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Small is big on New Belgium Brewing's new pilot system

New Belgium Brewing started small in 1991, but in the 21 years since, the Fort Collins beer maker has grown into the third-largest craft brewer in the county -- and it will get even bigger in 2014 when it opens a second major brewery in North Carolina.

But New Belgium went back to its roots in October when it installed a brand-new ten-hectoliter pilot brewing system (roughly 8.5 barrels) to accompany the massive 200- and 100-barrel systems on which is brews the majority of its beer.

See more: - Smashburger and New Belgium team up on burger-and-beer pairings - New Belgium will build a second brewery in Asheville, North Carolina by 2015 - Great Divide adds a pilot brewing system for small-batch, experimental beers

The pilot system will be used to make collaborative batches with restaurants, other brewers and beer-minded parties. and for experimentation, research and development.

"Our assistant brewer pointed out that there are lot of experimental hops coming down the pike...El Dorado, Nelson Sauvin... and rather than do that in a 200-barrel system, we can use the pilot system," says New Belgium spokesman Bryan Simpson. "That way if it is a dud, we can just drink it ourselves."

Prior to buying the pilot system, New Belgium had been experimenting on "a hand-built five-gallon deal," he adds. "But it wasn't optimal."

So far, New Belgium has made batches on the system, including a vanilla porter, a peppercorn saison, an IPA and a small-batch version of Fat Tire.

Pilot systems are becoming more common for brewers, both big and small, who want to experiment with new styles or old ones without committing a huge amount of ingredients to a beer that might not work out.

Great Divide added a five-barrel system at the beginning of this year, which it has used to brew more than two dozen experimental beers it has served in the tap room.


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