Brewery Visit: CBN in Santa Cruz

One of the upsides to being a native English speaker overseas is that the rest of the world wants to practice their English with you. That’s also terribly annoying at times, but in this case it meant that I got to take a tour of the Cerveceria Boliviana Nacional (CBN) plant outside of Santa Cruz just so that the guides could practice their English on us! Thanks to my fellow homebrewer and Washingonian Ben for arranging this!

CBN is the largest brewery conglomerate here in Bolivia, owned by AB-InBev, and putting out a wide variety of tropical lagers and a couple other styles, like Bock, Paceña Black and El Inca (a terribly sweet dark lager) among others. The brewery here in Santa Cruz is the largest of the CBN breweries, although if I understood correctly it only produces the Paceña varieties and Ducal (another tropical lager). I’ve been to a few microbreweries, but nothing of this size and scale. This CBN brewery has three production lines and runs 24/7, although not necessarily at full capacity. The higher-consumption times of the year mean that they can ramp up production when need be (i.e. Carnaval).

Honestly, I wasn’t all that taken with the experience, but there were a few things that stuck out to me. For one, each and every department of the brewery had established environmental impact goals and their progress towards them was posted in a very visible way. Granted, all these environmental impact goals are probably set with cost in mind as much as environmental commitment, but it’s still something I’ve not seen anywhere else in Bolivia. (To be fair, I’ve not toured any other factories here either.)

Everything from water use to mash efficiency to carbon dioxide recycling. Apparently all the CO2 from the fermenters is trapped and re-utilized to carbonate the final product or sold on to other buyers. Also, apparently all the used grain is re-sold on as animal feed. Is that standard practice? My impression was that breweries like Sierra Nevada or Alaska Brewing get all manner of plaudits for their commitment to environmental friendliness, including practices like reselling spent grain as animal feed–yet here the biggest brewery in the country is doing it without utilizing the “green” aspect as a marketing tool. Odd, that–yet cautiously encouraging.

Some numbers: they average around 1 million liters per month. (Is that the right unit? I really need to master brewing units.) They bottle around 3000 cases a day. They have a massive bottling line that cleans, fills, and labels all of the 625 mL bottles that are returned to the brewery. (Which is standard practice here. Recycling glass bottles is an institution.) There’s also a newer canning line, and a small kegging station.

Anyway, I’ll leave it there for now, mostly because this was almost two weeks ago and I’m fairly sure my accuracy is waning.

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