Eddyline Brewery’s investment in carbon dioxide recapture technology paid huge dividends this year — with estimated savings of around $60,000 as the price of CO2 went through the roof — but there was also a positive side-effect: their beers tasted better.

Eddyline was the first small craft brewery to invest in CO2 recapture using Earthly Labs’ CiCi system. They made the investment even though Earthly Labs said their production at the time was too low to properly drive the system.

“They told us our operation was too small for that machine as it needs way more CO2 supplied to it than we produce on our current size,” said Eddyline owner Mic Heynekamp.

Undeterred, he used his background in chemistry from his first career as a geologist to develop a variety of processes that are far too complex to list here — all to do with phase diagrams, pressure switches, temperature, capacitors, solenoids, air compressors — but the net result is that he’s getting way more out of the system than expected.

“The last time we bought CO2 was February. There was a point when we thought we might need more and we were blown away by the price increases. So, we changed a lot of procedures and how the machine runs and we’ve been able to keep ourselves going even though it hasn’t been easy.”

After listing all the tweaks he’s done to the system Heynekamp accepts that Earthly Labs may regard him as a “nutty professor” — but given the success of his DIY fixes, Earthly Labs are now using some of them in designing smaller CO2 recapture systems for microbreweries.

“After enough different things I found and improved that made the machine run better we’ve had lots of really good conversations about how they can adapt and build a new system for smaller breweries in the 200,000 litre per year production range.”

The excess CO2 Eddyline are collecting has allowed them to use more of it in purging kegs and cans.

“Our dissolved oxygen levels are super low which improves the quality of the beer.”

And there’s a perceptible difference in using CO2 recaptured from a brewery for these various processes, including carbonation.

“It feels like hop aromas are being expressed better, more aroma and more flavour are coming through,” Heynekamp says.

“Fossil-fuel derived CO2 comes from burning the remnants of the oil refining process. While food grade CO2 is 99.999% pure that’s still 1000 parts per billion of contaminants in there.”

Given many odours are detectable at way lower levels than 1000ppb, it’s a valid point.

“Here, our contaminant level is much lower and the contaminants that do make it through are from the beer, produced by yeast, so they are more compatible with beer flavours.”

Heynekamp says that based on current CO2 prices he estimated Eddyline had saved $60,000 by the end of September, which means the machine they bought in June last year will pay for itself very soon.

“We were looking at it paying itself off in three to four years but it’s going to be around the two-year mark now.”

Eddyline’s new brewery also has what they believe to be the largest solar panel array of any brewery in New Zealand, and Heynekamp says they have been neutral in terms of energy use. They have four busy brew days a week when they take energy out of the grid, but on other days they put it back in to the grid.

“Kilowatt for kilowatt we’re about neutral.”

Despite the savings in power and CO2, other rising costs mean they are still working towards a break-even point.

“Our break-even has moved up because of the increasing costs. If prices would ever stabilise we’d be good.”

They made a decision a couple of years to focus on the 4x440ml format for retail sales, when most other breweries are in 6x330ml packs and that seems to be helping growth.

“People seem to enjoy the larger format,” Heynekamp says. “And the grocery store data shows 20 to 25 per cent growth year on year — so we’re growing in terms of volume, it’s just a matter of squeezing out that profit.”

Last year they brewed around 250,000 litres. This year they are hoping to hit the 300,000 litre mark — “so we’re still incredibly tiny”.

Heynekamp is trying to follow the advice he heard from Alan Newman, who founded Magic Hat Brewery in Vermont.

“He’d been through bankruptcy twice and his advice was that when you reach 80 per cent of your production capacity that’s when you start making money. He said get to 80 per cent and stay there as long as you can.”

And if you have to expand eventually, never take on debt to grow.

“And that’s what we’ve done, we’ve built it all through savings and reinvesting.”

Eddyline also opened their new taproom and taqueria this year, specialising in the cuisine of New Mexico, where  Heynekamp and his wife Molley started their first brewery.

Mic and Molley Heynekamp

For now the couple are literally moonlighting in their own business, working the taqueria kitchen as well as the brewery.

“It’s just Molley and I 100 per cent — we’re doing all the cooking ourselves. We’re going to have to hire somebody soon because we’re getting awfully tired, but we figured that in the first six months we had to do it ourselves to see how it works and where the bottlenecks are.

“We get home on Friday night at 10.30 so exhausted but with big smiles on our faces.”