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OMB’s original brew, Copper, is currently the top craft beer of choice for both draft and package sales in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. To accommodate its growth, OMB recently expanded to a new, larger property, featuring an eight-acre Munich-style Biergarten, a state-of-the-art 60-barrel Brewery, and a dine-in Brauhaus. As a brewery that prides itself on using traditional brewing methods and only the highest quality ingredients to create its fresh beer, OMB is confident that it will continue to grow for many years to come.
“Freshness is the most important quality of the beer at The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery,” said Marrino. “Every week we filter fresh beer from our lager tanks, which is then immediately packaged for delivery to local restaurants, bars and grocery stores that same week. That is our biggest advantage over the competition – our ability to deliver the freshest locally-brewed, premium quality beer in the Charlotte region.”
Every barrel of beer the Brewery produces complies with the world famous “Reinheitsgebot” German beer purity law enacted in 1516. This standard requires that beer be made with only four ingredients: water, malt, hops and yeast. OMB is not required to follow the Reinheitsgebot, yet it does so out of respect and to guarantee that OMB beer is always all natural without any chemical additives, preservatives or adjuncts. OMB also insists on keeping its beer cold to further preserve its freshness and quality. Because of this, all OMB beer is delivered in refrigerated trucks and only sold to retailers who can maintain its temperature.
The OMB process begins with the highest quality German malt. Once at the Brewery, the malt heads to the mill where it’s crushed into a fine powder called grist, optimally sized to maximize the extraction of starches and proteins during the brewing process. The grist then travels to the brewhouse where it is mixed with warm water, or mashed in.
In the Mash kettle, time and specific temperature rests break down large protein molecules and convert the malt starches into sugars for fermentation. The resulting liquid, called wort, is separated from the malt solids in the lauter tun, and is then pumped over to the wort kettle where it is boiled. Hops are added to the wort kettle to provide bitterness and aroma for the finished beer.
After boiling, the wort travels to the primary fermenter where it mixes with brewer’s yeast. Along the way, the wort is cooled and aerated to provide oxygen for the yeast. The yeast absorbs all of the oxygen injected into the wort and multiplies several times in the fermenter. Twelve to eighteen hours later, once the oxygen is fully depleted, the yeast begins to consume the wort sugars, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide, which naturally carbonates the resulting beer. After about a week, this “green” beer is transferred to a lager tank for several weeks to mature and develop its final flavor profile before bottling and packaging.
“Even though the traditional brewing processes we utilize, including lagering, makes the overall brewing process a bit longer and bit more costly, we are committed to the process that results in the best overall quality beer,” Marrino added.
In the middle of the brewing process, before the beer is transferred from the primary fermentation tank, the receiving lager tank must be purged using 99.995 percent pure nitrogen gas. Using pure nitrogen prevents oxidation of the finished beer in the lager tanks and prevents flavor defects. Two Atlas Copco SF 22 full-feature oil-free scroll compressors deliver pure, oil-free air to the entire brewery for equipment process control, for wort aeration for the yeast prior to fermentation and to power the onsite NGP nitrogen generator. The brewery stores the nitrogen that is produced onsite in its utility room.
“In a brewery application, using anything but 100 percent oil-free air doesn’t make sense,” explained Marrino. “Oil is one of beer’s worst enemies because it kills one of the most important aspects of the beer – the head (or frothy foam on top of the beer). Because we need to inject compressed air directly into the wort before fermentation, and we produce nitrogen to purge our lager tanks from this compressed air, it’s not worth the risk of contaminating the beer using traditional oil-lubricated compressors.”
The decision to invest in onsite nitrogen generation was an easy one for Marrino, whose engineering background drives his continual search for ways to increase efficiency throughout the Brewery. He even added a second oil-free scroll compressor to provide enough air for OMB’s future production growth.
“We used to purchase carbon dioxide (CO2) gas to purge our lager tanks. The onsite nitrogen generator has reduced our CO2 consumption, and resulting cost, dramatically,” Marrino said. “Since day one of installation, we’ve been saving approximately $3,000 per month in purchased carbon dioxide gas costs, which means the nitrogen generator will pay for itself in about a year. Plus, we’ve eliminated costly deliveries and the accompanying carbon footprint of those deliveries.”
Though the compressed air use and nitrogen generation occurs behind the scenes at The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, it’s role is integral to a brewing process that is committed to producing fresh, quality beer from just four simple ingredients.
As John Marrino, the founder of The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery (OMB) in Charlotte, North Carolina, says, “Not everything can be local, but beer can and should be.” This commitment to creating fresh, local beer drives the growth behind Charlotte’s oldest and largest brewery, founded in 2009. “Beer is basically liquid bread,” explained Marrino. “The day the beer comes out of the tanks is the best it’s ever going to taste – like freshly baked bread hot out of the oven. And because we’re local and produce fresh beer each week, we can get it to the consumer faster than any non-local brewery. It’s simply better that way.”