DuClaw Brewing is using a giant 'HopGun' to improve its beer, and its process - Technical.ly Baltimore

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Oct. 23, 2015 1:07 pm

DuClaw Brewing is using a giant ‘HopGun’ to improve its beer, and its process

A local microbrewer is turning to automation to free up time for the fun stuff: ‘What kind of beer do I want to make?’ DuClaw President David Benfield gave us a tour.

DuClaw Brewing's David Benfield, dwarfed by the HopGun.

(Photo by Stephen Babcock)

Growing from its ’90s roots as a brewpub, DuClaw Brewing Company now churns out 24 seasonal beers a year. The beer is on shelves and taps are scattered across the mid-Atlantic. They even have a fancy outlet at BWI.

But those gallons and gallons of beer, which are produced in a nondescript warehouse at DuClaw’s brewery off Pulaski Highway in Rosedale, remain the work of a tight team of four brewers.

“Everyone thinks you’re so much bigger than you are,” said DuClaw President David Benfield.

Distribution has ramped up over the last few years, leading Benfield to search for new answers to speed up the process. The challenge for the area’s craft beer O.G., of course, is maintaining the flavor and quality of the beer, lest they should stoop to the tactics of the dreaded macros that they deride.

David Benfield of DuClaw Brewing Company

David Benfield of DuClaw Brewing Company shows off the bottling process. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

Benfield found a way to save man hours earlier this year by adding a conveyor belt and other machines for bottling, and another device that assembles cases. That frees up three people from building cases and two people from bottling.

The brewers, however, require something a little more revolutionary.

That’s where the HopGun comes in. Developed by BrauKon, the towering contraption is yet another product of German engineering. The shape of DuClaw’s version seems suitable for space travel, but the HopGun is actually designed for one of the most terrestrial portions of the brewing process.

“Think of it as a giant tea infuser,” Benfield said, leading a tour through the brewery earlier this week.

Falling between fermentation and filtration, the HopGun comes in when it’s time for dry hopping (i.e. adding hops for that aroma and flavor normally associated with IPAs). The HopGun saves time by speeding up the contact of the hops and the beer. Once its work is done, the result is a more intense hop flavor, but it also lasts longer. A comparison of DuClaw’s Neon Gypsy IPA with and without the HopGun’s handiwork bore this out. The flavors were cleaner and sharper, but not the bitter hop taste that can be overwhelming.

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Conveyors at the DuClaw Brewing Company.

Conveyors at the DuClaw Brewing Company. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

Along with making the beer better, Benfield said the HopGun also saves time for his brewers who used to add hops manually. He hopes that leads to more creativity. After all, they have a lot of seasonal offerings to create.

“These automation systems allow our very smart, very intelligent guys to think about, ‘What kind of beer do I want to make?'” he said.

Get a look at the HopGun at DuClaw’s Day of Retribution event on Nov. 7. Along with brewery tours, they’re serving beers that won’t be available on any other day.

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