Brewery Vessels Guide Part 1 – Fermentation Tanks

I decided to put a brewery vessels guide together on fermentation tanks after chatting with a client, about a new brewhouse project for Hong Kong. Hong Kong real estate is expensive so, the client needed to make the best use of the available space.

The conversation obviously got me thinking about the best tanks for the project. Plus, how to fit in as much cellar volume as we could. I then thought it make a good subject for an article so, here we are.

But before we start, I want to say a little bit about locations. As a brewing consultant, one of the first questions, I ask is “do you have a location yet?”. The reason is, like with the Hong Kong project; the building you choose can affect the equipment you have to buy.

Brewery Vessels Guide– Location Is Important

Once I’ve established you’ve a building for the project. I’ll follow up with:

  • How much floor space do you have?
  • What size area have you allotted for the production of beer?
  • How much ceiling height do you have?
  • Do you have any outside space?

They are other questions I like to ask, but these are the main ones, which help if answered.

The answer to these questions, shows me how space we have to play with. Which I also relay to the brewery equipment manufacturers. Let’s take one of the questions, as an example.

“How much ceiling height do you have?”

Now, recently I was looking to upgrade some tanks to a bigger size to add more cellar tank volume to a brewery. I wanted to put in a “skinny” 1,000-liter fermentation vessel (FV) in the space of a 500L FV.

Brewery Fermentation Vessel

Brewery Fermentation Vessel

Thanks to Bespoke Brewing Solutions for these pictures

Skinny tanks take up less floor space. Plus, as you can see in the above pictures, work well to fit in more tanks to a container.

So, I got chatting one of my preferred brewery equipment suppliers and shared some pics (sorry one pic is blurry) and video below. Relaying that we had a celling 392 cm and I had a 1.1 sqm. space to work with.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough room so, the plan had to be scrapped. However, it shows how important prior planning is.

If you’d like more information on maximising space for your brewery equipment, listen to Chris’ episode with myself and the Bespoke Brewing Solutions team on Brewery Layouts & Designs for greater insights on the topic.

Anyway, back to the main topic…fermentation vessels.

Brewery Vessels Guide – FV’s The Engine Room of Any Brewery

I’ve said many times and I’ll stress again, your fermentation profile and actions in the cellar are as if not more important than how the brew days goes.

An FV, is where the wort (sugar liquid) you made in the brewhouse is transferred to and fermented to alcohol. There will be some residual sugars left over, which the yeast will not ferment with most beer styles.

Furthermore, CO2 is produced as a byproduct of fermentation. Which can be used to carbonate the beer through a technique called spunding, (more on this later).

Fermentation vessels have changed through the centuries to the standard form, you see in breweries today, the cylindroconical design. There are several reasons why this design is the go-to, for brewers around the world.

One advantage is this design, usually has a 60-degree cone bottom, which makes it easier for brewers to dispose of, or collect yeast for re-pitching.

Standard Designs for an FV – Brewery Fermentation Vessel Guide

When looking to purchase a fermentation vessel, there are some features which should be included as standard.

CIP/Vent Arm

The arm should be at a comfortable height for a brewer to connect a beer hose to when CIP’ing, plus, adding CO2 to the tank for more head pressure.

It should have a pressure gauge, with the equipment manufacturer providing quick connect fittings to make adding CO2 adding easier.

Adjustable Footpads

The FV should be have adjustable footpads (for vessel under 100BBL or 11,734 liters), to ensure all four feet touch the ground and the tank is level. Especially helpful when you’ve a pitched floor in your brewery.

Insulation/Cooling Jackets – Brewery Vessels Guide

Most FV’s are double jacketed; within these jackets is glycol piping, to help regulate the temperature and chill the FV. There’s also insulating foam, to make these tanks more energy efficient.

When sourcing FV’s; ask the suppliers what they use to insulate their tanks. The use of “polyurethane pour in foam” is one of the best options for FV’s.

Manway

A manway can be either on the side, or the top of an FV. Some brewers on larger vessels like to have both. A top manway gives you the option to static dry hop, if you don’t have the option of a dry-hop port on your tank.

Sample Point

You need to take a daily sample during the fermentation process to check how the brew is going. If you don’t have in tank sensors of course.

PRV (Pressure Relief Valve)

Good brewers take safety seriously. Every tank comes with a “safe working pressure”, which typically is from 15 to 30 PSI.

Side note: Please make sure you have the right documentation provided by your equipment manufacturer of choice. In the UK it’s UKCA, for the US it’s ASME and Australia it’s …..

A PRV, prevents a brewer from over pressurizing or causing a vacuum in a tank. They should be self-sealing to prevent beer contamination. Plus, should be easy to disassemble for cleaning.

Draining

A good tank should be designed to allow for low turbulence transfer and also prevent cavitation when performing a CIP.

Head Space

All tanks should have at least 20% head space. For example, if you have a 10HL brewhouse, the FV should have space for 12HL.

What happens these days is brewers often “push” the limits, maybe putting in 11.5 HL of beer into a 12HL tank, for example.

The brewer would use anti-foam to make sure the krausen doesn’t end up on the cellar floor.

Temp Probe/Thermowell

All FV’s should come with at least one thermowell. Which is a metal tube, where you insert a temperature sensor. The thermowell isolates the temp probe from the process, allowing the brewer to fix or replace sensors without draining the vessel.

This is a Typical Temp Probe Which Goes in the Thermowell

Brewery Vessels Guide – Optional Extras for an FV

There are some “extras”, which can make an FV more useful. These are additions which usually costs extra. There are many extras you can add or stipulate.

Below we list some of the most common extras added.

Carbonation Stone

Most FV’s these days are DPV (dual purpose vessels), meaning the wort/beer is both fermented and matured in the same tanks without being transferred.

If you opt for DPV (also known as unitanks), it makes sense to add a carbonation stone. These stones allow you to carbonate a beer quickly ready for packaging.

Sight Gauge / Viewing Ports

These usually come with brite beer tanks (BBT’s), as they are usually impractical for an FV. However, last year I worked on one brewery installation project which had a great design. See the diagram below.

The FV’s had two glass ports on the top of the FV. You could shine a torch in one port and look in the other, to see the fermentation in progress clearly.

This option is not strictly necessary but a nice one to have.

BBT with Sight Gauge

Racking Arm

Racking arms, allow you to collect as much beer as possible from an FV. It can be moved so; you can continue to collect beer until the there’s sediment.

It’s the choice between a racking arm or having two out ports at the bottom of the FV. One is true bottom and the drain and other raised so you can collect beer above the sediment and yeast.

Dry-Hop Dosing

We spoke about using the top manway for dry-hop adding. Another option is to have a large port with a 4-inch butterfly (or bigger), which you can open and close on top the tank.

You connect a dry-hop dosing unit (see pic below) to the valve. Then you add your hops, purge with CO2 and pressurize the dosing unit (to a higher pressure than the tank).

You can then add the hops to the vessel by opening the butterfly valve. The advantage is less chance of O2 pick-up. Plus, you’re eliminating the chance of a dry-hop volcano.

As I say there are many extras you can add to an FV. However, these are the main ones. If you’ve a great tank feature, which I should add to this article. Please feel free to message me or leave a comment below.

Brewery Vessels Guide – Spunding

I wanted to cover the topic of spunding here too. For a full in-depth guide, please click the link to read a deep dive on spunding, I did for another site. However, we’ll cover the basics here.

Spunding is where you “cap” the fermentation once the beer is actively fermenting. You cap the fermentation tank by closing off the CO2 arm and building pressure in the tank.

You use a spunding valve (pic below) to set the maximum pressure before the spunding valves opens automatically, releasing excess CO2. It’s similar to a PRV. The pressure set by the brewer, is usually between 10 and 15 PSI (0.7 to 1 Bar).

The act of spunding the beer and creating head pressure allows the fermenting wort to carbonate naturally. Brewing literature states, spunding can create cleaner beer. Plus, it means brewers use less CO2 from bottles/banks. As the beer naturally carbonates itself.

Spunding valves are optional extras you can ask for to come with your FV’s. I like to use them for most style of beers except IPA (or dry-hopped beers) and other beer styles, like Saison where the yeast adds a lot of character to the finished beer.

Brewery Vessels Guide – Conclusions

Thanks for reading out brewery fermentation vessel guide. I hope it’s helped you understand more about one of the most important vessels in the brewhouse. Plus, how design can impact the beer you make.

The importance of fermentation is often overlooked in brewing. Having the right FV’s for your brewhouse will make your life easier.

In part two, we’ll look at some of the other tanks usually seen in a brewery cellar. For now, though if you have any questions on FV’s or breweries in general please feel to email me (details below).