SOURCING BREWING EQUIPMENT FROM CHINA

Price, is the main motivator’s breweries have for sourcing brewing equipment from China. Setting up a brewery is an expensive business and your biggest outlay is the kit you’ll make the beer on. The big concern with many brewers is…how do you go about sourcing brewing equipment from China and more importantly make sure the kit is good?

We’ve all heard horror stories, with brewery owners having bad experiences sourcing equipment from China like this one. Which, I read about a few weeks ago. I even heard on the brewer’s grapevine about one brewer, who’d been told the container carrying their equipment fell off the boat, and was currently at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean! I had another brewer share the pictures below, of equipment a friend had bought. The equipment had bad craftmanship and unsanitary welds.

SOURCING BREWING EQUIPMENT FROM CHINA

When they reached out to the equipment supplier, they were told “well for the price you paid, what do you expect?” Let’s say the aftercare service was non-existent. So yeah, your concerns are valid.

BUYING ONLINE FROM AMAZON OR SIMILAR BUSINESSES

People buy online for the many items these days; be it electronics, gardening tools or books. When purchasing online you…

  • Shop around
  • Look for reviews
  • See how the seller is rated
  • Get recommendations from a friend or family
  • Potentially speak with the seller directly

You don’t blindly purchase from the first site you visit, which happens to have the item you want. You don’t necessarily go with the cheapest option. But, with a seller or company with a good reputation, you feel you can trust.

It’s the same when sourcing brewing equipment from China. If it’s too good to be true, then it usually is…always do your research and due diligence.

Now, I need to be upfront, I’m a UK brewer based in China. I work as a brewing consultant helping people who want to source Chinese kit.

So, putting a positive spin on buying from China is in my best interests. However, as I’ve already written, not all Chinese equipment suppliers are trustworthy and equipment made equal.

I want to share with you my experiences in China, installing Chinese made brewing equipment. Plus, helping breweries overseas sourcing Chinese made brewing equipment.

Furthermore, there are many well-known breweries who’ve had good experiences with Chinese made brewing systems.

OTHER BREWERIES WHO’VE ALSO BOUGHT FROM CHINA INCLUDE:

Have you ever heard of Carlton United Breweries? Just kidding…anyway take a look at the quote below:

As you can see in the image above, Carlton United Breweries were happy with the equipment they bought from Bespoke Brewing Solutions. Bespoke are a Chinese equipment manufacturer run by a Brit and an American.

Here are some other breweries from around the world, who’ve bought brewing equipment from China.

  • Black Hops Brewery – Australia
  • AB InBev – Placed breweries made in China in India and South Korea
  • Distant Shores Brewing Company – Japan
  • Gammelbacka Bryggeri AB – Sweden
  • Little Island Brewery – Singapore
  • Lamborghini – Their brewpub experience

Like with any purchase, doing your research and due diligence is key. However, even before doing your research on different suppliers, you need to make your equipment list.

HAVE YOUR LIST WITH PROPER SPECIFICATIONS – SOURCING BREWING EQUIPMENT FROM CHINA

To give your brewhouse project a greater chance of success, you need to be properly prepared. It all starts with your list. You need to be very clear about what equipment you want. For example:

  • How many vessels will your brewhouse have (2,3,4 or 5 vessel system)?
  • What is your preferred heating option? If steam, do you want it to be electric or gas powered?
  • How many cellar tanks do you need plus, what sizes and configurations?
  • Will you be making a lot of high ABV beers? Do you need an oversized mash tun?
  • Are you planning to make mostly lager? Would horizontal tanks be best?

AN EXAMPLE EQUIPMENT LIST FROM A CLIENT

Below are just some of the basics, you’ll need cover when getting more granular in your needs and requirements. I recently worked with an established Australian brewery looking to source a pilot system for their production facility.

They bought from China previously, but not worked directly with any manufacturers. So, they reached out to me for help. The list they put together was impressive, they knew what they were doing.

They wanted the pilot system to match up with their production brewhouse. So, required the same brand names for a lot of their key components. Which they clearly stipulated on the equipment list. All their auxiliary equipment had specified brands they wanted to use for their…

  • Flow meters
  • Pumps
  • Steam fittings
  • Heat exchanger
  • PID
  • PLC / HMI
  • Pneumatics

Why were they so insistent?

Well, they needed to be able to replace parts easily. Which meant they didn’t want local Chinese brands but international brands which could be sourced in Australia.

MAKE SURE THE EQUIPMENT IS UP TO LOCAL CODE

As the brands stipulated were also installed on their big production brewery. It made it easier for the maintenance team to fix any issue on the pilot system. As they would know the parts already. The brewery also wrote on their brief:

  • Electrical to be wired and installed to Australian standards
  • Fermentation / pressure vessel tanks must carry design registration in Australia

The above makes government inspection easier to pass, as they’ll have all the necessary paperwork. What else did the client specify?

Well for their fermentation tanks, here were some of their requests:

  • Tanks with individual temp controllers, PID’s and glycol solenoids wired-up on-board skid
  • Spunding Valves
  • 9” dry hopping ports on the top of each tank
  • Carbonation Stones in Each Tank
  • Racking Arms
  • All Tri Clover Fittings 1.5”

Plus, for the brewhouse here is some of the list:

  • Steam Condensing Stack on Kettle Heat Exchange
  • Mash Rakes and Plough
  • Supplied with steam pipework, traps, strainers and valves fitted to vessels ready to connect to single 1.5” BSB fitting from existing steam network

The more specific you can be, the better the project will go. Think about the height of the grain out manway for spent grains for example. The more precise you are, the less you’ll leave decisions up to the manufacturer, leading to fewer surprises later on.

Being clear in your instructions during initial communications with different manufacturing companies, is a good way to assess how the company operates. Their feedback, questions and responses are good indicators of how the overall project might go.

For instance, you’ll soon know if the manufacturer has a good engineer on their team. As they will make initial drawings plus layouts based on your requests in a timely manner. Plus, be happy to work with you to change the layouts/drawings over the course of the project.

DOING THE RESEARCH & GETTING TESTIMONIALS – SOURCING BREWING EQUIPMENT FROM CHINA

Like trawling through reviews; when making an online purchase, you need to talk with previous clients when choosing a manufacturer. Any legitimate Chinese brewing equipment supplier should be happy for you to speak with breweries they’ve supplied before.

The ideal scenario is to visit a brewery local to you in person. A brewery which has equipment made by a supplier on your short list. Nothing can beat the eye test to put your mind at ease.
Most equipment manufacturers have a list of previous clients who they have worked with and who are willing to chat with potential customers. I’ve done this myself and actually just last week connected two brewers so, one brewer could get info on a manufacturer they were looking to use.

QUESTIONS TO ASK A BREWERY, WHO USED A SUPPLIER YOU’RE INTERESTED IN 

  1. How was the communication during the project – was the company easy to get hold of when needed, and did they keep you up-to-date during the whole process?
  2. How did the installation of the equipment go? When planning layout and brewhouse design, how was the communication?
  3. How was the aftercare when the project was finished?
  4. Every brewery has some issues when it’s been operation for a few months; how did the manufacturer help with these issues, what did they do and what was the solution?

For example, point 4; last year I helped install a 2000-liter brewery in Kunming, China. There was a chain and disk system to automatically feed malt to the grist hydrator and onto the mash tun.

The grain was moving too quickly and causing the system to seize up. The equipment supplier…

  • Sent us a VDF controller
  • Sourced a local qualified electrician
  • Contacted the local electrician and paid him to fix our malt delivery system
  • Put a new button on the touchscreen to control the speed. Which was done remotely via the internet

This was all done in 48 hours and a great example of good aftercare. I’d chosen this supplier as I’d had good feedback about them from two brewers I trust. The research I done paid dividends when it came to fixing issues.

OVERSEAS SUPPLIERS HAVE EQUIPMENT MADE IN CHINA

I should quickly note here; many “overseas manufacturers” have their equipment fabricated in China. For example:

  • SSV Limited
  • DME (have a facility in China as well as Canada)
  • Brewtech
  • ABE
  • Willis European

Are just some of the western manufacturers who have equipment made in China. Some are more open about this than others. It’s just an aside, but worth noting.

In essence you’re paying a middle man to help with purchasing. It does have its advantages if you’ve the right contract.

WHY ARE CHINESE PRICES CHEAPER? SOURCING BREWING EQUIPMENT FROM CHINA

Now seems to be a good time to look into some of the reasons why Chinese prices are cheaper. I’m going to start with the price of Nickel.

Nickel Pricing Plus State Ownership
Nickel is vital in the production of stainless steel; Indonesia has the largest Nickel deposits in the world. In September 2019, the Indonesian government announced it was banning export of raw Nickel ore.

Now Chinese companies like Tsingshan, have their own stainless-steel plants within Indonesia. So, the ban didn’t affect them as much as other steel companies in Europe, Canada and the US.
Chinese stainless-steel firms are also embracing technology to make their plants more modern, efficient and cost effective too. The combination of innovation plus, having access to cheaper raw materials makes their steel much cheaper.

Furthermore, some Chinese steel manufacturers are State-Owned-Enterprises (SOE). They can take advantage of economies of scale plus other factors which are explained here. Let’s explain by example. Say Canadian steel plant pays their worker $75,000 per year.

In all likelihood, $35,000 of this will be taxes and other costs. In China when the company is an SOE you are really paying the worker $40,000 per year, since the government would be collecting the taxes anyway. Hence the true cost of labor is cheaper.

Other factors to competitiveness include:

China’s Business Ecosystem
Within China industrial production is linked together; you have a network of suppliers, component manufacturers, distributors, government agencies and customers. Together, they’re all involved in the process of production through competition AND co-operation.

Lower Compliance
There’s less health and safety, although this is changing, especially in big cities like Shanghai. Chinese manufacturers operate under a more lenient permissive regulatory environment. This allows for cheaper manufacturing with less rules and regs in place.

Currency Manipulation
I hope the Chinese government doesn’t read this, as I might get in trouble. They don’t ever admit currency manipulation takes place. However, most financial experts know China does manipulate its currency to make its exports more attractive, especially during the current trade war with the US.

Tax and Duties
A lot of industries in China have tax rebate policies to help make their products and good competitive on world markets.

SOURCING BREWING EQUIPMENT CHINA – ONE COMMON MISCONCEPTION 

If you go on forums, you’ll see people talk about Chinese brewing equipment stating you can’t trust companies in China. They say these companies just want your money and when they have it, they don’t care.

To be fair 10 years ago, this might have been true, however times have changed. Chinese companies realize they’re competing in a world market. They understand a one-time sale isn’t going to support them long term.

Chinese equipment manufacturers realize they need to deliver on three core elements:

  • Competitive pricing
  • Quality equipment
  • Good service and aftercare

The brewing world maybe big, however it’s connected. People in the industry speak to one another. If someone has a bad experience, they are more likely to talk about it than if they’ve a good experience.

Bad suppliers will soon be identified and avoided. It pays to offer good service and aftercare because it’ll lead to more business and setting up the manufacturer for long term success.
A lot of sales for many manufactures, is via word of mouth. It makes sense for them to look after their clients.

Ningbo and Jinan
There are two main areas in China; where brewing equipment is fabricated. The first is Ningbo (not too far from Shanghai) and Jinan. A majority of manufacturers are based in Jinan where prices are generally lower than Ningbo.

The equipment made in Ningbo though, is generally of better quality. Although the gap is slowly closing. As companies in Jinan begin to employ fabricators originally from Ningbo.

There are dozens of companies making beer equipment in China so, how do you choose the right one?

Well, let’s take a look back in time. Many of the companies making brewing equipment weren’t founded as such. They were diary equipment or soft drink equipment manufacturers.

However, as craft brewing became popular these companies wanted a piece of the pie. So, they started to make brewhouses. Well let’s just say; it wasn’t always a seamless transition. Mistakes were made with some really bad kit going to market.

However, in the last 15 years a lot has been learned and now a majority of the world’s brewing equipment is made in China.

This includes European and American suppliers having their kit fabricated in China. Once this kit has been delivered Stateside or to Europe; the local supplier will do some finishing touches before it’s delivered to the customer. It’s proof-positive good brewhouse equipment is being made in China.

SOURCING BREWING EQUIPMENT FROM CHINA – TAKEAWAYS

As we begin rounding up this article, I wanted to give some takeaways:

You get What You Pay For

If you make a decision based solely on budget it might not represent a good long-term investment. You’re brewing kit will work hard over its lifetime. Ideally, you want your brewhouse to last a minimum of 5 years.

It’ll do over a thousand brews easily in this time. Brewing is a multi-step process where timings and temperatures are key. Spending money on kit which will last and works as intended will save a lot of heartache and man hours over its lifetime.

Buying a system which meets certain standards, allows for less man hours to brew and makes standardization of your beers easier, giving you a greater chance of long-term success. It’s worth assessing equipment on many levels not just price.

Research
We’ve covered this above but, always good to reiterate this point. There are enough brewhouses made in China operating overseas for reputable suppliers to offer references and case studies of equipment being used.

Always reach out to breweries using equipment of a supplier on your shortlist of potential manufacturers. Speak with them and learn what you can.

Communication
Remember to be precise when it comes to your equipment list. If you’re not sure about something ask. There are many resources online; from Facebook groups like the Build Me A Brewery Discussion Group.

Often it is worth reaching out to other local breweries and asking if they’d be willing to chat. Sometimes they’ll say no, but other times they’ll be willing and their insight can be invaluable.
Communication with manufacturers, allows you to understand what you’re getting for your money. There’s an old saying “quality begins with the buy”. A good manufacturer will provide proper PID schematics of any build, if you ask.

If communication isn’t clear from the start, you’re giving the manufacturer free reign to do as they please. This might lead to some nasty surprises down the line.

Furthermore, you need to keep lines of communication open throughput the fabrication process. A good manufacturer will happily keep you abreast of the build as it goes along.

Where possible; it makes sense to visit China and the manufacture’s factory. Many buyers visit once, to check out several manufactures to compare them. Then visit China a second time to sign off on the equipment before shipping.

Even with the costs of travel and accommodation the total price will be cheaper than buying elsewhere. It also allows the buyer peace of mind.

SOURCING BREWING EQUIPMENT FROM CHINA – COMPARISIONS

When you’ve finished your research and have a short list of potential manufacturers, it’s time to get quotes. Depending on who is on your shortlist, the difference in price should be around 20 to 30% between manufacturers.

Once I have quotes from each supplier, I like to break down their quotes into smaller blocks So breakdown and compare prices between:

  • Brewhouses
  • Cellar tanks
  • Glycol system
  • Heating systems
  • Keg cleaner

These are just some examples; it might throw up some anomalies. If something stands out compared to other suppliers it is worth questioning the costs with the manufacturer.

SOURCING BREWING EQUIPMENT FROM CHINA – CONCLUSIONS

Thanks for taking the time to read this article, I hope you found our breakdown on sourcing brewing equipment from China useful. Many breweries are now buying their equipment from China, including some of the big boys like Carlton United Breweries and AB InBev. As well as many craft brewers from around the world.

Just this week for instance, I’ve spoken to people from Israel, Quebec, Italy and Greece about potential brewing projects. It’s all about doing your research, having good communication, and remember don’t make a decision purely based on price.

If you have any question or feedback, then please feel free to leave a comment below or contact me at: neil@buildmeabrewery.com.au

Thanks, have a great day and happy brewing!

 

For further content on this topic have a listen to our Equipment Sourcing Segment on Series 1 of the BMAB Podcast