»It gives us more control and creativity«
In the land of Denmark and small town of Svinninge, To Øl City is our new home, warehouse, brewery and playground. The plan is to build a brewery that gives us the flexibility we have always dreamt of, and establish a cold chain from the packaging to the consumer that preserves the quality of the beer so much better. Meet Tim Selbach, head brewer, and Michael Knoth, factory manager at To Øl City who are both here to help make this dream of a city come true.
»I’m probably one of the only Germans ever who came to Denmark to study beer. But I never regretted it,« Tim Selbach says. As head brewer at To Øl City, Tim is in charge of recipe-development and brewing the beers. With 26.000 square meters of space and 12 buildings to fill, the plan for To Øl City is to create a city of life. And it all begins with the brewhouse, which is why Tim calls it ‘the heart of To Øl City’. Just like the heart pumps blood around the body to keep it going, the brewhouse pumps the vital wort around. To the fermentation tanks, to the barrel-ageing compound and to the distillery and wild beer programme. As the blood is our life force, wort is the life force of beer and spirits.
Check out the full To Øl City story as we’re releasing the webdoc-episodes. The second episode “The Plan” is out on youtube here.
»We’re not just making regular beer here – we’re also setting up a big barrel-ageing programme and eventually also wild beer production and spirit distillation. All these share the need for wort, and the brewhouse is pumping wort out to the different brewery elements distiller and then it all comes back as the final product. It’s supplying all the other projects and facilities with life, you could say,« says Tim Selbach, adding: »We went for full flexibility with this project to make sure it’s possible to brew every beer style we wish.«
Let’s get technical. What Tim means by flexibility is that this fully automated five-vessel brewhouse is set up to do everything from heavy stouts to kettle sours and super hoppy IPAs. There are also plans for a yeast propagation plant with three tanks, which will make it possible to do smaller experiments, resulting in new and exciting beers.
»We even have a HopBack, which is something not everyone has. It’s a new piece of equipment that will enable us to load the wort even more with hop aromas before it goes into the fermenters,« Tim says: »This simply means the beer will be more awesome, It’s as simple as that. We can catch more of the hop aromas without creating any bitterness, so we can do even juicier beers than we’re already doing.«
Until now, To Øl has been a gypsy brewery, travelling and brewing beers on other facilities. With To Øl City, we’re bringing the full process back to Denmark, which means full control and creativity.
»You’re in contact with the beer as it moves through the different steps every day. You can taste it, you can make adjustments to it. When you do gypsy brewing, of course you’re creative during the recipe-creation process, but then you send it off to trusted external brewers, and a month or two later, you get the beer back. But then that’s it. You can’t change it – it’s in the bottle. That’s it,« Tim says: »Here, if we do a beer where we add, say, coffee or vanilla, after it’s been added, we can taste it and say, ‘no, this needs twice as much’, and then we’ll just do it. And the beer will be exactly like we want it to be. So it gives us more control and hands-on creativity.«
Having our very own brewery is more work, and more headaches, but it’s also much more rewarding. At To Øl City we’re in touch with everything every day until it’s a packaged product. We can adjust and tinker, and use that knowledge to make even better beer the next time.
Cold chains & space saved for later
A few years ago, Michael Knoth’s daily wardrobe included a suit and tie working as a craft brewing consultant. Today, he usually sports a worker jacket or coveralls. He’s known on site as the sheriff of To Øl City, being in charge of the many different processes and craftsmen making the brewery a reality. Officially, he’s factory manager. He remembers seeing the old ketchup factory for the first time and walking around in awe. Laughing. And beginning to see how a long list of ideas might actually become possible to realize.
»The physical space didn’t have any restrictions on the ambitions for the place. Then you begin to question the responsibility of taking on this much space, but now, almost a year after we first came here, we’re talking about not using all the space and saving a bit for later,« says Michael Knoth. As it stands right now, we’re able to do 30,000 hectolitres beer per year at To Øl City. That’s three million litres and around nine million bottles.
What will really set To Øl apart from most craft breweries in Europe is the cold storage facility inherited from the former food factory and the cold chain, we’ll be setting up from brewery to beer drinker.
»Danes are used to pasteurized beer that has a nearly infinite shelf life. But there is a giant gap in quality between a product with a long durability and a fresh product. It’s like milk: We can buy the UHT-treated milk, which can last indefinitely and hang out at room temperature, but we would much rather have the fresh milk, which tastes so much better. The same applies to beer,« says Michael.
Not all styles of beer need to be consumed straight after brewing though – it’s primarily very hoppy beers like IPAs and Pale Ales that taste best when they’re consumed fresh. By keeping these beers refrigerated we’re ensuring the amazing aromas and flavors from the hops.
This is the peak of To Øl’s ambition, Michael explains: To move freshly brewed beer straight to cold storage and create a supply chain where the beers are transported to the refrigerators in the stores, so everyone can experience craft beers as they should taste – full of aromas, flavour and character. It’s not just a philosophy of beer brewing – we ultimately want to change not just the beers people drink but the way they drink them.
Tim elaborates: »We have this massive flexibility here, and a lot of special equipment that allows us to do the most awesome beers, probably in all of Scandinavia, with the highest quality. But we also have this massive cold-storage for all packaged goods, and as far as I know, we’re the first in Denmark to do this – to start the cold chain to the customer. This is normal in the States, and it’s getting big in the UK as well, but in continental Europe or Scandinavia, no one is really doing it,« he says, concluding: »Cold storage means fresher beer, and that means tastier beer. It’s that simple.«