From the HBD Archive
From: Bob Devine 26-Feb-1992 1335 <>
Subject: review of Coors tour (241 lines long)
Date: 1992-02-26 20:38:15 GMT

The "Deep Wort" club took a VIP tour of Coors brewery on February 8th.
Since I promised a write-up of the tour, here it is. I tried to record
all the info but my pen lost the tiny roller about midway through.
If anyone finds it in a glass of Coors, please return it! :-) :-)

Coors is located in Golden Colorado. This is a town west of Denver
and is right along the foot hills at the base of the Rocky Mountains.
The brewery is easy to find since the town is small the brewery is big.
Just look for the tavern that advertises "The Freshest Coors Possible"
and you are close!

Our tour guide was Susan. She conveyed enthusiasm and joy in working for
Coors without being a cheerleader. Plus she was full of knowledge. She
was good -- not a corporate drone nor someone who just memorized a script.

- ---------
Coors has the world's largest single-site brewery. It's HUGE! It makes
1.5 million gallons of beer per day. The old definition of a microbrewery
being one that makes less in one year than a major brewery spills is
definitely true here.

All of Coors' beers start with the same basic grains and use the same yeast.
The beers are:
Coors - a light American lager; their mainline beer.
Extra Gold - in the jargon of US beer distributors, this is called a
"super premium" beer. This beer has won its category
at the Great American Beer Festival a couple of times.
Coors Lite - 3rd largest selling brand among all beers; its
accounts for 60% of total sales
Keystone and Keystone Dry - aimed at the cheap beer crowd
(has pictures of NASCAR race cars on the packaging)
Coors just went national with Keystone Dry.
Cutter - their new low-alcohol beer. Cutter is the
only Coors beer that is pasteurized.
Killian's - Coors bought the rights to the beer's _name_ 10 years
ago when the Irish brewery shopped its name around
because of it was near bankruptcy. The recipe was
changed from the original...
Herman Joseph - this is a premium beer. The name comes from the
founder of Coors: Adolph Herman Joseph Coors.

All of the beers are made at the Golden Colorado brewery except the
Cutter line which is made at their new West Virginia location. Coors
also has an agreement with a South Korean brewery named Jinro (Ginrow?)
where some production will be done for the Far East markets.

All beers are (now) sold nationwide. The Coors Extra Gold is exported
to Greece now and will soon be sold across Europe. [This information
caused a lot of sniggering from the club, with a few suggesting that
Coors will have to label it a "light" beer. -Bob]

Coors is structured as a nearly self-contained corporation:
- it has agreements with farmers to grow certain strains of barley
- it makes its own cans and bottles through a wholly owned subsidiary
that is located a few miles away from the brewery
- it owns hundreds of insulated rail-cars and trucks to ship its beer
- the brewery itself does the grain storage, malting, mashing, fermenting,
and lagering all in one connected series of buildings

- ---------------

The tour was organized to follow the process of making beer. We started
with the a description of the grains and adjuncts used and then moved through
the malting house, into what the guide called the "production room" and
then finished in the packaging area.

Coors supplies the barley seeds to farmers in Colorado, Idaho,
and (I think) Wyoming. At the end of the season, grain is bought
from those farms where the crop produced barley of sufficiently
low nitrogen and protein levels. Any rejected grain is either
used by other breweries (no names mentioned...) or sold for
cattle feed. If anyone is driving through Colorado's San Luis
valley, you will see billboards proclaiming that "this farm
grows barley for Coors". There are yearly awards given to the
barley farmers who produce most or best grain.

The "triumph" and "moravian 3" strains are used now. Others were
used in the past and, undoubtedly, others will be used in the future.

This is added to make a lighter bodied beer but with the desired
alcohol level. Both rice and corn starch are used in all the
beers except the "Herman Joseph" brand.

The rice comes from California and Texas. Not much else said.
The corn starch is derived from corn grown, for the most part, in
the US Midwest "corn belt" of Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, etc.

Crystal and other specialty grains:
Are made on-site. However, the sample of crystal that is used
to make the Killian's Irish Red brand didn't look like the typical
crystal that homebrewers buy. It looked less shiny and didn't have
the crystalline crunch when bitten [okay, okay I'll repay Coors for
the few kernels that I ate -Bob]

Water comes from underground springs located around the town of Golden.
The guide, when asked how the water is treated, said "nothing is added
or removed" from the water. As someone who has lived along the "Front
Range" of the Rockies in Colorado, I can tell you that the water is
very soft. There is little hardness because the water passes over
mainly granite and sandstone as it drains out of the mountains.

Coors currently uses the following blends of hops for all beers:
40% imported aroma hops (Perle, Hersbrucker, Hallertauer
and Strissol-Spalt) from Germany
40% domestic aroma hops from Washington, Idaho, and Oregon
20% Chinook hops for bittering

All you hop heads would have drooled over the hops ready to go into
the boil. There were 3 containers (should I call them "hoppers"?)
near the boilers, each the size of large garbage cans, that
were filled with loose, whole hops. Everyone wanted "samples" ;-).

The grain undergoes a 48 hour steep in water. We walked into
the area were this is done. I didn't count but there must have
been about 25 tanks on the 6th floor. Each circular tank is 24
feet deep and 16 feet in diameter. Grain is dumped in wet from
a spout located in the ceiling. When the steeping tank is filled,
it holds about 78,000 pounds of grain!

When our tour was there, several tanks were being filled. There
is something amazing to watch as nearly a _railroad car_ load of
grain is dumped into one steeping tank.

There is considerable out-gassing of the grain as it steeps.
I asked the guide if the water was treated in any way. She said
that it wasn't and what I was smelling was just the effect of
that much raw grain added to water. It smelled like "eau de barnyard"
when a blast of water hit the grain while one was sniffing.

After the steeping is over, the grain is allowed to germinate.
This occurs on the 4th floor. The wet grain is dumped in rows
that are about 5 feet deep, 15 feet wide, and approximately 70
feet long. I counted about 16 such rows. In the germination
room, the temp is kept at 53 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity is
at 100%.

As you can probably guess with such a huge amount of grain, all
grain is moved mechanically. An intricate series of augers and
pushers will move the grain after it is finished germinating.

The germinated grain is kilned for 14 hours. The temperature
used in kilning determines the color of the grain (ie, pale or amber).
As example of getting every little bit of worth from the grain,
all of the rootlets that were formed during the germination
but are broken off during the kilning are sold as cattle feed.

Mashing and Boiling:
Coors has 50 gorgeous copper brew kettles in their "production room"
on the third floor of the main building. Some of the kettles are
for mashing and some are for boiling. The boil kettles had a larger
exhaust "chimney". When we went to the floor beneath the kettles, I
could see that each kettle is wrapped with an insulating blanket.

Because we toured on a Saturday, there wasn't anyone present in
the room even though several kettles were in use. I don't know
what the normal weekday operations would look like but I'd guess
that only one or two people would be working per shift because
everything is highly automated. A large control panel is on
one wall that was festooned with lights and digital read-outs.

To make the Coors Lite or Keystone Dry beer, a proprietary process
is used. Details are scant but one Coors representative said that
the mash is 4 hours longer for for the Coors Lite brand a more
complete starch conversion. The new Dry beers undergo a "double
chilling" process after fermentation [sorry, I could not find out
the full details - Bob]. The alcohol level is higher in the Dry
beer because its starting starch level has been nearly all converted
to fermentable sugar.

After the mash, a huge press is used to get the most out of the grains
I didn't see it in operation but it appears that the spent grains are
loaded and then a hydraulic press squeezes to get a final running.

The beer is fermented at 8 degrees Celsius (~46 degrees Fahrenheit)
for 7 days. Coors does a high gravity fermentation and adds
water afterwards to get the desired gravity and alcohol levels.

While lots of breweries use diatonamous earth to filter beer,
Coors uses a series of huge cotton pads. I didn't count the
number of cotton filters used in sequence but I'd guess about
a dozen stages. After the filter has been used, the pads are
ripped apart, cleaned, and then reformed into new pads.

We sampled the beer as it left the filtering line. It was better
tasting than any Coors I've had. The beer didn't have the crispness
that lagering gives but it had a maltier flavor. In fact, the beer
we tasted was Coors Lite which surprised a lot of us.

Since Coors cranks out 1.5 million gallons a beer a day and they
lager all of it, that means a LOT of lagering tanks. There is
a building devoted to holding at least several weeks production.
(quick math: 1.5 million gals/day * 21 days ~= 30 million gallons
and since a gallon weighs approx 8 lbs, this is 1/4 billion pounds!)

We saw a can line in operation. Coors was the first to use aluminum
cans and also first to use seamless cans. The latest trend is to
minimize the can cost by reducing the size of the can top [hmmm, I
vaguely remember a calculus test question just like that! -Bob].
Each can is x-rayed twice to check for fill level and can problems.

- --------------

The tour ended in the visitor sampling area where everyone could have
up to two beers. We all hit that quota!

I left Coors with an very high appreciation for their production facility.
If doubt if there is a better run large brewery. Everything was clean
and there is a lot of attention to detail and efficiency.

However, seeing the majestic facility then points out some drawbacks. First,
one immediately understands that this is an _American_ brewery that is
extremely aware of marketing battles and current tastes. That is, the primary
goal is to please the most people so as to capture the largest market. This
thinking dominates. Second is a feeling best expressed by Dave Resch: "with a
place like this, they have the ability to produce a really fine beer, but
choose not to...". In the past, Coors made a bock beer. Coors' production
of a special Christmas beer each year is to be commended and encouraged.
I wish that there would be more special beers made, not just beer intended
for the widest possible market.

Finally, there are certain times when a camera is desperately needed;
this was one of those times. The sight of a dozen homebrewers
all wearing hairnets, safety glasses, and earplugs was worth preserving!

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