Soft Drink Manufacturer Transitions to Craft Brewing Using On-Demand SteamFamily owned and operated, the Excel Bottling Co. in Breese, Ill., has been making popular local soft drinks such as Ski soda since 1936. To address the growing market for new beer flavors and leverage the advantages of its long-established bottling line, distribution system and loyal customer base, Excel recently diversified into craft brewing.

Essential to this expansion was a reliable, cost-effective source of steam to serve the company’s new venture, current needs and potential future expansion. After researching various boiler brands and models, Excel Bottling management and brewmaster/quality control manager Tony Toenjes chose a gas-fired modular LX-50 boiler from Atlanta-based Miura Boiler.

“We first saw the Miura LX-50 in a trade publication and quickly saw the benefits of its high-efficiency, low-maintenance design, which we needed,” Toenjes notes. “It doesn’t require a boiler operator to constantly watch over it. Best of all, I can hit the button on the Miura LX-50 and in five minutes be up to steam, which is amazing. I used to work at an ethanol plant and the giant boilers there would take forever to get up to pressure.”

Miura boilers employ a once-through fintube design that heats a smaller volume of water more efficiently than other boilers, according to the company. The design enables Miura boilers to generate full steam from a cold start in five minutes or less. This on-demand steam capability enables Miura boilers to be turned on or off as needed to efficiently manage changing load conditions rather than idling in stand-by and consuming energy. On-demand steam, combined with built-in microprocessor-control technology, conserves fuel, saving an average of 20 percent annually on energy costs over other boiler designs for typical installations, according to the company.

Equipped with the new boilers, ample, on-demand steam is not only enabling Excel’s transition to craft brewing, it is also benefiting the company’s long-established soft-drink-making processes.

“"Our steam system has been designed so it can expand into our warehouse. We can hook up all our gas overhead heaters to steam. Our soda/keg washer can be steam-driven. We will also be able to eliminate the solution heater, a gas-fired giant hot water heater that we use for sterilizing bottles," Toenjes says. "That will free up more space because we’ll just need a small heat exchanger for the water.”

The brewery continues to expand, and the Miura Boiler is designed to keep up, Toenjes notes. "From a steam standpoint we are going to be doing even more brewing. We have already doubled our capacity by adding a new 40-barrel fermentor and are brewing upwards of 100 barrels per month. We’ve got a combination mash tun/lauter tun, a brew kettle, and a hot water tank all in a line.

"It was a challenge to put it all together in the space we had, and I can’t praise the guys at American Boiler enough for what they did," Toenjes says." They did a beautiful job in how they made all the connections.” And now, Excel can focus on connecting its first beer flavors ― Shoal Creek Wheat and Excel Golden Brew ― with its welcoming marketplace.