I wanted to write this post “A Pilot Brewery Case Study, Chaba Brewing” as a support article to my main article, “Pros and Cons of a Pilot Brewery”.
Please follow the link to read the main article. The reason for this case study, is it’s a prime example of how a pilot system can be advantageous to a brewery.
So, let’s set the scene…
In early 2020, plans are in place for Teddy and Tim, who own other bars in Kunming, Yunnan, China to open a brewpub in the same city.
They take on a brewer named Kevin, an American with prior brewing experience, who they know. They’re planning a 1,000-liter brewpub with a 100-liter pilot system.
As they’re waiting for the brewpub to be installed, they start doing trials on Teddy’s balcony. On a small home brew system. See the picture below, of a balcony brew day.
The brewpub’s original concept was to be centered around Dai cuisine. With some of the planned beers, also brewed with Dai “flavors” too. Click the link to read more about the Dai people of Yunnan and their cuisine.
This is the story of their “Dai flavored” beer, which went from a balcony brew to an International Award-Winning beer. Plus, how it’s now brewed on a 120HL contract brewery system, for distribution throughout China.
Note: 120HL (hectoliters) is 12,000-liters or 102 US Beer barrels.
All within a 2-year timespan. It’s quite the story, I’ll let Teddy begin the tale.
A Pilot Brewery Case Study, Chaba Brewing – DaiMei Gose “The Inception”
As they were waiting for the brewpub to be built, initial experiments took place on Teddy’s balcony. Using a small simple homebrewing system.
Mint and lime as Teddy mention above, were some of his and Tim’s favorite Dai cuisine flavors. To them along with Kevin’s input, a gose base for the beer made sense.
A gose beer in modern brewing, is a beer made typically with a large percentage of wheat in the grain bill. Plus, a gose is generally low in bitterness, with salt added towards the end of the boil.
The beer is slightly sour due to the brewing process. Be it through kettle souring, the use of special yeasts like Fermo Acid Brew when pitching the yeast. Or even the use of several acids like malic and tartaric.
Anyway, gose was the base beer Chaba planned to use for their lime/mint beer, which later came to be named DaiMei.
They liked the initial homebrew version, but it went no further until the brewpub was built. As Teddy said, until they had access to a commercial system with more control. They weren’t prepared to play around with the beer till then.
I happened to be in Kunming, when some of those first balcony brews were made. I was in the city, working on another brewery installation. So, I was lucky to taste some of those balcony brews, it was exciting times.
Moving to the Pilot Kit
The beer gets a mellow kettle souring. So, to control the reduced souring process, the guys needed the fine adjustment capability. Which the planned 100-liter pilot kit offered. The picture below is of Teddy and Kevin, brewing on the Chaba pilot system.
The brew was still very much a manual process though. As Teddy said:
“You can tell that (we weren’t planning to brew it on the main system initially) because we used fresh muddled mint leaves and squeezed lime juice. Definitely didn’t have upscaling in mind…Haha”.Teddy from Chaba Brewing Co.
The pilot system, allowed them to see if the beer was viable commercially. They could control the mellow kettle souring, as they needed too.
They didn’t want the wort souring too much in the kettle. As lime juice was to be added to the brew, later. Which would reduce the pH, as well as the perception of sourness to the drinker.
Scaling from the Pilot Kit to the Main System
As Teddy says below, after using the pilot system once, they decided to scale up to the big kit straight away. However, they only did a half batch in the big system:
1. To check on the ongoing tweaks they were still implementing
2. They were unsure how the kettle souring would go on the big system – Remember, it was only meant to be a “mellow souring”.
To be able to do use the pilot system, was a valuable part of the process for Chaba. When developing their DaMei beer, it allowed for proof of concept.
The pilot brew gave the Chaba brew crew, the confidence to jump directly to the main system.
As we said in the main article “Advantages and Disadvantages of a Pilot Brewery”, scaling up is hard. When going from a pilot system to a main brewhouse, when it’s much bigger.
The pilot system allows for general flavor profiles to be experimented with. Be it malt, hops and/or other adjuncts. Furthermore, it allows a brewing team to test different brewing procedures/processes too.
Started with a Half Brew on the Main System (500-liters)
In the Chaba crew’s case, using the pilot system, allowed the guys to test the souring process on a small commercial scale. Plus, sell the resulting beer, at their brewpub.
Therefore, getting direct real-world feedback from their customers. Their next step was to move to a 500-liter batch.
A 500-liter brew, is a half brew on their 1,000-liter system. Doing a half batch, is of course less of a risk. Just in case the beer produced was one they weren’t happy with, nor fit for sale.
Teddy, Tim and Kevin would never sell a beer they were not happy with. They’d rather dump the entire batch.
In the case of DaiMei, it wasn’t just the volume of beer, Chaba were concerned about. It was also the work which went into prepping the mint and lemon, for a larger batch.
A large brew would require a lot of manual processing; for muddling the mint and squeezing the limes.
Teddy joked, when brewing DaiMei on the big system, the Chaba crew managed to watch three James Bond Movies, whilst processing the mint and lime.
Well over time, on the big system Teddy and the team were delighted with the beer they finally developed…
I feel like now we’ve got this far; I need to bring things up to the present day. So, the mint/lime gose by Chaba, was given the official name DaiMei, as we know.
It proved a popular beer, after it was tweaked some more over several iterations on the main system. The guys were quite rightly proud of the beer.
However, what would the wider world think of DaiMei Gose? Beyond the brewpub, and their regular customers.
Entering the Asian Beer Championships in 2021
Chaba decided to enter DaiMei in the Asian Beer Championships. Bear in mind the brewpub had only been open 9-months at this time!
Their expectations were low, any recognition would be a welcome surprise. This was a beer which had been brewed on Teddy’s balcony only a year earlier!
The beer was entered in the hotly contested “Spiced/Herb Beer” category. Breweries from all-over Asia entered beers into this competition. From Carakale Brewery in Jordan to Tahiu Brewing in Taipei.
Chaba Brewing won GOLD for their DaMei. They were both stunned and thrilled. They actually won a few more awards for other beers at the competition.
A Pilot Brewery Case Study, Chaba Brewing – And There’s More…
As Chaba Brewing went into 2022, they decided to GO BIG, and to contract/OEM brew some of their beers. They actually brewed a 120HL (hectoliters) brew-length of DaiMei, which went into cans.
120HL is 12,000-liters, which represents a proper commitment, plus belief in their brews.
Meaning within two years Chaba progressed from 20-liters to 100-liters, to 500-liters, to-1,000 liters, and all the way up to 12,000-liters for distribution across China.
I personally think this a great story, especially as it all happened during the Zero-Covid policy in China…kudos to the Chaba team!
A Pilot Brewery Case Study, Chaba Brewing
This article was meant to be a case study of how a pilot system can be used successfully in a brewery. The way Chaba leveraged their pilot system, I feel shows the worth of having such a system.
A pilot system allows a brewery to test flavors and processes. It allows a brew crew to figure out if a beer is worthwhile investing more time in.
As Teddy says, when going to the big system, there’ll always be tweaks to get the beer right.
However, a good brewery can plan a series of new beers for their pilot system. So, it gets properly utilized.
Plus, have beer fresh offerings for their more ardent the craft beer clientele. As well as find beers worth brewing on the main system.
Who knows, maybe the beer will go on to win awards and increase a brewery’s reach. I mean this is what Chaba was able to do.
I’ll leave you some of Chaba’s packaging and promotion material, which is being used for their China wide distribution roll out.
Need Help Sourcing a Pilot Brewery or Brewing Equipment?
Thanks for reading our article on how Chaba developed an international award-winning beer using their pilot system. If you’re looking to source brewing equipment yourself, then feel free to contact me.
My name is Neil and I’ve been brewing internationally for over 25-years. I’ve brewed on everything from a brewpub system to a production brewery.
As well be lucky enough to have brewed all around the world, from China to Armenia. I’ve also installed and commissioned a number of systems too.
I’m currently working on projects for The Philippines, Japan and Australia. If you need help building out a brewery equipment list and/or sourcing equipment, then feel free to get in contact.
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