Strathmore Brewing: Automation and the Future of Brewing

While I usually keep this website free of anything other than my thoughts on music, marketing and other written things, I decided to re-post some of the article written about another interest of mine – making beer.

Photo: Brent Lewin

Photo: Brent Lewin

Matt Braga of the National Post came out to brew beer with us and pieced together an article about the electronics system we use to automate certain processes and inform us of control information such as temperature and boil time.  We’ve worked out 3 iterations of the system and will probably have a couple more generations before everything is proper enough to be used in a commercial setting.  One of the partners in Strathmore, Josh Vlodarchyk, put it best:

“I want it to be like a dishwasher,” says Josh Vlodarchyk of Strathmore Brewing’s Raspberry Pi-based setup. “I want to turn it on, and my phone will tell me what to do.”

By creating automation during certain steps of the process, even smaller scale breweries are able to achieve commercial-grade efficiencies in wildly smaller batches, traditionally a problem in home and nano-brewing.  Above and beyond quality is the issue of man hours, using automation we are able to reduce the amount of hours spent monitoring and correcting plus it removes the need to have more people on hand to make these corrections.

But Strathmore co-founder Mr. Camisso points out there’s only so far microcomputers can get you in reaching your vision.

“You can’t automate taste. You can’t automate barley. You can try, but it’s organics.”  he said. It’s part of the reason why even BrewBot — for the moment — still requires its operator to manually add grains and hops at specified times.

This is an important factor to remember as well, even with full automation you still need to have a good recipe, sense of timing and most importantly, taste.  When we started brewing there were little things in each batch that we started to pick up on the more we brewed, you have to drink a lot of different beer to really understand quality differences and, while it’s a tough task, we certainly undertook a harsh regimen of self-education in this vein.

We aren’t Cicerones (the beer version of a Sommelier) but our friends often give us puzzled looks if they let us talk about beer flavour for too long.  There are so many little details that go into every beer you drink and every one of those unique pieces has been thought about for hours on end, even established beer recipes evolve over time to meet marketplace adaptations, this can be a months long process.

“We were actually quite surprised at our home-brew beginnings, how consistent we got with it. And of course, we attributed it to monitoring and controlling those temperatures down to that small degree,” said Mr. Larocque, who literally transplanted his Arduino-based system from their old basement setup into Broadhead’s current industrial space.

“When we went commercial, we had that confidence to know we were able to be consistent — which, of course, when you get to that scale, is even more important.”

This quote from Broadhead Brewing hits the note perfectly and puts into context the idea of alternative business modeling that systems like the Arduino allow.  Broadhead’s example of investor-free brewing is the first large-scale Canadian example of a basement operation turning into a micro-scale brewery simply by creating consistency first and working their way up from there.

15 years ago when home computers were becoming more price accessible, recording programs rendered bulky analog studios obsolete, the trend has been both positive and negative for the music industry but it has made everyone’s product far easier to produce.  In the same way, Arduino systems could be the next big evolution in the brewing industry by allowing smaller scale breweries with great recipes to compete directly with established competitors at a fraction of the cost.

It is difficult to say what the impact will be on the industry as a whole but for now it certainly creates an advantage for those willing to learn the intricacies of automation.

– Aaron

P.S. –  If you haven’t read Matt’s article yet, here it is.
P.P.S. – You can find more information about us on Facebook for now.

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One thought on “Strathmore Brewing: Automation and the Future of Brewing

  1. Good morning . My name is Mark Bassel, Sales manager for Prospero Equipment. We have received a contact request from Aaron asking for info and pricing on a brew house and 12 BBL system. I am trying to reach Aaron with some questions, but cannot seems to find a direct email or phone #. Please ask Aaron to contact me asap- I would like to get him his info. I can be reached by phone at 514-242-3878.

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