Wednesday, February 2, 2011

You Need a Kettle to Brew

You can’t open a brewery with out some brewing equipment.  We ordered our system back in August, right after we signed our lease and its scheduled to arrive later this month.

We decided to go with a new brewing system made up of a 20 barrel, steam-fired, two-vessel brew house, three 40 barrel fermenters, one 40 barrel bright tank and one 40 barrel hot liquor tank.  Each of our brew house vessels serve dual purposes; one tank is a combination mash and lauter tun and the second is a kettle and whirlpool.  We ordered our system from Diversified Metal Engineering (DME), a vendor on the east coast of Canada.  The equipment is built to order which is why the lead time is so long. 
Like most start-up breweries we initially planned to purchase a used brewhouse and several used fermenters.  The most obvious advantage to purchasing used equipment is cost.  Most start-ups (including this one) are on a tight budget and the used market is a great way to save some cash when opening a capital intensive business like a brewery.  One of the main problems with the used market is that you are limited to what is available at the time you are ready to make the purchase.  

We found that there wasn’t a deep supply of used brewing equipment on the market at that time we were in a position to make the purchase.  The craft beer segment has continued to see solid growth over the past few years limiting the amount of used equipment coming into the market.  At the same time there have been a substantial number of new breweries entering the market looking for the same equipment.  We were finding that any used brew houses sized in the start-ups range would be sold almost immediately and a discount to new equipment that was relatively narrow.

What we liked about purchasing new equipment was that you can customize the system and size to your specific needs.  As a production brewery we were looking for the largest brew house that would fit our budget since there is very little difference in the amount of time required to brew a 20 gallon batch compared to a 20 barrel batch of beer.  With that in mind we began getting quotes on two-vessel, 15 and 20 barrel brew houses.  What we found was that there was about a 20% increase in price (give or take 5% depending on vendor), when stepping up to a 20 barrel brew house from a 15 barrel one.  Based on our plan and budget we decided that the increase in output per batch was worth the increase in price.  

Once we decided on the size of the brewhouse we needed to determine the size of the fermentation tanks and how many we would need.  Generally, fermentation tanks are sized in multiples of your brew house capacity.  Since we were getting a 20 barrel brew house, we would want 20, 40, 60, etc. barrel fermenters.  

We wanted to start with enough tank space to reach an annual capacity of between 1,500 and 2,000 barrels.  Based on the fermentation cycles of the beers we are planning to make and the size of our brew house we originally planned on ordering four 20 barrel fermenters.  However, from a cost and planning perspective it made more sense to go with three 40 barrel tanks.  The total cost of the three 40 barrel fermentation tanks was only a few thousand dollars more than four 20 barrel tanks but gave us additional fermentation capacity.  With the 40 barrel tanks we have between 2,000 and 3,000 barrels of annual capacity depending on our fermentation schedule and the mix of beer styles we produce.
Our only concern with 40 barrel fermentation vessels was our ability to do small batch beers.  We plan to produce some smaller volume bottle conditioned beers.  These beers we plan to produce in the 20 barrel batches because of the extra labor involved with bottling.  Fortunately we have the ability to produce 20 barrel batches in these tanks with no problem.   

We are still in the process of sourcing the rest of the equipment we will need to make the brewery operational, like a steam boiler to heat our water and kettle, a chiller system to control fermentation temperature, packaging equipment to keg our beer, etc., but this is the heart of the brewing facility and we can’t wait to get it in our warehouse and start brewing some beer. 


  1. Hey!

    Great to hear that everything's going well! I was just wondering if you were looking to hire anyone. I have a BS in chemical engineering and I have done home brewing myself as well. I would love to join an endeavor that's so close to home and produces my favorite product: great beer!

  2. Steffi-

    Thanks for reading the blog. Right now we're just getting started but if all goes according to plan we will be hiring in the future. Any thing that comes up will, most likely, be posted here or on our yet to be launched website so stay tuned.

  3. I'm also interested for working with you. I'm an avid homebrewer looking to join up with a brewery. Hell, i'll run the entire office once you're set up. I work across the road from where you're set up so travelling is not an issue. Call me if interested and i'll bring along a few "resumes" (homebrews). John 732-977-1842