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Case Study

Foothills Brewing


Customer: Foothills Brewing

Serving up Safety and Savings at Foothills Brewing

Brewing award-winning beer and ales doesn’t have to be a draining experience.

More than 2,000 breweries produce the beer brands made in the U.S and more than 90% of them fit the Brewers Association definition of craft brewer: small, independent, and traditional. One of these craft brewers is Foothills Brewing.


Located in Winston-Salem, N.C., Foothills Brewing produces six standard beers, and up to four seasonal beers, ranging from light golden ales to deep ambers and robust stouts.

Jamie Bartholomaus, president and brewmaster of Foothills Brewing recently decided to expand his business and opened a new brewing facility. He purchased the beer division of Mooresville, N.C.-based Carolina Beer & Beverage. The acquisition included the company’s equipment, trademarks, and all 12 beer brands— including the highly popular Carolina Blonde and Cottonwood Ale lines. According to Bartholomaus, Foothills Brewing will continue production without interruption, and will preserve the brewing integrity of every Carolina Beer brand.

Pulling the Plug on ‘Standard’ Operating Procedures

When Carolina Beer owned and operated the brewing equipment, the daily startup procedure began with opening condensate drains on the brewing and hot water tanks. However, intentionally draining condensate onto the floor wasted energy and created a safety hazard. This was standard operating procedure—perpetuating a method of operation that followed the equipment to Foothills.

Carolina Piping and Rigging installed the equipment at Foothills Brewing, and had worked with the prior owner, Carolina Beer & Beverage in the past. Dave Hensley from Carolina Piping and Rigging suggested that Foothills contact Spirax Sarco, to develop a design for a condensate return system that saves valuable energy and removes the safety issue.

When an account executive from Spirax Sarco asked Bartholomaus about the operations at Foothills Brewing, he discovered that the procedure was to open the drain valve during startup. They thought they had to do that every time - even in the restaurant-based brew pub. The operating procedure at Foothills was very similar to those at Carolina Beer.

The account executive explained how operations at Foothills could change. “If you’re moving to an industrial production facility and you’re going to have a bottling line, you really need to address condensate return and how you’re going to keep the equipment drained.”

Using Spirax Sarco’s Steam DesignPro - an intuitive Windowsbased software that enables easy modelling of steam generation, distribution, utilization, and condensate-handling systems - the account executive presented three options that would correct the condensate return issue at Foothills Brewing.

The three options included a simple, low-cost gravity return system; a high-end closed-loop system using the latest technology; and a middle-ground hybrid system that uses a combination of gravity return and closed-loop operation. Bartholomaus chose the hybrid system and the account executive agreed that it was probably the best solution for the brewery due to its cost-effectiveness.

Spirax Sarco supplied a vented pressure powered pump system to drain the heat exchanger, brew kettle, mash tank, and drip legs. Also, Spirax Sarco fitted Foothill Brewing’s new hot water tank with a combination automatic pump trap (APT) that acts as a trap and a steam-pressure powered condensate pump.

The heat exchanger provided all the hot water for the original installation. However, it didn’t allow for any hot water storage. Bartholomaus independently obtained a new hot water tank to ensure there is enough hot water available to completely fill the mash tank with water at the required temperature. By obtaining a new tank, Foothills would have consistent water temperature for the mash tank. The new tank also helps minimize load surges on the brewery’s boiler by heating water over a longer period of time instead of generating it on demand. This prevented the need for a larger or even a second boiler.

Brewing process

Kick the Bucket Trap

The situation at Foothills Brewing begs the question: “Why wasn’t the equipment working properly, either at Carolina Beer or at Foothills?”

The account executive explained that even when Carolina Beer operated it, the equipment, specifically the heat exchanger, brew tank, and mash tank, had inefficient bucket traps. The steam trap outlets were supposed to discharge all condensate from each piece of equipment into the condensate return system.

The system also had an under sized electric condensate pump. Not only was this pump under sized, it wasn’t designed to handle the condensate temperature. Because of the pump’s short life, it leaked every time they ran it, spilling even more water on the floor.

As with most craft breweries, Foothills runs a batch-type operation. “When the operators went to start the equipment, all of the steam space would be full of air,” the account executive explained. “This air must be vented to allow the steam into the equipment when heat is called for. The inverted bucket trap has difficulty in venting this air rapidly slowing the startup process by reducing rate of increases in temperature.”

While inverted bucket steam traps typically can be made to withstand high pressures and can tolerate waterhammer conditions, the small air vent hole in the top of the bucket can only discharge air very slowly. The hole cannot be enlarged, as steam would pass through too quickly during normal operation.

Whether it’s a brewery or a power plant, in a properly operating system tanks and heat exchangers will heat efficiently and consistently. This requires condensate formed during energy transfer to be removed, returned to its source, and not allowed to back up into the equipment. Brewery operators shouldn’t have to open steam and condensate valves to drain the equipment in order to get the desired heating rates.

The equipment is designed to provide a desired heating rate to meet all of the brewery’s needs. However, because the condensate was not returned effectively, and because of the inadequate function of the bucket traps inability to remove air, the Foothills Brewing equipment experienced significantly reduced heating rates. Their standard operating mode resulted in water loss, energy loss, and it created a safety hazard.

Properly removing condensate from heat-exchanger-based temperature-controlled equipment helps to stabilize operation. Efficient condensate removal prevents unstable product temperatures, product quality problems, excessive corrosion, and equipment damage and/or noise caused by waterhammer.

The pressure powered pump is designed to remove condensate under demanding operating conditions. The self-contained unit operates using steam instead of electric motors, which greatly simplifies installation. This type of pump also reduces maintenance costs and eliminates cavitation problems such as those associated with some electric condensate pumps.

“I like the design and it is easy to maintain. We aren’t even using the unit to its full capacity.”
Foothills Brewing

Systems that use heat-exchange or heat transfer principles for temperature control are prone to stall conditions. Under a stall condition, condensate can’t flow through the steam trap because of insufficient pressure differential. A stall condition can flood the heat exchanger, which can lead to unstable temperature control, equipment leakage, or equipment damage due to waterhammer. The pressure powered pump eliminates stall conditions by removing condensate effectively under all pressure conditions. The APT combines the features and benefits of a pressure powered pump with the automatic operation of a float and thermostatic trap.

The APT is also self contained and operates using steam instead of a motor. It also removes condensate under all load conditions, even vacuum. However, a compelling reason for using the APT at Foothills is its low profile; the APT is ideal for low-mounted process equipment as it requires only 8 inches of headroom from the base of the pump.

The value of the APT’s low headroom feature became obvious when it came time to accommodate the new tank that Bartholomaus procured. Although the tank provides the added hot water capacity Bartholomaus wanted for his new process, there wasn’t enough room to install a conventional steam trap on it. The Spirax Sarco account executive realized the condensate outlet was no more than 18 inches above the floor grade. There was absolutely no way they could drain the condensate by gravity.

Brewing Beer - Full Steam Ahead

In addition to operating a successful and expanding craft brewery and producing award-winning beers and ales, Bartholomaus now is more knowledgeable about leveraging steam solutions to make his operation run more smoothly. “He couldn’t picture it at first,” said the account executive. “However, we convinced him that his operators would be able to start the system and not have to touch anything on the steam or condensate side. He would be able to run without waterhammer. We showed him how he could run safely and efficiently.”

Bartholomaus is convinced. “We don’t want to think about the condensate return process. It should just happen seamlessly,” he said. He’s happy with the work that Spirax Sarco and Carolina Piping and Rigging did for Foothills Brewing. “I like the design and it is easy to maintain. We aren’t even using the unit to its full capacity.”

Foothills Brewing is also saving money. Not only are maintenance costs reduced because the heat transfer equipment is no longer prone to waterhammer, but there are definite energy savings from not losing condensate or the heat it carries. Bartholomaus believes the Spirax Sarco solutions will provide long-term savings. However, those savings have not yet been quantified.

Instead of arriving at the brewery every day and having to drain condensate, Bartholomaus can focus on being an important part of the U.S. craft brewery market and his operators can focus on serving up more of those award-winning brews.

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