Science was brewing

A recent event at the Brau Brothers brewery looked at the science and engineering that goes into making beer

Photo by Deb Gau Dustin Brau explained how the tanks and equipment in the Brau Brothers brewery worked, during the “EnginBeering” tour held last week in Marshall.


It wasn’t quite your typical brewery tour.

While the group of people following Dustin Brau through the back room at the Brau Brothers brewery last week were learning how the beer was made, there was also a heavy emphasis on how all the tanks, pumps and other equipment around them worked.

Brewing beer was a process that involved a lot of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills, Brau said.

“Other than cleaning everything, STEM is all we do,” Brau told the group. “Every piece of equipment you see here, that has to be designed, engineered, maintained, and then scaled for us.”

Being able to take a look at the practical side of science was the draw for “EnginBeering,” one of several events the Marshall-Lyon County Library organized to go along with a national traveling exhibit visiting the library.

For adults, “We thought this was a great way to see engineering used in your daily life,” said Paula Nemes, public services manager at MLCL.

The traveling exhibit, “Explore Tech: Engineers Make a World of Difference,” talks about the role engineers and engineering play in our lives. The project was made possible with the support of a grant from the National Science Foundation, Nemes said. The exhibit was organized by the Space Science Institute’s National Center for Interactive Learning, the American Library Association’s Public Programs Office, the Lunar and Planetary Institute, and the Afterschool Alliance.

As Brau talked to visitors on the tour, he explained the science behind making beer and running a brewery. It’s nothing like making homebrew, he said.

“Now, we’re boiler maintenance people,” to take care of the brewery’s boiler system, Brau said. All of the brewery’s equipment needs to be maintained, from the boilers to the bottling and labeling machines. There can be day-to-day engineering challenges, too.

“We rebuilt a pump today,” he told the tour group.

Sometimes, Brau said, solving engineering challenges for the brewery meant making use of equipment or parts from different sources. In one example, Brau said, the conveyor they used in building the brewery’s pasteurizer originally came from a deli sandwich production line. The finished pasteurizer is like a tunnel, where hot water is sprayed on filled bottles to heat them up and pasteurize the beer.

Brewing also means working with chemistry and biology. Brau said the Marshall brewery has a small laboratory for propagating and monitoring the yeast used to brew the beer.

“To be a good brewery, it’s all about yeast management,” Brau said. “We have to plan our brewing schedule around it.”

Besides the yeast, there are many other variables, like temperature, acidity and water softness that affect the brewing process, Brau said.

People on the EnginBeering tour said they were learning a lot.

“The science aspect of the whole thing is amazing,” said Warren Black.

“It was great,” said Linda Baun, another member of the tour group. “It’s a much more complicated process than you would think.”

MLCL has held or planned a variety of different events to go with the Explore Tech exhibit, Nemes said. Besides the brewery tour, past events have included talks by local engineers, and activities geared more toward kids and families.

“We’ve been doing ‘Early-Out Engineering’ on Wednesdays,” she said. Starting in April, kids could take part in hands-on science activities at the library on days when Marshall Public Schools dismissed early. Nemes said the activities will continue on Wednesdays through May 16.

The Explore Tech exhibit will continue at the Marshall-Lyon County Library until May 18. The exhibit includes several display boards talking about topics in engineering, and the library also has displays of engineering items and a table display to go with it. Nemes said the table display has included comparisons of old and new technology, like a manual typewriter, electric typewriter and computer keyboard. She also planned to put out a deconstructed phone and film camera for visitors to see.

Nemes said there will be a family-friendly Science Saturday program at the library on May 12, which will go along with the Explore Tech exhibit.