The process of installing and commissioning a brewery (either new or used) varies widely. The type of system and complexity of it determines what is checked and the procedures used. For example, procedures for a simple two-vessel manual brewhouse will be very different than a four-vessel automated system. However, one thing that is common to all is the cleaning and passivation procedures before a brewing system is put into service.
Regardless of whether a system has been checked at the factory prior to shipping (i.e., the FAT or Factory Acceptance Test) once it is onsite and installed everything must be tested again. The FAT is to test what can be tested (vessel, electrical/electronics, piping system, pumps, valves, some devices, etc.) and determine if any significant changes need to be made before disassembly and shipping. It is easier and cheaper to fix or make changes in the factory than in the field.
MAKING LIFE EASY (INSTALLING & COMMISSIONING A BREWERY)
Typically, the brewery equipment supplier will provide a layout of how the equipment should be positioned onsite. What is often lacking is the order in which the vessels should be placed. Sometimes it is quite logical but sometimes not. An example is a four-vessel brewhouse positioned linearly versus that with the vessels placed in a square. I would place the lauter tun first in the linear brewhouse configuration (regardless of where in the line it is located), but in the square configuration, I would place the vessels in the back of the square first (if there is a back). The reason for picking the lauter tun (LT) is because it is usually the heaviest and therefore the most difficult to position. Once it is placed the other vessels can be positioned using the LT as the anchor. In the square configuration, this may not be possible. In some instances, say where there is a hanging grist hopper, the mash kettle (or, depending on the system, mash tun) may be the anchor vessel. In most cases, the structural challenges of hanging a grist hopper determine the location of the vessels below it. In other words the grist hopper is not moveable, so we’ll have to adjust the vessels to suit its position.
Once all the equipment is in position, they must be leveled (and anchored – but usually after all the piping connections are made – just in case). To many, this may sound obvious, but I have seen many brewing systems where the owner is anxious to see his equipment fully assembled and overlooked this step. If there is a platform that is usually installed and leveled as well. If the system was pre-piped, pre-placement of the pumps and reassembly of the piping will go together easier with properly placed and leveled equipment.
THE ELECTRICAL SIDE & TESTING IT ALL OUT
After everything is fully assembled, and all the electrical is connected it is time to start testing. I usually get the local electrician to power up the panel with the internal breakers opened and check for faults as each breaker is closed. If any trip immediately there is likely a fault somewhere. I say that, but I have seen breakers trip due to current in-rush (from transformers, or VFDs) from initial start-up, not so much as a fault in the electrical system.
The next step with the electrical is to check motor rotation. Do not assume anything is going to rotate in the proper direction.
Again, this should be done alongside the local electrician. He may not know which way something is supposed to rotate but he will know how to correct it safely.
(I have skipped the connecting of water, steam/condensate, malt handling, and glycol systems for brevity purposes. This article is intended to summarize starting up a typical brewing system, not so much as a comprehensive set of instructions for all types of breweries).
FILLING IT UP FOR THE FIRST TIME
Once everything is deemed to be operational electrically, we can prepare for moving water around. The first thing I do is visually inspect inside the vessels for foreign objects (such as nuts, bolts, washers, rags, etc.). The next thing is to disconnect the lines going to the suction side of the pumps (I know, you just finished connecting them!). Then open all drain valves. Now you can start hosing out the loose debris that has accumulated inside the vessel over the previous months. Pay particular attention to the lines going to the pumps. I have run a lot of debris through pumps during start-up, so learn from me.
After thoroughly rinsing and inspecting we can button up the disconnected lines and close all valves. I like to start from a known position; that is why I ask to close all valves; it helps reduce the number of surprises. Now, we can simulate a brew, or as some say, do a water brew. I would typically do this first one with cold water in case we need to make some changes on the fly – I hate doing that when everything is hot. If this test goes well get a little more serious and simulate with hot water if available.
During this phase, I check to make sure the pumps are running within their designed current load rating. I will cycle them up to the point of cavitation (if possible) and then back down to their lowest rotational speed. All the time listening for any unusual noises and vibrations.
Before we get to cleaning, we will test the vessel heating. With direct-fired systems (both forced draft burner and electric) it is straightforward. Steam, however, requires a bit more involvement from other professionals. Usually, the company (or person) who installs the steam boiler/system will either fire it or will commission a local expert to fire it up and dial it in as required. When firing up the steam system for the first time, I like to open the condensate at the “Y” strainers and let the steam/condensate blow out any debris that may have accumulated during installation. I will usually run this for 10 to 15 minutes. It can be noisy, hot, and humid but at least you likely won’t have to open up a faulty (read leaking) steam trap.
PASSIVATION (INSTALLING & COMMISSIONING A BREWERY)
Passivating always seems to be a bit of voodoo art to most, and, if you have done any searching you are likely to agree. I have read many different articles on how to “properly” passivate stainless steel using many different acidic compounds. Most methods call for a strong acidic solution (like nitric acid) circulated for some time at a particular temperature. What I like to reference is ASTM A380/A380M-17 which defines a standard practice for cleaning, descaling, and passivation of stainless steel. These were adopted by the U.S. Department of Defense. For what we need, the basics are rinse, clean (alkaline detergent), rinse, acid passivate, and rinse.
Something that never seems to come up is the potential to damage a lot of brewery components with a strong hot acid (such as nitric). I have witnessed damage to manway gaskets, pump seals, other seals, corroded pump motor shafts, etc. So, if you can try to isolate those items which may be damaged during this process you will save yourself plenty of grief.
(As a side note, when running these procedures hot be aware of the potential of collapsing a vessel if it is not properly vented (i.e. Hot Liquor or Cold Liquor tanks). A small amount of cold rinse water can lead to a catastrophic event).
Once the system is passivated, I will do more water brews to ensure everything works and no damage was caused during cleaning and passivation procedures. Plus, this also gives the system a good rinse. Now is the time to check and verify flow rates of any flow meters, and the same for any temperatures devices (either digital or analog). I usually use a known-good thermometer (certified) to verify temperatures. Any device that has a function should be tested at this time (not while brewing the first brew).
MALT HANDLING SYSTEM CHECKS
Concurrent to running the cleaning and passivation of the brewhouse vessels, I will work on the malt handling system. One of the obvious things is making sure all motors run in the proper direction. Augers, conveyors, and the malt mill all need to be checked for proper rotation or direction. Once it is determined all the malt handling components work, I will run a couple of bags of sacrificial malt (i.e., malt that I am willing to dump) through the system. This helps to clean out any debris and polish up auger flighting and remove thin oil coatings. The mill can be set up for both flow rate and gap to get a reasonable crush for the first brew. If screens are available, I will use these to dial in the mill roller gap width.
THE MAIDEN BREW
Once water brews are trouble-free, I will set up for the first brew. That means fill both hot and cold liquor tanks and set their temperatures and monitor to ensure they are working as expected. The malt recipe will run through the malt handling system and into a grist hopper (if one is included) allowing the checking of motor performance (i.e., heat and amperage draw) and to balance flows between conveyors and the malt mill.
On mashing-in, water volume is normally measured with a flow meter, and liquor temperature may be manually monitored and adjusted or by automation, depending on the system. If the mash vessel has heating jackets and an agitator, both will be checked for proper operation. Mash agitator drive will be run up to 100% and the mixing performance observed. Keep in mind the lower the liquor to grist ratio the poorer the mixing performance (i.e., less than 2.8:1). During heating steps, the times to hit the various setpoints will be noted and heat rates calculated.
Prior to transferring the mash, foundation water is added to the lauter tun. Temperature stability noted. Normally the amount will be just to the top of the false bottom screens. If there is a flow meter on the hot liquor line this volume is noted and used for subsequent brews.
If the mashing vessel is dedicated for this purpose, then at the end of the mashing program, a transfer over to a lauter tun is next. Both speeds of transfer and how well the mash vessel drains (vortexing? complete emptying?) are noted. Always listening for any unusual noises and constantly checking for leaks. I like to see this transfer occur within 10 minutes for a “normal” brew.
During this time, a handheld ammeter is used to check the amp draw of the motors while under load. An example is during mash mixing (above) when the variable frequency drive is sped up to 100% the motor is likely to draw close to the motor tag FLA (full load amperage). A quick check of the motor temperature (by hand) will tell you if the motor is working hard. If a motor heats up significantly within a few minutes you may have a problem, an ammeter check will verify this.
After the mash has settled vorlauf or recirculation of the wort back into lauter tun is started. After a predetermined amount of time (usually 10 to 20 min), the wort flow will be switched to the brew kettle. During vorlauf and run-off, I will carefully monitor the differential pressure either visually (if no pressure transmitter) or with the installed devices (pressure transmitters).
If the system has variable height rakes, then during lautering, I will run these to their limits while at raking speed. Even though these would have been tested many times prior I am cautious the first time with a grain bed.
Sparge temperature stability, flow rate, and coverage pattern are monitored, and any abnormalities are noted for further review.
At the end of lautering, I will take a sample of the spent grains and do a starch test (iodine) for residual unconverted starch. This will help me dial in the malt mill. If any starch is detected, that tells me I am losing extract and need to adjust my mill settings (gap width, feed rate, etc). As most brewers know there is a fine line between too tight and too loose malt mill roller gap. So some caution must be exercised when making these adjustments.
LETS GET IT TO BOIL
With steam-fired systems, I will turn on the heat in the brew kettle as soon as the bottom jacket is covered. As the kettle fills, I will note the temperature and volume and try to maintain a wort temperature of 90℃ to 95℃ (194℉ to 203℉). Once the kettle full mark is made maximum heat is applied and the time to get to a full boil is noted.
Over boil sensor: During previous water brews, the overboil sensor (if installed) is tested by manually grounding the probe to the vessel dome. This is not the same as wort foam during boiling. The device’s sensitivity may have to be adjusted to react more accurately to the conductivity to wort foam during boiling. So, I carefully allow boiling wort to foam up to the overboil sensor to make sure it reacts correctly. If it does not respond quickly enough, I will increase the sensitivity until I get the response I want.
Brew kettle evaporation rate is calculated based on starting volume, end volume, and boil time. The most accurate way is by using a dipstick. An external sight glass can give erroneous readings, so I like to verify with a manual method.
During wort boiling, the lauter tun will be emptied. If there is a spent grains removal system in place, this will be tested. Assuming the lauter tun has adjustable rake height, I will usually start with the rakes and plows in the full-up position. With the spent grains manway open, I will set the plow-out speed at half and slowly lower the cutting rakes (plows still up) into the grain bed, all the while listening for any unusual sounds and watching the rotation. Once the rakes reach the bottom limits, I will bring them to the full-up position and then drop the plows and repeat the process, but I will lower according to the amount of spent grain being removed.
On completion of boiling, the wort is either whirlpooled in situ or transferred to a whirlpool vessel. My belief is this should be as brief as possible. If whirlpooling in situ, run the whirlpool pump only long enough to get the wort moving (~ 5 min). Once you reach the terminal rotational speed, shut the pump down and allow the wort to settle. Do not keep running the pump for another 15 min – all the pump does is homogenize the protein flocks you created while boiling. Settling occurs after the pump is turned off.
If there is a separate whirlpool, the pump should be sized for a 10 to 15 min transfer. My preference is a high volume, low speed (RPM) pump. Since most pumps these days are run with a variable frequency drive, the pump speed is usually not an issue. Pumping/transferring problems will arise if the pump is sized incorrectly or the piping is of a poor design.
HEAT EXCHANGER & COOLING
Once the trub has settled, the wort can be cooled and transferred to an awaiting fermentation vessel. I will usually start the process slowly. Wort is allowed to gravity feed the pump and then the heat-exchanger (this is system-dependent). Coolant flow is turned on and verified, and then the wort pump. Wort temperature at the discharge side of the heat exchanger is closely monitored and adjusted as required. Temperature can be controlled by varying the coolant flow rate or varying the wort flow rate (pick one). Usually the coolant flow rate becomes fixed, and the wort pump speed is adjusted to trim the temperature. Heat exchangers are engineered with somewhat fixed parameters. However, there is quite a range they can operate within.
Almost without exception, air or oxygen is injected, post-heat exchanger. The aeration device always has an inline sight glass which must be checked to ensure the device is operating correctly. Oxygen (or air) flow should be ramped up and down to ensure the flow gauge is reading (and the check valve is not installed backward).
Once knock-out is complete, any deficiencies noted should be addressed as soon as reasonably possible.
This article is not a comprehensive manual about brewery start-ups but an overview of important and often overlooked considerations. There are numerous configurations and permutations to take into account, but the main takeaway is to check everything and assume nothing.
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Visit our Articles section to gain further insights and info to assist in your brewery planning & build. You can also listen to both our Brewery Consulting & Equipment Sourcing segments on Series 1 of the Podcast for related advice and info.