Debunking the Myths of Electric Brewing - Part 1

A common misconception is that heating a brew house with electric heat requires non-standard, high-power feeds. In this post, we'll seek to debunk this myth with some real-world examples of different size breweries and the power required to run them.

Debunking the Myths of Electric Brewing - Part 1

When it comes to electric brewing, there are a host of misconceptions that might deter one from considering electric as an option for their system. Each heat source comes with it's own advantages and trade-offs, with consideration to system size, ease of automation, efficiency, and the equipment, installation, and operating costs. (See our VBC presentation for an overview.) What's right for the taproom down the road might not be right for you, so it's important to consider all the factors as you plan out your brewery. Let's take a few minutes to look at the first myth and set the record straight.

Electric Brewing Requires More Power Than I Have

Many of our customers come to us believing that an electric brew house requires well over 300 amps of 3-phase 480-volt power. While you may need such service for a larger brew house, it is not the case for most craft breweries. The power requirements depends on the size of the brew house, the pump setup (2, 3, or 4 pump), and the system design. Does it have a RIMs tube or HERMS coil? Is it running an HLT or on-demand water? Is the HLT oversized? Does the mash tun have a rake and motor? Is the brewer double batching? Let's look at a few different system sizes and the power draw for each, noting that each option listed is based on a 208/240V feed.

3 Barrel System

A 3 barrel brew house fitted with three 6,000W heating elements in the HLT and three in the boil kettle, along with two small pumps, is a common setup for a micro brewery or brewpub. For this, we have a few options:

  • This system could be set up to run off as little as 90A single phase service, or 60A three phase service. This would allow the brewer to run three elements at once, and with an interlock set on your controls, you wouldn't be able to fire up the boil kettle until cutting power to the HLT.
  • Alternatively, this system could be configured to run off 125A single phase or 100A three phase power. In this case, the brewer would be able to run four of the 6,000W elements simultaneously. This could be configured to run full power to either the HLT or kettle, or 12,000W to each - enough to maintain HLT temps and keep the boil going.
  • If available, this system could be fed with 200A single phase or 125A three phase service. This would enable all six elements to run at full power simultaneously.

7 Barrel System

Moving up to a 7 barrel brew house, each vessel would include three 15,000W elements, or 45kW per vessel. You'd also step up to larger pumps, and might consider adding a rake and plow to help your grain in. The power requirements are higher, but there are still options:

  • On a 200A three phase feed, this system could run either the HLT or boil kettle at full power, but you would not be able to run the HLT and BK at the same time.
  • Alternatively, the HLT and BK could be powered by a 175A three phase feed, with a separate 25A feed to power the rake and plow. This is a common setup, and can save on the cost to bring 200A service into the brewery. The rake could still be tied into the primary control panel, so from the brewer's perspective, it's the same as the first option.
  • Another option is to power the HLT and BK from separate 175A three phase feeds, enabling the brewer to run full power to both the HLT and BK at once.
  • If three phase service is not available, the system can run off of a 200A single phase feed. Similar to the first option, this would allow the brewer to power either the HLT or BK, with an interlock that prevents running both.
  • To run full power to both the HLT and BK at the same time, the system would require 300A three phase service. If the brewery is turning two or three runs per day, this option would be be the best best.

10 Barrel System

When we get into the 10 barrel range, each vessel would include four 15,000W elements, or 60kW per vessel. With larger pumps and a rake and plow, the power requirements are higher, single phase becomes less viable, and the three phase requirements increase:

  • With 225A three phase service, the interlock would be set to allows four elements (60KW total) to run at once.
  • Just as with the 7 BBl system, a second control module and feed of the same amperage could be run to enable the HLT and BK to receive power at the same time.

15 Barrel System

Lastly, we'll look at a 15 barrel system.  In this case, each vessel is set up with six 15,000W elements, or 90kW per vessel. This one is a big boy, and would be set up with two control panels feeding the HLT and kettle.The first panel would be receive a 200A three-phase (208 or 240V) feed and power eight elements and the system pumps. The second panel would be fed by 125A three-phase (208V or 240V) power and deliver 60kW of heating capacity to four elements and the mash tun rake. The system would be configured with an interlock set to power six elements simultaneously. If both vessels are heating, each would receive 45kW delivered to three elements, allowing you to pre-heat the kettle while sparging before sending full power to achieve and maintain a rolling boil.

Above 15 barrel systems, we're venturing firmly into steam heating territory, in most cases. While 20BBL systems (or more) can be run off of electric, the power requirements and electricity cost usually tilt in favor of steam. However, in some unique cases, the utilities to run a boiler are not available and electric heat is the only option.

So How Much Power Will I Need?

Below is a table of common system sizes and the power requirements. The low end of the range represents a basic setup, and the higher power requirements reflects a setup with a mash tun rake.

Brewery Size
Single Phase
Three Phase
1/2 6 30-60 60
1-2 12 60-125 60-100
3 18 100-175 60-125
3-4 24 125-200 100-150
5 30 150-200 125-150
5-7 45 - 150
5 60 - 200
10 66 - 200-225
15 90 - 300 (multiple)

The common thread here is that with more power, your brew house becomes more flexible, enabling you to run more elements across the HLT and boil kettle concurrently. From a practical standpoint, however, this isn't always a real benefit. If you're brewing once a week on your 3BBL or 5BBL system, your need to run both vessels at the same time diminishes. Supplying full power the the HLT during the initial heat, then transferring full power to the kettle to build to a rolling boil, will be the standard operating procedure. Once you reach a boil, you can transfer enough power back to the HLT to heat some water for cleaning and keep the rest in the kettle. This scenario is what we see most often, and is a great solution that does not require unrealistic (or expensive) power feeds. If, on the other hand, you're running multiple turns per day on your system, it makes sense to look at the options to be able to feed both brew vessels their full heating capacity.

We've worked with thousands of breweries to spec out the best heating solution for their setup. In some cases, electric is not the best choice, but more often than not it is a strong contender. With nearly 20 years or putting electric breweris into operation, Brewmation considers this first myth to be busted. In the next post, we'll look at another myth surrounding electric brewing and see whether it holds up.