Beer Playground

Monday, October 21st, 2019

The Danish brewing company, Royal Unibrew, continues to resolutely pursue its strategy focussing on regional brands and specialty beers. For this purpose, it has now installed a complete microbrewery from Krones, plus a Kosme bottling line, in its Albani facility. And the new MicroCube, with a brew size of 25 hectolitres, is something like a playground for the Albani Brewery. If the types of craft beer brewed here manage to be a success on the market, the brewery will from then on be producing them on a larger scale in the conventional 420-hectolitre brewhouse.


Royal Unibrew is Denmark’s second-largest brewing group, originating from the merger of the two Danish breweries Jyske Bryggerier and Faxe in 1989. This was followed by more take-overs in subsequent years—such the Albani Brewery in Odense, or also Tauras in Lithuania, Cido in Latvia and Hartwall in Finland—and resulted in the group’s present size. Today, Royal Unibrew produces around nine million hectolitres of beer, malt and soft drinks a year.

At present, the most important markets are Denmark and Finland, the Baltic states, plus Germany and Italy. One of Royal Unibrew’s strengths is dark, non-alcoholic malt drinks, and the group is northern Europe’s largest producer in this beverage category. The Vitamalt, Supermalt and Powermalt brands are particularly popular in African and American markets. Moreover, Royal Unibrew fills Pepsi-Cola beverages under license in northern Europe, makes its own soft drinks and has most recently taken over the soft-drinks firm Terme di Crodo in Italy.


Demand For Specialty Beers Is Rising

With its many regional beer specialties, Royal Unibrew has a very broad brand portfolio, which it continues to upsize—on both regional and national levels.

Since the group is quite rightly presuming that consumption of craft beers and other beer specialties is going to rise still further, in 2017, Royal Unibrew installed one 25-hectolitre MicroCube brewhouse from Krones each in its Albani Brewery in the Danish city of Odense and in the Hartwall Brewery in Finland. For the latter, Royal Unibrew also ordered a Craftmate can filler.

Albani is one of the group’s two breweries in Denmark. Its output comes to roughly a million hectolitres, almost half of which is accounted for by non-alcoholic malt drinks. Here in Odense, the biggest city on the island of Funen, Royal Unibrew uses the new brewhouse for two purposes:

  • Firstly, as a pilot brewery, or as a playground to experiment with new flavours
  • Secondly, as a showcase brewery, offering daily guided tours and featuring a brewpub seating 140 guests—this is because directly in front of the historic Albani Brewery, an impressive brick building, a new pedestrian zone is currently taking shape, which was a downright invitation to Albani to give the front of its premises an appropriately appealing design.


Gathering Some Experience With New Beers

The brewer Flemming Skyggelund is visibly proud of the new brewhouse. In the first year, he tells us, he had already brewed 35 different beers:

“We want to gather some experience with new flavours. That’s what consumers are looking for.”

He has been working with beer for almost 40 years now, without ever having had any training as a brewmaster. Until the MicroCube was commissioned in the Albani Brewery in April 2017, he had been employed at a small brewery that had been taken over by Royal Unibrew.

“Beer is my life,” confesses Flemming Skyggelund.

Today, he has the privilege of brewing something quite special: the “Stockholm Syndrome”, a beer to which hops are added nine times over, including cold-hopping, resulting in 100 bittering units. The recipe for this comes from Anders Kissmeyer, one of the craft-beer trend’s founding fathers in Denmark, who is likewise well-known on the US-American craft-beer scene. For Albani, the Danish brewmaster has developed a whole series of craft beer types that are also being marketed under his name.


Anything Goes

Usually, three brews a day are produced in the MicroCube in two eight-hour shifts. Occasionally, it may be as much as five brews, which then require two twelve-hour shifts with two operators each. The three-kettle brewhouse features a mash tun, a lauter tun and a brew-kettle with integrated whirlpool and vapour compressor, and is controlled by the Botec F1 software. “Where I used to work before, I only had two kettles. Obviously, brewing is much easier with three kettles,” comments Flemming Skyggelund. Three hop-dosing tanks make for a high number of hopping variants. And the spectrum of beers is large as well. “Stout, porter, pale ale, Indian Pale Ale, tripel porter, wheat beer, kettle-soured beer, one lager beer or beers post-matured in oak Cognac casks – anything goes,” says Flemming Skyggelund, “and we keep on learning new things every day.” The most potent beer produced so far was a brew with an original gravity of 23.4 degrees Plato.

Andreas Falkenberg is the brewmaster and the filling hall manager. He is certain that he wants to stick with this high number of different beers in the future as well. In addition, the plan is to use the MicroCube as a playground, for trying out 10 to 20 new types a year, some of which will be exclusively on tap in the adjacent brewpub. “The MicroCube brewhouse works well, and offers us the degree of flexibility we expected,” says Andreas Falkenberg. And since demand for the specialty beers had been huge after the very first year, the brewery will be expanding its maturing capacities by another four 100-hectolitre tanks in late 2018.


Highly Flexible Filling Operations

The filling and packaging equipment have been accommodated in the same room as the brewhouse and the storage tanks. The Kosme Barifill has been integrated into a rinser-filler-closer block, with a Krones Checkmat then inspecting the bottles for fill height and proper closure placement. This is followed by a small six-zone pasteuriser, which – depending on what is currently needed – can be used for pasteurising or also for cooling the bottles. The Kosme Flexa is a modularised labeller, and therefore able to dress the bottles in either cold-glue or in self-adhesive labels.

The line handles a total of five different shapes and sizes of bottle, two of them holding 330 millilitres, two 500 millilitres and one 750 millilitres.

“On the line, we are producing around 60 different SKUs,” explains Andreas Falkenberg, “And the new line has substantially upgraded our flexibility levels. It’s predestined for relatively small quantities, in particular. We’ve already been able to remove one bottle type, the 500-millilitre long-neck bottle, completely from the big line’s programme, thus saving on change-over times there. If, however, we’re handling larger batches for a certain type, then we can, of course, use the bigger bottling line, rated at 35,000 bottles an hour. Which is what we’re doing for the Schiøtz and Lottrup types.”

For filling its craft-beer types into kegs, Royal Unibrew uses an existing kegging line. When certain beers are to be filled in cans, this is handled by the sister brewery in Faxe.

Thus, even though the new microbrewery has only insignificantly upsized the Albani Brewery’s overall capacities, it has, however, enormously upgraded its flexibility levels. And the parent company Royal Unibrew can thus successfully take its share of the lucrative and ever-growing craft-beer market.


Further reading:

Mintel UK: Alcohol Consumption Falls

Strong Asian Market Boosts Carlsberg Half-Year Sales