become beer. I would like to say that this is where the magic happens and it is all a waiting game. During the fermentation waiting period, the beer develops most of its flavor and texture. How long it is stored here, similar to wine, is how smooth or rich it will be as an end product. More time means less throat burn supposedly, but I don´t notice that. I am also not a beer conoseur by any means. Anyway... Panama takes 15 days. Budweiser brewed in the states I am told takes 25. And Heineken 28. Next time you have any of these or any beer for that matter, see if you can taste the time lapse difference.

When the time has come to move on from fermentation, the beer is moved into the filtration room where is it filtered 3 times and cooled. It was a nice room to spend time in beacuse it was cool but it was wet. I was able to get a detailed explanation of the process from one of the engineers who showed me the details on his computer, as the beer was being filtered through in real time. Because I saw it digitally, Im sorry I cannot explain what each of these tubes does.

From filtration, the beer proceeded to the bottling area which was probably my favorite part. While I do not think I was cut out to study engineering or even logistics, plants and distribution centers fascinate me. Even at Limited Brands and Victoria´s Secret I was in awe of the efficiency, processes, and flow of the whole process. Amazing. Anyway, I was not able to take a lot of high quality pictures because my guide and I weren´t really sure we were supposed to or not. Either way she said snap fast and I was able to get the basic steps.

I think it would be best to start with an overview of the facility. Below is a picture of most of the bottling area for bottles and includes maybe 1/3 of the process for cans, which I will explain next. Bottling starting at the open garage door where the light in pouring in. Similar to recycling in Michigan, bars, restaurants and even grocery stores put a down payment on bottles because they are expected to return them to the brewery to refill. The green stacks just inside the door are returned crates of bottles.

Top view of parts of bottling

The crates are placed on the line and go through a machine that removed the bottles from the crates and puts them on a belt to the washer. This GIANT machine washes the interior of the bottle and removes the lables and production date. Walking by it is smells like a giant dish washer and is very moist. Also as you walk along it, you walk by containers that catch the paper waste from the labels which appear completely washed out, sticky and slimy. Very cool machine.

taking empty bottles out of returned crates

After coming out of the washer all sparkley clean, the bottles are steralized and sent to the filler. I don´t remember the technical names of all of these but they are referred to by their brand name or maker name and not their purpose which makes describing the process funny. Something like from the Klinger they go to the Crown then the Henderson. I liked walking past all the windey paths the bottles take because along their supposed road to being refilled, random samples are taken automatically by the machines to be tested for cleanliness, fullness, etc. So a bottle could just be traveling along when all of a sudden it is pushed out of line for inspection. Kind of like TSA only actually random.

This blurry picture is actually a pretty cool machine. The green blur to the right are the bottles being filled while spun. The green blur to the left are the full bottles being capped.

Here is my tour guide walking past two of the lines. On the right the bottles are on their way to the filler, which is behind me. On the left are the full bottles coming out of a cooler, on their way to be sorted back into crates and redistributed to the eager public.

The canning process was a bit smaller as there is more of a tradition of bottles than cans here in Panama. If you can see it in the picture, the sign above this machine says Llenador de Lata (can filler) in case there was any doubt. The cans come in on the other side of the piller and go through the spinney thing in the middle to receive the liquid. Then then pass through the blue part which carbonates them. From here the cans move to...

A Pastuerizing machine. The cans are sprayed with hot water that is not too hot (ruins beer) and not too cold (fails to pasteurize) all through this long machine until they come out the other end and move into the packaging area. If you look closely you can see in the little window the cans getting sprayed.

 Again this is an overview of the plant´s bottling area. You can see in the bottom left hand corner the diagonal line where the cans are moving toward final packaging.

 I have to say I am getting closer to achieving another one of my goals working her ein the brewery which is to appreciate beer. After knowing more about the process and seeing it first hand, I definitely respect it. My last little step will be when I actually like and want beer which is also close, because I am now loyal to a beer brand, Panama.

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