The next time you settle in for a refreshing cold one at your local brewery, you may have John Seppamaki to thank.
Seppamaki, president of Aqua Products Company, Inc., in Newberry, has been chilling for 23 years. His company makes water chillers, ranging from two to 25 tons, tailored to the needs of customers spanning a varied spectrum from the federal government to local churches. There’s been a recent spike in demand for chillers from one industry in particular: the craft breweries sprouting like tasty mushrooms from the Upstate to the Lowcountry.
Columbia’s River Rat Brewery and RJ Rockers Brewing Company in Spartanburg are among the company’s hoppy clients.
“The demand in the brewery market is growing considerably, just like the number of breweries,” Seppamaki said. “To give you an example, I was talking to a brewer in Cincinnati, and he said five years ago, there were three breweries in Cincinnati. Today, there’s 27.”
According to the Brewers Association, an industry nonprofit trade association, the U.S. has gone from 1,566 breweries in 2000 to 4,269 in 2015.
Aqua Products builds chillers to order in its 15,000-square-foot headquarters, shipping between 300 and 400 a year. Its overall product line features approximately a dozen basic models capable of chilling water to negative-25 degrees and heat it to 85.
“A chiller is an air conditioning machine that makes cold water,” Seppamaki said. “… It’s pretty fundamental, what we do. Basically, we take a BTU and we cool it, so it’s just a standard process. There are many kinds of applications. You can do what’s called jacket cooling. A lot of the breweries are jacket cooling, where you’re not cooling the beer directly. It’s got a coil all the way around the tank.”
Breweries’ chiller options range from small, expandable modular units to “The Beast,” which features dual condensing units in a single metal cabinet. All models are designed to harness the latest technology and innovation to give customers the greatest convenience while saving them money on operating costs – across-the-board benefits for industries from medicine to plastics to dry cleaning.
“The list just goes on and on and on,” Seppamaki said.
Seppamaki, a graduate of Western Michigan University, first saw the potential of chillers while working as a distributor and designer in the dry cleaning industry.
“Back in the day, dry cleaners used city water and sewer because it was so cheap, and then times changed and they converted into what’s called cooling towers, which cools by evaporation,” he said. “The problem with the cooling towers, in the summertime when it’s hot and humid, you have very little evaporation, so they weren’t working. We progressed into chillers, and that’s where we got our basic knowledge.”
After moving to Newberry to work for a company that closed, Seppamaki decided to start his own, launching Aqua Products in 1993.
“Our corporate office was my daughter’s bedroom, because she had just left for school,” he said.
The business grew into more traditional business spaces before moving into its current home in 2000. Clients including Kingsford Charcoal, Duraflex and Costco keep the company’s 12 employees, including Seppamaki’s son and company vice president J.R., hopping.
“There are very few applications we can’t design for,” said Seppamaki, whose chillers are in businesses nationwide and overseas.
On a typical workday, heavy industrial coils line tables and chillers in various stages of assembly await their finishing touches on the manufacturing floor. Seppamaki said designs can be modified to fit a customers’ individual needs.
“We’re problem solvers,” he said.
The surprises for who might need a chiller next are constant, Seppamaki said. For example: “Chicken incubators. We do a lot of chicken incubator cooling.
“ … Every day is different. That’s why I don’t really work. It’s like being involved in a science lab. It’s just fun. Each day is completely new and completely different, and you have no idea what the day is going to bring.”