A Discussion with SABCO Brewing Systems

Currently, Homebrew Supply is the only retailer to carry SABCO's high-end brewing systems that meet the needs of advanced homebrewers and commercial brewers alike. I had the opportunity to speak with some of the people that made it all possible, but first let's dig into their rich history in the brewing industry.

The History of SABCO

SABCO has been in the family since the beginning. In the lead image from left to right is,
Dan Sulier - Sales Manager
Joe Sulier - Production Manager / Systems Specialist
Jim Sulier - Sales Consultant
Bob Sulier - President / CEO
John Pershing (Bob's brother-in-law) - Vice President & Chief Engineer.

It was started in 1961 as a keg reconditioning company by the current owner's (Bob Sulier's) father. All signs point to it staying in the family as well since Bob's three sons are all involved in it's current success. Over the past 50 years, it has evolved from the keg reconditioning to the brewing equipment and pilot system provider it is today. Their systems can be found in over 3,500 breweries across 35 countries World-wide.

Nano-breweries rely on it for their full production and larger breweries such as Dogfish Head use it as a pilot system for their recipes before scaling up. It's this attention to quality and detail that makes it the only (or one of the only) homebrewing systems that is CSA certified for indoor commercial use.

About the SABCO Brew-Magic and Brew-Magic XL

Currently, the Brew-Magic system is a top-of-the-line RIMS system capable of handling 5-14 gallon batches. The three vessel setup allows you to brew two batches at once, boiling one while mashing the next. This can make brewing for events or large gatherings a breeze. The Magic-Soft program allows you to save recipes to the system. Things like step mashing schedules and boil times can be completed with the press of a button.

SABCO Brewmagic XL System

The Brew-Magic XL is the big brother to the Brew-Magic that will be released soon. It's a larger 1BBL system that can accommodate small brewpubs and nano-breweries better, and still has the dual batch capability of the original Brew-Magic.

My Interview with SABCO

As I mentioned earlier, I had the opportunity to ask a few questions about SABCO and their brewing systems. I got some great answers that I'm happy to share here.

Q: Tell me about the Brew-Magic and what sets it apart from other complete all-grain setups you can buy?

SABCO President/CEO Bob Sulier: Brew-Magic was developed back in 1990 for the purpose of pilot recipe development on a small, less expensive scale. The concept of RIMS continuous recirculation methodology was conceptualized at the time but never proven. Dr. George Fix, author of Principles of Brewing Science, along with a team of Master Brewers and engineers, attempted the challenge. The goal was the complete elimination of the multitude of variables inherent with small batch brewers.

These included: Aeration effects (HSA), heat stratification, non-damaging flow rate control, temp control, kettle caramelization, pump design, and the worst offender, brewer stirring and inconsistent input. For pilot purposes and scaling issues to larger systems, such variations could not be tolerated. The first Brew-Magic system took 5 years and 4 prototypes worth of lab testing and research.

Today, anyone with a pump, kettle and heat exchanger are convinced that they can duplicate the process in an afternoon. Unfortunately, it's more than simply a product. It's a methodology as well. The end product back in 1990 was truly amazing because it was amazingly repeatable. For this reason the name "Brew-Magic" became more than just a title. SABCO was fortunate with its national customer base, to be asked by the developer team to take the machine and process to the next level and make it market-worthy.

Since 1990 Brew-Magic has single-handedly opened more start up pubs, micros, and pilot labs than all other offerings combined. Homebrewers likewise discovered that "snow-flake" beer (every one is different) could be replaced with more dependable recipes. 

There are many all-grain setups on the market. All make great beer! But the problem is really not making great beer. Anyone could do this with a simple pot on a stove. The key to professional vs.amateur brewing is consistency. I ask home-brewers all the time..."Can you make great beer?" They all say yes. Then I ask..."Can you make the same great beer twice in a row". They all say no. Perhaps a bit of magic is all they need. 

Jim Sulier, SABCO Sales Consultant: Brew-Magic uses Sanitary welds, no threaded connections. We also use commercial grade, 304 Stainless Steel, so it’s durable and made to last. For example, if a kettle was dropped, it would bounce, versus kettles that are thinner, breakable and need replacing more often. It also has Touch-screen controls, with WiFi connectivity to a MAC, PC or any mobile device. CSA certified for indoor use, and CE certified for sale around the globe.  

SABCO BrewMagic

Q: You mention the system being great for homebrewers and pilot systems for pro brewers. What makes it such a great system for both levels of brewers?

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Bob Sulier: Pro-Brewers realize that the smaller the batch, the more difficult it is to control variables. It's a simple fact that even stirring on any scale can be damaging to wort and can effect astringency, tannin content etc.  For this reason, automated stirring becomes more consistent. It can be timed and rendered less damaging with full control. Put a spurtle in the hands of a brewer however, and all bets are off. What brewer can stir exactly the same way from batch to batch? Now add the variables of temperature, timing, heating, etc. and even the best brewer will have a near impossible situation when attempting to duplicate batches.

For small scale precision brewing in a pilot laboratory environment or when a specific, tuned recipe needs to go to a judge, the brewing system and methodology which will remove the most variables, always has the advantage. RIMS allows the grain-bed to act as a static filter. The runoff to the boil is spectacularly clear rather than the turbid, cloudy wort caused by stirring.  It's for these reasons that Brew-Magic was not quickly developed but rather took 5 years of research and testing. Brew-Magic is used in laboratories and food science colleges globally. Professionals like to teach with it. By removing the inconsistencies of both machine and brewer, what remains is simply the recipe ingredients. This ideally, is where the focus belongs for the professional, amateur or student.

Quote From Jim Sulier: The Brew-Magic is the perfect system for both homebrewers and pro-brewers, because it provides the ability to develop save, edit and store their recipes within the touchscreen PLC for future re-play with prompting, to virtually re-create the same conditions of the original saved recipe. So it’s great for the Pro-brewer, for pilot purposes to experiment and to perfect new brews, and specific flavor profiles. Recipes can be developed less expensively on a small scale, before moving to larger automated systems.  This is why so many breweries, have at least one Brew-Magic in their facilities.   

Home Brewers find the Brew-Magic great, because without fail, it elevates the brewers skill level with a higher degree of control, and sanitation.  Higher quality equipment allows the brewer to thoroughly enjoy the brewing process again, and dive back into the creative aspect of brewing, versus taking on the added chores of stirring, temp control, timing and cleaning. Brew-Magic is fully CIP with hard stainless plumbing rather than brew-hose.  Smooth valve system wort control,  a non-stir RIMS process, along with precision temperature control, help make homebrewing a lot more enjoyable.  Homebrewing has always been fun, but most find it difficult to make the same beer twice.  Too many variables in the way, i.e. timing of temperature transitions, hop additions, stirring effects.  This system makes consistency much more attainable, and brings the fun back into brewing by allowing the Brewer to create great beer “consistently”.  

SABCO Brewmagic Software

Q: What is the Magic-Soft program all about?

Matt French, Chief Software Engineer at SABCO, and designer of Magic-Soft: Magic-Soft was designed to be a tool for eliminating brewing variables. It accomplishes this with providing precise temperature control during the mash but it also maintains your recipe database making it easy to store and repeat recipes. It allows you to monitor and control the mash and boil processes. Back-to-back batches are also controlled and tracked, even if they’re not the same recipe. Magic-Soft is accessible over your network via WiFi so you can enter recipes from any computer and control the Brew-Magic system from devices like tablets and phones.

Q: What were some of the challenges you overcame and solved before releasing the final version of the Brew-Magic?

Bob Sulier: The greatest challenge for SABCO during the initial pre-release, development period, was simply not to modify what the research team brought to the table. Details such as flow ratios, tube size, specific pump impellers along with wort handling methods, and heated surface areas were all imperative for performance. SABCO's intent and greatest challenge was to maintain the system integrity while improving the product with complete sanitary construction as desired by the professional buyer, and its general appeal at all levels.  

Q: How efficient is the XL system for nano-breweries in regards to time and cost to operate, as they have to operate with such razor thin margins?

Bob Sulier: The Brew-Magic XL was created most importantly to emulate the consistency of the original Brew-Magic System. All features were brought forward in proportion and capability. This version includes either 52 or 59 gal. kettles on a single-tier, very commercially rugged framework. Independent RTD sensors on each kettle are monitored via PLC color touchscreen. Since Magic-Soft programming is capable of tracking 2 completely different recipes simultaneously with active visual prompting, brewers can easily be mashing a 2nd batch while boiling the first. This makes a 3-5 batch brew-day very doable and with a much reduced workload. The XL was designed for the small pub or restaurant operation where dedicated brew-room space is limited. For pilot use, this is a Brew-Magic System on steroids!

The SABCO Brew-Magic, and several add-ons and extras are currently available for purchase from Homebrew Supply. If you're a hardcore homebrewer who is considering going pro sometime in the future, the Brew-Magic is a great first step and is a blast to brew on.

by David Doucette
David is a full blown fermentation enthusiast who has dedicated much of his free time to learning and sharing the art of homebrewing. He's spent several years documenting and writing homebrewing information on his blog Hive Mind Mead. He's written over 60 articles between Homebrew Talk and Homebrew Supply.

Images courtesy of SABCO, Inc.

written by David Doucette

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