BY JOAQUIN ORAMAS | Granma
With the installation of a modern brewing unit and earlier works, Cuba’s main beers are reaffirming their international quality. Bucanero S.A. is to invest $100 million USD in a modern brewery in Güines and other works.
The Cristal beer plant, which includes its sister-beers Bucanero and Mayabe are entering a stage of upgrading their traditional market quality with the installation of a modern brewing unit in the factory in the eastern city of Holguín. The new unit will provide an increased production of 1.5 million hectoliters, equivalent to 18 million crates of beer under the labels Cristal, Bucanero, Mayabe and the latter’s non-alcoholic malt drink, Maltina.
The opening of the unit was headed by Vice president Carlos Lage, accompanied by Alejandro Roca, minister of the food industry; G.J. Burke, general manager of the Bucanero S.A. Brewery (CBSA); and other figures.
Roca affirmed that the work would contribute to improving the factory’s efficiency, thus enabling the plant to increase its exports. Roca, Burke and other speakers confirmed the sustained efforts of Cuba and its partner, the Labatt group, which plan to double production in the next few years to 36 million crates with the construction of a cutting-edge plant to cover 50% of the island’s capacity.
The investment in the brewing unit, worth over six million USD, guarantees reduced costs and optimum processing in the four stages of production. These are: the first two concerned with obtaining clarified must, fermentation and maturing for the conversion of fermentable sugars into alcohol and carbonic anhydrates and obtaining the defining components of the flavor. The third is the filtering process to separate the remaining yeast and other particles in suspension.
Logically, these all require experience and dominion of the secrets accumulated over centuries by master brewers that have transformed the process into an acknowledged art, as Canadian Parnell Bursey, national operations director of the Bucanero joint venture, explained.
Without halting the process, the technological operations were transferred in 12 days to the new brewing line, constructed of non-rusting steel and with computer-controlled automatic processing. It replaces the factory’s two former lines and produces eight brews per day (double the former) with a volume of 600 hectoliters of must for the production of Cristal, Bucanero and Mayabe beers and Maltina, which also has a wide market.
All these brands are in high demand on the Cuban market, particularly Cristal, the favorite of the island’s consumers for more than 75 years, due to its flavor and light and frothy texture, which makes it highly agreeable to the palate.
Bursey noted that the new machinery will permit 10 daily brews in the future. The former lines reached one million hectoliters per annum, equivalent to 1.19 million crates. The modern installation has also eliminated technical problems existing with the original installations.
The Bucanero brewery is a 50-50 joint venture founded on May 2, 1997 between the Food Corporation S.A. attached to the Ministry of the Food Industry and the Canadian enterprise Cerbuco Brewing Inc. a subsidiary of the Belgian Interbrew N.V. company, which currently hold fourth place among the largest world producers. In Cuba the joint venture is the sole importer and distributor of beer for the hard-currency market, as well as holding exclusive exports of the Cuban product, including Cristal and Mayabe.
Since the joint venture was founded, the CBSA has invested more than $30 million USD in the brewery and its distribution operations. The main works began with a modern bottling line in 2000, at a cost of $6.1 million USD. The bottling of the finished product is the fourth stage of the process, whether in bottles, cans or barrels of non-rust steel, all using cutting-edge techniques. The bottling process is considered the most advanced in the Americas.
Only the productive infrastructure installed with technology from the former German Democratic Republic remains in the Holguín factory, as its original machinery has virtually been replaced.
While equipment has been replaced the operation is still being managed by the same highly qualified labor force, which has been praised by the Canadian master brewer, who also has 28 years of experience in the sector.
He confirmed that the entire manufacturing process is tuned to consumers’ taste. The producers know that people who like different beers generally choose the lightest and least bitter. When they do prefer a bitter beer it is in lesser volume but equally enjoyed. That is the case worldwide in a highly competitive market with thousands of brands. So the aim is to refer to the sense of taste.
This is the challenge that has been accepted by brewers in Holguín, whose emblematic brand is Cristal, followed by Bucanero, Mayabe and Maltina.
On that basis the manufacturing process is being researched in detail and the tasters have undertaken tests that reveal that the tip of the tongue picks up the sweetness, the back the bitter touch, and the two sides the salts and bitter points. They have determined the body of the beer from this combination of sensations, together with is appearance, aroma and sweet/bitter quality.
Equally considered are alcohol volumes, 10 degrees in the case of Cristal. There is also a possibility of developing a diet beer in Cuba, although that objective is dependent on demand.
In terms of its growth strategy, the factory is preparing to develop additional infrastructures, including the construction of a modern plant in Güines, 50 kilometers south of Havana, with new distribution centers as well as the related equipment and distribution vehicles. This investment, including the buildings and a cutting-edge technology automotive park, will rise to $100 million USD over the next 15 years.
The geographical position of the new plant is determined by distribution, given that 70% of the beer sold in Cuba is mainly consumed in Havana and Varadero. It is to have a 1.5-million-hectoliter capacity, with the possibility of doubling that volume to three million.
In parallel the company is studying the prospect of seeking out a technical labor force composed of young Cuban engineers and workers who would be trained in Cuban and possibly foreign beer plants.
Eric Peralta, one of the founder mechanics in 1988 when only Mayabe was produced, is delighted with the modernization of the industrial plant that is reducing oil costs and those of other resources. His words reflect the differences that occur in other countries when technology demands a reduced labor force. “Nobody has been left without work in the enterprise as those who weren’t needed for technological development in one area have been transferred to another part of the factory or a distinct work place.
IN THE HEART OF THE FACTORY
The brewing line and as such the must preparation process lies at the heart of producing beer, where hops, malt, water and other elements are the basic ingredients. This process follows distinct stages commencing with grinding the malt barley mixed with the required volume of hot water.
The process continues with maceration where the mixture is maintained at different temperatures controlled by rest lapses. This is done to break down the starch chains to largely convert them into simple sugars that can be fermented by the yeast.
The maceration is filtered to separate it from the ears and other indissoluble malt products. Once in the cauldron, the must is boiled and the hops and cane sugar added. After clarifying the must in the sedimenter, it is cooled and aired to the required temperature for inoculation and the initiation of the fermentation process, subsequently passing to the reactors. And then it is ready for bottling.
The new brewing unit is producing eight preparations per day with a volume of 600 hectoliters of must for the manufacture of Cristal, Bucanero and Mayabe beers, and Maltina.