A Touch of Alchemy Transforms a Vermont Brewery

A Touch of Alchemy Transforms a Vermont Brewery

“When people walk in the door, their jaws drop,” said John Kimmich, co-owner and head brewer at The Alchemist Brewery. “The natural light, the energy efficiency of the building — it’s a church to beer.”

The original Alchemist location opened in Waterbury, Vermont, in 2003. After eight years of success, co-owners John and Jen Kimmich decided to open a second location in Stowe, Vermont, to help meet their growing production needs. The second location of The Alchemist Brewery was built with a vision of breaking from fluorescent-lit monotony, to create a beautiful, inviting space for beer enthusiasts to come together, relax and enjoy the brewery’s nationally respected Heady Topper IPA.

When Kimmich set out to build the brewery’s Stowe facility, he was determined to create a space that was as efficient as it was alluring. “We wanted to make use of the natural light, while considering the environmental responsibility of the brewery,” he said. Kimmich recognized the impact of the beer brewing process itself, and the number of wash-down and boiling procedures involved. The brewing process often creates a humid environment, so humidity control was billed as a top priority as construction on the second Alchemist facility began to take shape.

It was critical to control humidity for the space, and keep the process equipment and floors as dry as possible, to avoid the possibility of patrons slipping and falling in the tasting room. Of course, creating a comfortable environment was also top of mind, with the brewery hoping to maintain a 74-degree Fahrenheit indoor temperature and proper ventilation in the open floor plan. 

The town also had odor control and waste handling requirements for the brewery to abide by, which influenced the construction plans. “We wanted to keep our environmental responsibility in mind, to create the kind of place where you want to be, from everyone’s point of view,” said Kimmich.

The brewery’s construction manager brought the VHV Company in as their design/build contractor based on the company’s knowledge of the brewery process and experience with brewery applications. With a trusted relationship that spans more than 17 years, VHV contacted Trane to discuss project challenges and the best mix of heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment and controls to support the operation.

Improving efficiency

An 80-ton high-efficiency air-cooled Trane® CGAM scroll chiller was selected to meet the facility’s needs. Featuring onboard pumps with variable frequency drive, the chiller reduces energy use and creates a comfortable environment for employees and visitors. With a limited building footprint, the chiller was installed outside to allow for more useable interior space for the brewery equipment and operation. Staying cognizant of the owner’s environmental concerns, a free cooling unit was also installed, allowing the scroll chiller to remain idle when low outdoor temperatures enable the free cooler to take on the full load. This greatly reduces energy use and helps meet sustainability requirements.

Enhancing comfort and air quality

Twenty-four feet above the production floor, the VHV team installed a Trane Performance Climate Changer™ air handler with a CDQ™ (Cool, Dry, Quiet) wheel to handle dehumidification and space cooling demands. Rather than lifting the entire air handler to put it in place, the modular unit was raised to the platform in eight sections where it was easily assembled.

After cooling and initial moisture removal via the cooling coil, supply air flows through the CDQ desiccant wheel, which attracts and holds water vapor from the saturated air. The wheel rotates slowly into the upper air path where moisture is released into the lower relative humidity airstream. The moisture is then removed through the cooling coil, and the process repeats.

With the wheel in series with the airflow, the CDQ system improves the dehumidification capacity of standard cooling equipment from 20 to 300 percent, enabling a 5- to 15-degree lower dew point. The CDQ system limits the amount of outdoor air required, eliminating the need for expensive charcoal filters to control odors. The system easily helps to resolve The Alchemist’s humidity concerns, while keeping costs low.

Controlling system operations and energy use

Well-suited to enable desired sequencing and effective equipment interface, a Trane Tracer™ SC building automation system (BAS) was installed to maintain space conditions. With the web-based Tracer SC, facility staff at the brewery can access systems remotely from their smartphone or tablet to ensure temperature and humidity levels are as desired, check airflow rates, adjust setpoints, troubleshoot issues or conduct daily tasks.

“It is really cool to be able to monitor the building and turn things down at night,” said Kimmich. “We don’t have to worry that things run and run and run just because we forgot to go in that room and check it that night. You can log in to your computer and see everything you need to, and make adjustments right there.”  

Easy-to-use custom graphics on the Tracer SC provide a pictorial representation of the building systems. With a click of the mouse, brewery staff use the intuitive system to complete a building check, make overrides, change screens from one floor plan to another and interface with specific pieces of equipment. They can also choose to look at data logs and trends to monitor system performance over time.

To accommodate the expansive floor plan, a Trane Air-Fi™ wireless system was used to connect the system controllers, unit controllers, air handlers, VAV boxes, fan coils and zone sensors, eliminating the time and expense of running conduit wire, and preserving building aesthetics.

Results

Working together, VHV and Trane delivered a complete design/build equipment and controls solution for The Alchemist Brewery’s Stowe facility, meeting the owners’ specific humidity, comfort and efficiency requirements. “Working with VHV and Trane enabled us to do this project in a way that suited our needs and timelines,” said Kimmich. “The result is a new facility that lives up to our standards, the high standards that have gotten us to where we are today.” With the facility’s environment taken care of, Kimmich and his team can get back to what they’re best at — “Turning matter into gold, that’s what we do.”

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