February 7, 2006
Two brothers brew up an idea, and end up distilling the essence of sustainability
* Leopold Brothers Brewery
more effective and more earth
friendly than traditional breweries
By A.J. Hogg
Daily Science Writer
Your drinking habit could be ruining the environ-
Todd and Scott Leopold aim to help. They designed
and operate Leopold Brothers, a sustainable brewery
and distillery that embraces the environmental trinity
of reduce, reuse and recycle, while producing a tasty
glass of beer or spirits.
In 1995, the Leopold brothers started raising money
for an environmentally sustainable brewery and distill-
ery, which they finally opened on South Main Street
in 1999. Todd Leopold, brew- and still-master for the
brewery, trained in a Chicago brew school, interned
in four German breweries, and has been to distilling
school in Lexington, Ky. Scott Leopold, an environ-
mental engineer, was crucial in the design stages, cre-
ating, as he puts it, "as near a zero-pollution factory as
you can get."
The brothers, originally from Colorado, chose to
relocate to Michigan because they thought Ann Arbor
would embrace the environmental sustainability.
A glance around the brewery shows how tightly they
stuck to their goal. Reused steam pipes hold up tables
made from lumberyard scrap. There are no coasters
waiting to clutter up landfills after only one use, and
the bar is built from used doors. They don't have any
CFCs - gases used in heating and cooling systems
in the past that can destroy ozone in the stratosphere
- in their heating/cooling system, which uses a cloth
heating duct that distributes heat through seams and
the fabric itself. When the heating system kicks on,
the cloth duct fills up with air like a room-length bal-
loon, as opposed to a conventional heating duct, which
releases heat in one portion of a room.
The efficiencies are also built into the brewing and
distilling processes. "Typical beer uses 10 glasses of
waste water per beer - we've lowered it to just over
one," Scott Leopold said. Iot water is saved and reused
in the production processes. The Leopold brothers'
brewing vats are so well-insulated that they can main-
tain temperatures much longer than other breweries.
"People laughed at us for spending so much on insu-
lation," Todd Leopold said.
But during a power outage in 2003, the investment
spoke for itself.
"Most breweries had to toss beer," he said.
The Leopold Brothers didn't, even after four days.
Because the beer is produced in Ann Arbor, no fossil
fuels are burned to transport it to local mouths. This
means less carbon dioxide is emitted to the atmosphere,
which might help mitigate climate change.
Between 1860 and 1918, you could walk to a handful
of breweries in Ann Arbor and get a locally brewed
beer. However, once Prohibition started in 1918, nearly
every Ann Arbor brewer went under. Only one com-
pany, the Ann Arbor Brewing Company, survived until
Prohibition was repealed in 1933. It shut its doors in
1949. Until the rise of microbreweries in 1995, every
beer bought in Ann Arbor had to be shipped into town.
Now, Leopold Brothers is one of a handful of local
breweries, and the only local distiller.
The brewing process
The brewing and distilling equipment is stashed a
few feet through a door tucked around a corner of the
bar. Bags of malt and hops, the resinous flower of a
viney plant, lie on the floor, and catwalks top the steps
to the vats.
The 90 keg fermenters and 60 keg vats shiny steel
line the walls, and you can walk alongside the brew-
ing process, following the transfer pipes from start to
finish. A single computer controls the process, and the
entire operation is run by two people.
Brewing is a skill humans have been perfecting for
8,000 years, when it was born in Babylon.
First, the barley malt is soaked in hot water, in a
vat called a mash tun. This process, called mashing,
revives the barley seeds, "fooling it into thinking its
in the ground," Todd Leopold said. This activates the
enzymes in the barley malt that converts the starch
stored in the seed into sugars, creating a wort - a
sweet brown liquid. This time spent in the mash tun
determines the body of the beer.
The Leopolds invested in the most efficient brew-
ing equipment available. In this step, typical brewing
equipment can extract 70 to 80 percent of the sugars
from the malt - Leopold Brothers' equipment can get
96 percent. Not only is this a more efficient use of raw
material, but it means they need less malt shipped to
the brewery. The less malt shipped, the less transpor-
Todd Leopold, brew- and still-master for the brewery, stands in front of brewing equipment at the Leopold Brothers' brewery on Main Street.
The equipment the brothers use for brewing is 16 to 26 percent more effective at extracting sugar than typical brewing equipment.
tation is necessary, which burns less fossil fuel. Using
less fossil fuel produces less carbon dioxide, which
reduces the amount of green house gases released.
In the next step, hops are added to the wort, and the
mixture is boiled. The art here, says Todd Leopold, is
"balancing the sweetness of malt with the bitterness of
hops." This step concentrates the wort, kills any stray
microbes, and stops the malt enzymes from converting
any more starch to sugars.
After boiling, the wort is transferred to the fermenta-
tion tanks, and the leftover malt husks are transferred
into a bin. Instead of discarding this used material,
"when it's done, the leftover is given to a local organic
farmer. The chickens love it," Todd Leopold said. Egg
production at this farm increased once they switched to
using the malt residue for feed.
In the fermentation vat, yeast is added. As it grows,
the yeast converts sugars to alcohol. Before fermen-
tation, the wort is about 14 percent sugar. The yeast
activity reduces this to 2 percent for a dry beer, 4 per-
cent for a thicker beer, and the alcohol content rises.
When the beer is removed for conditioning, the coni-
cal shaped fermentation vat collects yeast at the bottom
of the cone. It is then reused for another batch of beer.
The distillation process
On the other side of the room, the distillation column
is clearly the darling of still-master Todd Leopold's
eye. Leopold's German still is custom-made. The bot-
tom pot is a sphere about five-feet in diameter, ham-
mered from copper with hand-held hammers. Extending
upward from the sphere is a three-foot diameter copper
cylinder, with multiple levels of plates and plugs that
control which part of the evaporated vapors make it out
of the top of the still.
Depending on what is put in the still (the starting
liquid, or wash, is usually 6 to 11 percent ethanol), and
how the plates and plugs are set, "I'm able to make
damn near anything," Todd Leopold said.
And he does. From this one still, they regularly pro-
duce gin and vodka, and have bourbon and pisco, a
South American brandy, in the works.
The distillation process is based on the fact that dif-
ferent compounds evaporate at different temperatures.
This means that by controlling the temperature of the
boil, you can control the order in which compounds
evaporate, based on their boiling points. A coil of tub-
ing condenses the vapors at the top of the still, return-
ing them to the liquid state, where they are collected.
Once it has been heated, the cooling water goes to the
hot water recovery tank.
The first compounds to condense off the still are
Todd Leopold holds hops, a flower used in brewing to
give beer its bitter flavor.
called the heads. These are oily and dangerous com-
pounds that are discarded. One, methanol, is the bane
of bathtub booze-makers, and causes blindness. The
next set is called the heart. This is what the still-master
wants - the ethanol and other really tasty stuff.
The final portion, the tails, is also discarded. It's not
dangerous, but it doesn't taste very good, though it can
contribute to the final product's flavor.
This is where the art of distilling comes into play.
Where do you stop keeping the heart, and start dis-
carding the tails? Only experience tells. As Todd Leo-
pold puts-it, "where you put that cut point affects your
It sounds simple, but the way the Leopold brothers
make their gin is more complicated. Since the flavor-
ing in gin is a combination of botanicals (herbs, spices,
or fruits), you can either toss all your flavors in at once
and distill gin from the mix, or, as Leopold does, you
can distill each botanical alone, then combine them
and distill gin from this final mixture of botanicals.
Distilling the botanicals separately (remember,
different compounds boil at different temperatures),
results in a purer distillation of each botanical. And
while some of the botanicals are easy to work with -
like cardamon, orris root, or juniper berries - others
are a bit labor intensive.
For their orange botanical, the brothers zest crates
of Valencia oranges with a hand zester to avoid using
the bitter pith.
Right now the gin and vodka are available, and a
The Leopold brothers' custom-made German still can
distill gin, vodka and other types alcoholic drinks.
"We won a silver medal at the international spirits
competition in Chicago last September," Todd says.
Pisco, a South American brandy (you may have
heard of Pisco sours), is debuting this month. And a
Leopold Brothers bourbon is in the works.
It's clear that as dedicated to brewing as he is, Todd
Leopold enjoys creating new distilled spirits.
He likes the immediate gratification of making gin
and vodka. "For a brewer who's used to waiting 60
days," he gestures toward the 90-keg beer fermenta-
tion vats, "it feels like cheating - like using a micro-
If you want to try their bourbon, you'll have to
be more patient than a brewer - it takes at least two
years of aging before it becomes drinkable.
Nursing school enhances learning environment
* Robots implemented to -simulate
symptoms and provide hands on training
for nursing and medical school students
have each bought one of these devices, which cost $50,000 each.
Weighing in at about 75 pounds, the SimMan is of average height and has
been known to be extremely grouchy. During a recent interview with the
Daily, the SimMan said, "Go Away!"
"The idea is to have the SimMan give accurate feedback to nurses, allow-
noa themoi nnl, the annronriate intervention in the right amount of time."
locations and feel his chest expand.
"SimMan will be utilized as a great tool as soon as it is more heavily
incorporated into the curriculum," Nursing junior Steve Kilijancyzk said.
For now, more work needs to be done in developing the simulations, "but
it will be great for totally new and fresh kids," Kilijancyzk added.
Fventually nrorammers will develon a variety of simulated scenarios