St Austell may be a point on the compass unfamiliar to many around the world, a town of some 20,000 souls nestled on the picturesque south coast of Cornwall. While its original sustained economic prosperity was due to clay mining, today the town is best known as a tourist destination and, for beer drinkers with a keen sense of what’s temptingly tasty, there’s St Austell Brewery.
Founded in 1851, the brewery prospered to the extent that as of 1893 it relocated to its current location, prominently hilltop above St Austell. The brewery was situated about a mile uphill from the new railway line that gave it access to markets further afield than Cornwall’s environs. (And horses pulling wagons laden with heavy barrels of beer gave thanks that gravity worked in their favor.)
As it approached its 150th anniversary in 2001 St Austell remained a dedicated purveyor of cask ale, brewing three times a week and producing around 16,000 barrels (26,200 hectolitres) annually. And it was a largely unautomated brewery, one dependent on the variability of manual processes.
Today, almost 20 years later, the story has played forward at pace. St Austell has kept up with the accelerating trends in the brewing industry – and in many ways surpassed them.
Under the leadership of brewing director Roger Ryman, St Austell’s growth is being powered by a number of increasing popular beers launched since his arrival in 1999. Tribute, a characterful premium ale, was the first to gain prominence in the brand portfolio. It has been joined recently by the aptly named Proper Job, a session strength IPA - and then there’s Korev, St Austell’s lager brand launched in 2009 that has achieved the near-impossible, gaining sales against lagers backed by the considerable marketing spends of multinational brewers.
St Austell has also distinguished itself from its regional family peer group by acquiring a near-by craft operation, Bath Ales, in 2016, subsequently announcing plans for a greenfield 60,000 hectolitre brewery that began production in May 2018. Currently, at St Austell, the brewery is producing 213,000 hl annually on a 24/5 shift pattern. While cask ale still accounts for 50% of volumes, keg (17%) and bottled beers (30%) are driving growth, with cans starting to enter the mix.
None of this would have been possible without investing in the brewery and, when possible, preferring the latest in technology. St Austell has been shrewd in making the most of what’s new and improving, especially as suppliers have been rolling out smaller capacity solutions suitable for mid-sized breweries. High on their must-have list was membrane filtration. It had been on the radar for some time, with neighboring cider makers making use of the technology for years.
In 2017, Pentair brought to market a BMF range with hourly capacities between 60-85 hectolitres designed for brewers with annual outputs as low as 10,000 hl up to 120,000 hl. Ryman recalls, “As soon as we saw that this was a viable option for us it was something that we were very keen to do.” And so following trials, in early 2018 Pentair’s 60 hl/h BMF + Flux Compact S4 came into service.