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From Beer to RTD Beverages: Your Brewing Process Reimagined

As beer growth slows, traditional breweries are looking beyond beer to hard seltzer and other spirit blends. And they’re finding the brewing process very accommodating.

“Beer makers face tough times.” – IndustryWeek
“Beer sales stay flat.” – USA Today
“Beer is dying.” – CNN  

It’s enough to keep any brewer up at night. Outside pockets of growth in China, India and Brazil, most global markets are hitting a beer sales plateau at the hands of a more health-conscious consumer. One that drinks less alcohol, and looks for the kick without the calories when they do drink.

Stepping in not-so-quietly is the ready to drink (RTD) cocktail market. Spirits-based drinks, hard seltzer, cannabis-kombucha-coffee-infused. You name it, your customers are drinking it. Even craft beer loyalists.

Analysts agree it’s not a fad and the big producers know it’s an opportunity. 2019 saw the creation of a “Beyond Beer” division at Anheuser-Busch. And Molson Coors kicked off 2020 as the Molson Coors Beverage (not brewing) Company.

While hard seltzer brewing and the like isn’t for everyone, there’s a big upside for owners and investors open to line extensions. And it is more attainable than you might think.

Can my brewery do that?

A brewery is an ideal environment to invent, develop and craft RTD beverages like hard seltzer. And you likely already have the license, equipment and capacity you need.

Making beer is one use for your current process. But if you add some additional capabilities, a sugar dosing system or a carbo blender for example, and totes or tanks containing the requisite ingredients, you’re set to produce new beverages with minimal capital investment within the same four walls. From there, you use the same packaging equipment, and even the same distribution channels you have today.

Another benefit is the faster process time for hard seltzer brewing. Fermentation takes days instead of weeks, moving product faster so you can produce more. And it uses fewer, less expensive ingredients. With a little planning, the same attention to quality and consistency, and the help of brewing process automation, the learning curve is small and the upside will give your customers more reasons to love your brand and inspire investors to continue fueling your growth.

Flexibility for the future

You’ll want scalable flexibility to build and execute these new recipes and configurations. A modular software application can greatly simplify the process, making it easy to add a module for blending, sugar dosing, flash pasteurizing or whatever you may need.

When evaluating a solution, look for one built on an open platform that allows you to batch and blend many beverage types, such as the FactoryTalk Brew or FactoryTalk Craft Brew solution. Make sure it can:

  • Balance your operations with easy scheduling and recipe management that accounts for large and small batches, multiple brands and rapidly changing production needs.
  • Get you to market faster with tools that help standardize your operation and control costs.
  • Provide information about the batches, helping you to improve quality and consistency while maintaining compliance.

It comes down to making deliberate decisions with the future in mind, as one Rockwell Automation customer shared at Automation Fair recently.

“The seltzer market didn’t even exist when we conceptualized the brewery. We built a brewery that can make beer. But we can also brew other products, maybe even products we haven’t thought of yet” – Jim McCabe, president and founder of Milwaukee Brewing Company.

The industry is changing – and that’s OK

Don’t think you can get excited about RTDs? You’re not alone. Many brewers have a hard time feeling the same passion for this new market as they have for beer. But blended drinks don’t have to be void of excitement. Stay true to what makes you unique, like local ingredients, bold flavors or whatever it may be.

Just as the biggest names in beer have been impacted by craft brews, so can big-seltzer be impacted by craft RTDs. And the market is wide open for spiked beverage innovation. As we learned with craft beer in the past decade, remain authentic to your brand, and loyalty will follow.

Whether you’re going all in on the seltzer surge, or perfecting your next IPA, keep your brewing process flexible, your brand promise unwavering and check out this video featuring automation options for every size brewery.


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