If you’re reading this, you’re looking to open a brewery wondering what’s the minimum equipment needed to commercially brew. You’ve discovered as many have before you, brewing requires a large capital investment. Hey, it’s a legitimate concern, many breweries have started with a barebones setup, begun brewing, sold beer and re-invested running capital to grow their operations. Don’t believe me?
Back in 2008, Brewdog was selling US-style craft beer at local markets from a back on van AND missing payments on a £20,000 bank loan. Well, we all know how the story is going with Brewdog now. Their mantra was to…
“Never lose faith in what they were doing”.
Now, I’m not saying you’re going to be the next Brewdog, but from humble beginnings they’ve thrived. There are other examples such as Balter, Stone & Wood, Black Hops etc. I just wanted to show it’s possible to start small, get operational and be successful. So, with that in mind, what do you need equipment wise, to have an operational brewery?
We’ll take a look at our preferred minimum equipment list below, as well as add some additional equipment we’d recommend if you budget stretches a little further. Items not necessarily needed but, we think worth the money to be more productive and/or more consistent brew to brew. So, let’s get started…
Mills are used to crush malt and other grains like wheat, in preparation to adding them to the mash. Having your own mill allows you to control the crush (coarse to fine). Most brewers like having this control so, opt to have their own mill.
Depending where your based, you don’t necessarily need a mill. As some malt companies sell pre-crushed malt and grains to brewers.
Please note: The price of pre-crushed grain is usually higher plus has a shorter shelf life (6 months or so) than non-crushed grains.
As long as you keep tight control of your stock this shouldn’t be an issue. Other reason for forgoing a mill is if space is really tight, and also if you don’t want malt dust everywhere.
Please bear in mind when you mill malt (on some mills) you create fine dust which isn’t good for your lungs. Appropriate PPE should be worn (face mask and eye protection with optional ear plugs too).
Hot Liquor Tank (HLT)/Water on Demand
When you make beer, you need water. The temperature of your water is critical to the mash temperature. If the temperature isn’t right, you’ll end up with beer outside desired parameters. Most breweries have a hot liquor tank where they store hot water; used for brewing and cleaning, a HLT is a big stainless-steel tank with its own dedicated heating. They’re usually twice the size of the brewhouse. E.g., if you’ve a 500-litre brewery having a HLT at a minimum of 1,000 litres is recommended.
The brewing water in the HLT is heated the day before or on a timer. So, when the brewers come in to brew, the water is at desired temperature, allowing them to mash in straight away.
There is however another option…
Some smaller breweries opt for water-on-demand instead of an HLT. In these systems, water is heated almost instantly to the desired temperature needed. I don’t recommend water-on-demand unless space is severely limited. As most systems are limiting in capacity and temperature range. Furthermore, having a hot liquor tank, means hot water produced when cooling wort via a heat exchange can be reused for your next brew or for cleaning…very handy.
The brewhouse is where wort is made, then sent to your fermentation vessels. You can have a one vessel system. However, I’d not recommend this option as it is very limiting for brewers. You mash in, on this one vessel, with the mash in a “basket” (see pics below) with strike water surrounding it. Once the mash stand is done you can lift the basket above the kettle for sparge and lautering. It can work well, making good beer, however it’s limiting when doing multiple batches per day. As you need to finish one batch completely before starting the next one. I’ve seen breweries up to 500 litres with a one-vessel set-up.
Most brewers on a budget have a two-vessel system, with a combined mash/lauter tun and separate brew kettle/whirlpool. You mash into the mash/lauter tun, do the mash rest and then sparge from this vessel to the kettle/whirlpool. You boil the wort in the kettle (adding hops, finings and other ingredients); then after flameout “whirlpool” it to form a “trub cone” in the middle of the vessel. Thus, allowing you to send clear wort to the FV. Having a two-vessel system makes double batching much easier, as you can mash in your second batch whilst the first one is boiling.
If you’re on a budget and under 1,000 litres with your system, using electric is a decent option. It’s the cheapest brewery heating method, being less expensive than direct fire and steam to install. Furthermore, if you choose direct fire or steam, restrictions due to local laws or building code, can make your path to opening more troublesome.
Electric in most cases is more expensive to run on a day-to-day basis. Plus, extra money installing the electrical requirements to run the brewhouse maybe needed too You can go above 1,000 litres for an electrical brewhouse however, the power needed becomes expensive at these volumes.
A heat exchanger “flash cools” wort from the brew kettle as it’s been sent to the FV. Wort is taken from nearly boiling to 7-35°C depending on beer style. You’ll usually have a one or two stage heat exchanger (HXE). A one stage HXE uses cold water from a cold liquor tank to cool the wort down.
A two-stage HXE, uses both municipal water and glycol. The municipal/mains water does the majority of the cooling, with the glycol helping to hit target temp. If you’re on a budget go with a two-stage HXE, as it will mean one less tank needs to be ordered (cold liquor tank).
However, it’ll put more strain on your glycol meaning you may need to turn off cooling to FV’s whilst collecting wort. Plus, also wait for the glycol to get back down to temp before turning cooling back on. If you’ve a one-stage HXE, it’ll lead to more hot water being made. When multi-batch brewing, it’s a nice benefit having more ready mate hot water to work with.
After the wort has been cooled by the HXE, you usually aerate it. This helps the yeast leading to healthier fermentations.
The aeration point is usually just after the HXE. It’s not a huge cost to add the equipment to aerate wort and it’s worth the extra investment.
Fermentation Vessels (FV’s)/Unitanks
So, you’ve made your wort and it needs fermenting. The magic happens in the fermentation vessels where yeast is added. Yeast turns sugar into alcohol plus, oxygen present in the wort to CO2. An FV is usually “jacketed”, with a coil containing glycol between the inner and outer layers to help regulate FV’s temperature. It’s important to control FV’s temp, if you don’t, you’ll get undesirable off-flavours in your final beer. You can have FV’s of different sizes in the same brewery. Usually for one, two and three full batches. So, if you’ve a 500 litre brewhouse, have 500, 1,000 and 1,500 litre FV’s.
The larger FV’s makes it easier to keep your biggest selling beers in stock by brewing multiple batches into one tank. Many FV’s are unitanks too, meaning you can ferment, mature, clear and package wort/beer in the same vessel. If you opt for unitanks over having a dedicated brite beer tanks (please see in the wrap-up), make sure they have carbonation stones included in the design.
Chilling and Glycol
Glycol is the liquid used to chill wort and beer in the brewery. It never comes into contact with beer but, used in the heat exchanger and jackets of your cellar tanks. A glycol system has its own tank, pump, pipework and dedicated chilling units to keep it cold.
To make beer, you need to have a minimum amount of control over the brewhouse and other systems like fermentation. In a brewery, you usually have separate control panels for the brewhouse and FV’s/cellaring tanks. Having one control panel for all vessels is an option, if you’re looking to save money. The downside is you’ll need to walk more on a day-to-day basis. A control panel can be simple push buttons, switches and LCD readouts to show temperatures for the relevant brewery vessels.
Transfer/CIP Pump or CIP Unit
If you’ve a lean budget, you can opt for a CIP (clean in place) pump with internal spray balls to clean tanks. You add water and chemicals inside the tank, then use the CIP pump to take liquid from the tank bottom, though the pump to a CIP arm and spray ball to clean it.
The other option is a CIP unit, where you store premixed cleaning chemicals and have their own pumps. In larger breweries, CIP units are recommended as you will have hot caustic on demand plus it will save you money on chemical costs too.
Let’s Start to Round-Up
So, there you have it, the minimum equipment needed to commercially brew. With the above equipment you can brew good beer. It’ll be quite labour intensive but you didn’t get into the industry because you thought it’d be easy.
As we said at the start of the article; there’s some equipment recommend to make life easier, the brewery more efficient and provides good ROI’s (return on investment) too. They aren’t necessary but preferred.
Brite Beer Tank (BBT)
We spoke about “unitanks” before, where you ferment through to package beer in the same vessel. You can opt for BBT’s as well. I like to have at least one BBT in a brewery for flexibility. A BBT is used to store clear beer before packaging. You can filter/centrifuge beer out of your FV or add finings on the way to the BBT. Once the beer is clear and at correct carbonation, beer can be packaged direct from tank. I’ve added adjuncts like puree to an FV and sent the beer to the BBT the day before packaging to ensure proper homogenisation before packing. A good guide is to have one 1 BBT for every 4 FV’s
Some people use BBT’s as serving tanks; keeping them in a cold store and then pouring beer direct from tank to the taps at the bar. The reason being, it’s less work serving your popular beers as you reduce the amount of kegging needed.
Cold Room and Keg Cleaner
In a brewery with onsite taproom, you can use the BBT’s and FV’s as serving tanks too (as mentioned above). It doesn’t make sense to use a tank when it’s less than 35% full. This is when you keg off the beer and reuse the tank for a new brew. If you move beer to kegs, storing them cold will increase the beers shelf-life with most breweries having a walk-in cooler. Breweries will store other brewing material in a walk-in too like yeast and hops.
If you’re using more than 15 kegs a week, it makes sense to have a keg cleaner. Keg cleaners come in a number of sizes to fit brewery needs. You can even make your own simple keg cleaner if you’re on a budget (just be careful). Installing any form of keg cleaner will speed up the process plus lead to less chemicals being used.
The more automation you have in the brewery, the simpler your brewing life and consistency between batches. Automation is expensive but, I like having the ability to step mash for instance, having simple controls to stop the heating of the mash when desired temperature is reached makes life easier.
There you have it folks; our minimum equipment needed to commercially brew. If you’ve any follow-up questions then please feel free to comment below or email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’re smart, realistic and do you research, you can make good beer without all the bells and whistles. It’ll mean more manual labour but that’s the trade-off for having lower start-up costs. Also have a listen to our Brewery Equipment Sourcing segment in Series 1 of the podcast.
Written by Neil Playfoot