logo

Making your own beer? Plastics make it possible

By: Rhoda Miel

April 4, 2014

CHICAGO — The craft beer movement is creating new interest in home brewing, and that interest is driving sales of introductory beer making kits complete with PET brewing equipment designed to make it easy for anyone to start brewing their own beer.

“It’s no longer just for the propeller heads, if you’ll excuse that description,” said Colin MacLennan, vice president of The Beer Machine Co., during an interview at the International Home + Housewares Show in Chicago March 15-18. “The machine makes it easy.”

In an American Homebrewers Association survey of retail beer supply shops, retailers saw business grow by 26 percent in 2012 alone and 80 percent of those shops saw their biggest sales jump in beginner homebrew equipment kits.

Home brewing was not even legal in the U.S. until the 1980s. When The Beer Machine launched 25 years ago, it aimed to keep things easy for a novice.

Reno, Nev.-based The Beer Machine’s starter kit comes with a two-gallon PET container that houses the beer during fermentation and chilling. It has integrated temperature and pressure monitors to make it easier to keep track of how the fermentation is going.

There’s also a tap to serve the beer once it’s ready.

The Beer Machine used to have its own in-house injection molding, with five presses ranging in size from 95 tons to 320 tons. MacLennan says the company was among the first to use PET in large scale injection molding, rather than in pre-forms and blow molding.

It opted to move plastics manufacturing to a Texas-based contract manufacturer a few years ago to focus on its ingredient packets.

“You can’t really be in both the engine room and the bridge at the same time, and our forte was on the mix,” he said.

MacLennan declined to disclose the molder’s name.

In addition to the PET barrel, The Beer Machine uses nylon for slide-on clamps and a cup and cap to house to pressure control valve. The valve itself uses a thermoplastic elastomer. The top cap, base and internal float are all made from polypropylene.

The company’s “BrewMaster” model also has six blow-molded PET bottles and caps.

Competitor Mr. Beer of Tucson, Ariz., has a similar 2-gallon container — also made in the U.S. — as part of its starter kit along with PET bottles.

Both companies — and the makers of other starter kits — sell a variety of packets to produce different beer styles at home, so all beginning home brewers need to do is add water and monitor the process. The Beer Machine lists 22 different styles of beers available for its users, ranging from an American ale to an Irish stout.

Compare the ease of an enclosed PET system to the more “hands-on” approach to home brewing that the first brewers faced. People trying to make their own beer from scratch even today are looking at five hours in front of the stove just to develop the liquid wort, said Shawn Halstead, sales manager for Mr. Beer, which is owned by Australia’s Coopers Brewing Ltd.

While there are differences between the makers of starter kits, they all are based on making the entire process easy to do from the beginning, including a PET container that helps to cut down on the likelihood of a messy accident.

And for any beer makers who feel they’ve outgrown the all-included PET system, it’s easy to move up to a more complex system that can make more beer and give brewers more opportunities to explore different beer styles. Those ones, Halstead noted, typically use high density polyethylene containers.