20 years of brewing and no sign of stopping
by Jason Lowrey
Dec 01, 2013 | 5486 views | 0 0 comments | 72 72 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Senior Brewmaster Daniel Kahn explains how varieties of rice and barley are used in creating the brewery’s beers. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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When Anheuser-Busch first announced it was considering building a brewery in Bartow County, it was no sure thing. In fact, then Vice President and Group Executive Barry H. Beracha put the chances of actually building the brewery at 80 to 85 percent. It all depended on sales, he told The Daily Tribune News in December 1987.

Since the initial investment 20 years ago, the Budweiser brewery has expanded twice. Its employment has risen from 416 to approximately 600. Now it’s not only the newest brewery in the United States, but one of the best in the Anheuser-Bush Inbev company.

“But the neat thing about Cartersville is, because it is our newest brewery, there’s been a lot of benchmarking. We have 140 breweries across the world and we have a lot of benchmarking activities, and people come here to learn about some of the best practices we’ve developed here. It’s something we’re proud of,” said Plant Manager Rob Haas.

Haas has managed the Cartersville brewery for three years. However, he also was involved in some of the first engineering when the plant was built.

“I graduated with an engineering degree and I wanted to work for a company that was going to grow globally, a place I could put my talents to use. I grew up in the Midwest, worked with Anheuser-Busch, came down here for a start up, loved it,” Haas said about his career. “I moved all over the world. I worked in China with the company. I’ve worked in London, England. I’ve been in four different breweries here, so 24 years later, this is a fun job.

“The neat thing about it, I think, is that you’re always trying to improve a process, and I like process improvement and I like working with people. So, if you take the two together, you get to work on improving processes with a great group of people. I think every morning I get out of bed I’m happy to come to work, after 24 years what more can you ask for?”

Brewers are like rock stars with developed palates

Senior Brewmaster Dan Kahn has been working for Budweiser for 27 years. Even with the technical knowledge he has about the process of making beer, and the automation involved, he said he continues to learn something new every day, so brewing never gets old.

“Frankly, people enjoy learning about our process. We make a very unique product. Making beer is still very cool, and I still very much enjoy making beer. I’m not getting sick of it. It just gets stronger all the time, and I think we’re seeing that with a lot of our people,” he said.

The basic ingredients of beer are water, malted barley, hops and yeast. Without all those ingredients, at the very least, Kahn said you don’t have beer.

Hops, Kahn explained, are what give beer its distinctive flavor and scent. Some are better for flavor and some are better for the aroma, and both types are added at different points in the brewing process. In order to get a consistent flavor from batch to batch, hops are loaded up into bins a floor above the brew tanks. As the mash of water and malted barley is boiled, the bins open and the hops slide down the chute into tanks. The process is automated to give brewers as much control as possible in the brewing process and create a form of consistency.

The enhanced automation is one of the biggest changes in the last 20 years, said brewer Rick Grimes. He has been with Anheuser-Busch since the brewery opened.

“A lot of automation, more automation. Of course, when we started up, this was the most automated brewery in the world at the time it started up. It’s gone up from there, got more automated, and the brewers are a lot more in touch with the complete process, not just here and there. ... I started out down in fermenting ... we were all in fermenting, so there’s another group that started off in the brewhouse and now we’re all pretty much cross-trained in different areas. So we’ve learned a lot along the way about the whole process,” he said.

When the malted barley, water and hops mixes together, Kahn said, a process starts where the brewers have only so much control.

“As good as we are — and this is not simply mixing ingredients and coming up with the final products — what we saw in the cookers is a biological process. There’s enzymes that’s converting stuff, there’s some different crop years, there’s how the growing seasons were, subtle differences,” he said.

Those subtle differences require breweries to taste everything: the water coming into the plant, the mash when everything is mixed, the wort formed once the grain is separated from the liquid, the fermented beer and the bottled beer. Everything is tasted on a daily basis, meaning brewers must become well-trained in detecting even the smallest difference in flavor.

“Because we are so good at tasting, because we have a process to train people, and we do it on a regular basis, we’re looking for subtle little differences that nobody could every detect. But that’s what we have to do to make sure our beer tastes exactly [like] what we want it to taste like,” Kahn said. “So a lot of time and effort goes into that and a little subtle concern that I may have about the beer may go totally unnoticed by somebody else. That is what we do — we taste at a very high level.”

Brewing, though, can be as much fun as it is science.

“Everybody thinks we’ve got the best job in the world,” Grimes said. “... I met some kids at Six Flags, this has been some years ago — you know, you’re standing in line with people for an hour waiting to get on a ride — [they were] college kids and we finally got around to talking about what you do, and I mentioned working for Anheuser-Busch and Budweiser and that kid liked to fell out. He was like, ‘Man, you’re kidding. ... You’ve got the best job in the world!”

Kahn noted brewing Budweiser and other beer brands with large fanbases was one of the job’s perks.

“What’s really neat about that is people identify with what we do. We make a very special product that people ... they’ve got strong opinions about it, and it’s always a lot of fun to interact with people when they find out what we do. It really is a neat part of the business,” he said.

<*C*p(0,0,0,11.65,0,0,g(P,S))>Waiting on fermentation, sprinting to bottle

Once it’s brewed, the beer is sent down to a fermentation tank where yeast is added to convert the sugars to alcohol. The process also naturally carbonates the beer, as carbon dioxide is released. The beer will sit in the massive tanks for five to seven days. This beer, Kahn said, is called green beer because it’s not yet finished.

The beer is chilled in the fermentation tank, and once it’s ready for the next process, the yeast is pulled out of the mix and stored for another use. It can be used up to 10 times before it’s worn out, Kahn explained.

Once the yeast is removed, the beer goes to a chip tank where it will be stored for three weeks. The chip tank acts as a secondary fermentation period, and it’s called a chip tank because large amounts of beechwood chips are raked across the tank’s base. The beechwood is sterilized and it’s not used to give the beer any sort of flavoring. Rather, the wood chips provide a surface area for the yeast to settle on as the beer mellows out in the tank. The Cartersville brewery has 140 chip tanks on two floors.

After sitting for three weeks, the beer is drained from the chip tanks and chilled to 28 degrees Fahrenheit. This chilling causes anything remaining in the beer to clump together so it can be filtered out before going to the bottling stations.

“When we get to packaging, we want to package as quickly as possible, and we want to minimize the oxygen because we want the beer to be very fresh,” Haas said about the bottling process. “We want it delivered fresh. So we take a long time in the process in brewing, but in packing we want to be very quick and efficient so we can deliver it to the consumer very quickly.”

Cartersville ships out 250 trucks per day. Supplying that demand are bottling machines that can fill 900 bottles a minute after rinsing and filling them with carbon dioxide to purge them of oxygen. Air is the enemy of beer, Haas said, as it causes it to age and become flat.

If it’s beer in a can, the brewery has a large machine akin to a centrifuge that spins at high speed as it purges and fills aluminum cans at a rate of 2,000 per minute. It gives the cans an extra shot of carbon dioxide once they’re full in order to keep air out before the top is attached with a rolled seam.

Once the cans or bottles are filled, it’s off to pasteurization where the beer is slowly taken up to 140 degrees, held there for a few minutes and gently brought back down to room temperature.

After that’s finished, containers are packed back into the boxes they arrived at the brewery in, warehoused and shipped out.

You can bottle all you want, we can’t buy it

When it was first announced in 1987 Anheuser-Busch was looking at Bartow County land in order to build a brewery, liquor sales were not allowed in Cartersville. An effort was made in 1977 to pass a referendum on package sales and sales by the drink, but it failed by 77 votes, according to the Oct. 5, 1988, edition of the DTN.

Earlier in 1987 a petition attempt by Forward Bartow to allow alcohol sales in the county failed to gain traction, so it would give Anheuser-Busch too much credit to say the plant announcement spurred local efforts. However, it did have a small role in encouraging organizers.

Bartow County was in competition with sites in Fulton County and south of Gainesville in addition to a Tennessee site and land in Alabama for the Anheuser-Busch plant, so when it was reported July 8, 1987, the company was looking at putting a plant in the county, it was not a certainty. The investment was valued at $300 million and was expected to create approximately 500 jobs.

The late Bartow County Commissioner Frank Moore asked citizens to look at the prospect “in a very positive way,” according the July 9, 1987, edition of the DTN.

“I would hope that the people of our county would look at this project in a very positive way and look at the number of jobs it would provide and the improvements to the total economic outlook of Bartow County,” he said.

By August, Moore and Cartersville Mayor August Dent felt compelled to hold a press conference in support of Anheuser-Busch where they read from prepared statements. The Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce was on hand as well to support the company.

”The thing that we as individuals must consider is this is an economic issue and not a moral one,” Dent said, according to the Aug. 4, 1987, DTN. “It doesn’t matter where Anheuser-Bush locates its Southeastern operation, there will be no more or no less beer sold in Cartersville or Bartow County. From the economic view, they offer to this city and county an investment of $300 million, plus an annual payroll of approximately $30 million and we haven’t even talked about taxes. Its presence in the community would be just like having a second Georgia Power plant, helping to keep our taxes lower and making jobs for you and your children.”

Moore expanded on Dent’s theme of looking at the economic rather than moral implications of the brewery.

“Some concern has been expressed about the morality of the manufacture of malt beverages in our community. It is a point of view that I both understand and respect. However, the location of the Anheuser-Busch brewery, regardless of the site selected, is much more than a moral issue,” he said. “We are all capable of making up our own mind, of making our own personal choices as they relate to our habits and behavior. But as our own governor has said, it is a legal industry welcome in the State of Georgia. And certainly welcome in Bartow County.

“The issue at hand is an issue involving our future economic well-being, the education of our children and jobs, not only for those of us now in the workforce, but also our children. The issue is one of positive economic growth and a quality of life for us all to enjoy in the years ahead. It is no compromise to work hard for that which is best for all citizens — in this case, welcoming of an environmentally clean industry that will benefit us all —now and in the future.

“I welcome Anheuser-Busch to Bartow County and believe that in doing so, I speak for the majority of the people of our community,”

In the same edition of the DTN, the Citizens for Better Living released a statement opposing the brewery and any alcohol sales in the community. Chairman Douglas Cochran and Vice-Chairman Michael Howren released it to the press.

”Citizens for Better Living opposes the product that this plant manufactures. Our principles and convictions are truly being tested during this time as we fully understand the economic values of such a facility,” the release read.

“However, we continue to stand on those convictions that we believe are best for our entire community. We cannot compromise on this issue! Citizens for Better Living is asking you to declare that you want Bartow County to remain a place that holds virtue above vice and convictions above the dollar.”

For a little more than a year it was unknown if Anheuser-Busch would actually build a brewery in Bartow, though they acquired options for roughly 900 acres off Interstate 75 and near Cass-White Road. The company officially said it was considering only Bartow County in December 1987, but it wasn’t until July 1988 that Anheuser-Busch committed to building the brewery. The announcement came at a luncheon in the Cartersville Civic Center with then Gov. Joe Frank Harris in attendance.

"When a Fortune 500 company such as Busch announces its decision to locate in Georgia, it again bears out my optimism for the future growth of the State of Georgia,” Harris said at the luncheon, according to the DTN.

Lewis C. Justus, writing for the DTN, reported, “[August A. Busch III] pointed out that, ‘from the first time Busch expressed an interest in the possibility of locating a brewery here, we have had nothing but outstanding leadership, cooperation and diligent efforts from the leaders of Cartersville and Bartow County and the State of Georgia. Such support was one of the key elements in our plant selection.”

The brewery was built over a period of five years, with the first batch of beer being brewed in April 1993, and by June of that year, it was shipped out to wholesalers.

Meanwhile, Citizens for Growth worked throughout 1988 to get package sales and sales by the drink onto a referendum within Cartersville. They delivered approximately 1,500 signatures to the Cartersville election superintendent at the end of August 1988, according to the DTN.

In February of that year, Citizens for Growth Chair Julia Weems credited Anheuser-Bush with inspiring the referendum attempt in Cartersville after a countywide effort failed.

“We started after Forward Bartow County failed, but more importantly, we wanted to wait to do this after we were certain Anheuser-Busch would purchase property here,” Weems said.

The referendum was held Oct. 4, 1988, and both questions passed by more than a 100-vote margin.

Last call is a long way off

When the official announcement was made July 1988 that Anheuser-Busch was coming to Bartow County, the company made a $100,000 donation to the United Way of Bartow County over a period of three years. Since then, the local brewery has only become more involved with the community.

“Well certainly ... Cartersville is pleased to have a world-class manufacturer and a world-class company like Anheuser-Busch, ABInbev now, as part of our community,” said Cartersville Mayor Matt Santini on the brewery’s 20th anniversary. “Not just for the quality jobs and the quality investment in our community, but also a really strong corporate citizen who is always going above and beyond in philanthropic endeavors and helping those that [are in] need, taking leadership positions in our community and really being a part of us. We’re honored to have them as such a strong community partner.”

In addition to matching employee’s donation to the United Way dollar for dollar, the Cartersville brewery has donated more than $150,000 to the Hickory Log Vocational School over the years, in addition to hosting the Beautiful Backroads Century fundraiser in its parking lot.

Environmental efforts are important programs as well, since the brewery has a 99.8 recycle rate, which is better than the corporate average.

“We recently just won, for the second time, Keep Georgia Beautiful Award and that was for our waste reduction,” said Michelle Cooper Kelly, senior resident manager at the brewery. “I think the beauty that I love about this company is the relationship that we have in the community, and our employees take a lot of pride in our annual cleanups for the Etowah River basin as well as Lake Allatoona and the relationships that we have. Habitat for Humanity, we just built two houses this year; it’s a new venture for us and it was very successful.”

Even though the brewery produces some of the most popular beers in the nation, something as simple as canned water is what some employees are most attached to.

“I think this is what we’re most proud of. We’re a brewery that makes emergency canned drinking water and get it to places of need very, very quickly. But, you know, we take a lot of pride in our beers, but when we run this, people take extra pride in it,” Haas said. “When we shipped it up to Hurricane Sandy victims last year, a lot of folks who started this brewery 20 years ago came from our New York brewery, and so there was a special attachment because a lot of their friends and family in New Jersey were drinking the emergency drinking water that we canned here in Cartersville.

“This is something we are uniquely positioned to do. We can get emergency drinking water anywhere in the 48 states very, very quickly through our wholesaler network.”

A regular stock of canned water is kept in the brewery’s warehouse, and when the supply reaches a certain point, they can more.

For Haas and Kahn, looking ahead was difficult as their business is ruled by consumer tastes. One thing Haas could predict with certainty was the importance of education and the plant working with local educators and the Bartow County College and Career Academy to find replacements for employees who will be retiring in a few years.

“I think the person that’s going to be successful in our industry has a different set of skills than a person who was successful 20 [ago],” Haas said. “Some things are always going to be the same. You need the ability to learn. You need to be highly engaged and you need to have strong work ethic — those are three basics that never go out of style.

“But the person that’s going to be successful in our environment is going to have good technical skills, they’re going to have a good math background, they’ll be able to read well and write well, and work very, very well in a team environment. Everything we do is in a team environment here, and that’s very, very important for us.”