Most of the people we talk with about opening a brewery already have some brewing experience. They might be a home brewer looking to go pro, or they might be growing their nano-brewery into a production operation. In either case, the equipment used to brew this ancient beverage can be broken down into a few standard components, although the size and features change from brewery to brewery. In this series of articles, we’ll take a look at what equipment you’ll need in a production brewery, as well as some additional items that’ll make your brew day a lot easier.
Let’s start in the brew house, where grains and water are transformed into sweet wort. The first requirement is a hot water source. For most, this comes in the form of a hot liquor tank (HLT), a vessel where water is heated to the desired temperature using one of three heat sources. We’ll look at these in a minute. The HLT may also include an internal HERMS coil, used to regulate the wort temperature during the mash stage. In some cases, especially where space is limited and the water supply needs little adjustment for brewing or cleaning, an on-demand hot water heater is used. These can be electric or gas fired, and as long as they produce enough hot water to keep up with your process(sparging and cleaning,) they can be a good fit for a smaller system. For larger systems, several on-demand heaters may be required to keep pace, making them less desirable from a cost perspective.
The hot water is then pumped into the mash tun, which is simply a tank where the grains are mixed with hot water. For systems roughly 5BBLs and up, the mash tun will benefit from the addition of a motor-driven rake and plow to thoroughly mix the grains after mashing in. For smaller systems, a little elbow grease gets the jobs done. The most common configuration in a craft brewery is a combination mash-lautering tun that includes a false bottom, constructed of perforated metal or a mesh screen. The false bottom filters the grains from the liquid as the wort drains from the bottom of the tank. Although the lautering tun can be a separate vessel, this is really only beneficial if you want to free up your mash tun for double or triple batching.
Alternatively, a mash press (or filter press) can be used to separate the wort from the grains. In this case, the grist(grains and water) is mixed in a mash tun and pumped into the press in which a series of filter plates are stacked together (horizontally) in a hydraulic press. Each pair of plates forms a cavity that captures the spent grains while allowing the liquid to pass through the filter screens. The press will then be pressurized to about 40psi to squeeze the grains, extracting nearly 100% of the liquid from the grist. While less common in craft brewing, this technique is prevalent in larger breweries and has long been in use. Those who use one can expect an increase of roughly 10% in efficiency (as compared to a lauter tun) and quicker turns when double or triple batching.
Taking a quick detour, a small tank called a wort grant is often positioned at the outlet of the mash tun or filter press. The wort grant acts as a buffer between the mash tun and the wort pump and does a couple of things. First, it helps prevent the pump from running without a supply of wort by engaging the pump only when a float switch indicates the presence of wort in the grant. Second, it prevents the pump from pulling a vacuum on the mash tun outlet, which compacts the grain bed, reduces efficiency, and can results in a stuck sparge. Simply put, the grant allows gravity to do its job in the lautering process.
The third major tank in the brew house is the brew kettle, and it has one job - to boil your wort. As the wort boils, a condensate stack or vent hood draws the steam away, encouraging a vigorous boil and preventing the condensation, which will contain unwanted compounds such as SMM, from dripping back into the kettle. Many brewers also use the kettle as their whirlpool tank, and while a dedicated whirlpool will enable faster turns for double batching, a combination kettle-whirlpool is a common setup. To achieve the whirlpool in the kettle, the wort is gently recirculated out of a bottom port and back into a tangential inlet about 2/3 of the way up the side of the tank.
Lastly, you might find a cold liquor tank(CLT) next to a brew house. This glycol jacketed tank allows you to store cold water to be used in a couple ways. First, it can be blended through a mixing valve with hot water from the HLT to hit your strike temperature. Doing so allows you to keep hotter water in the HLT, which reduces the water draw from this tank and allows you to keep more water in the HLT for double batching or cleaning. Second, the cold water from the CLT can be used in the heat exchanger during knockout (more on this below) to bring your wort down to pitching temps without the use of glycol, even for lagers.
One of the biggest decisions in the brewery design process is the heat source for the brew house. We’ve already looked at using an on-demand heater as the source for your hot water, but this is less common in the brewery and you’ll still need to heat your boil kettle. When choosing between direct/indirect fire, electric heaters, or steam jacketed tanks, we’re often asked what the best heat source is and our response is always “It depends.” The primary factors to consider are the size of the brew house, the cost and availability of utilities at your brewery, and the initial (equipment and installation) and ongoing (utility and power efficiency) costs for each option. The functionality remains mostly the same, but each heat source has some tradeoffs to consider in terms of automation and controls. We’ll save the comparison of heat sources for another day and here focus on the equipment associated with each. (For more information on choosing a heat source, check out our Virtual Brewers Conference webinar on Selecting Your Heat Source.)
Equipment-wise, each heat source requires something unique. For direct fire, you’ll be placing an open flame burner under your HLT and kettle. (Some folks will even place one under the mash tun...your false bottom should prevent scorching, but be beware!) You’ll also need to consider a properly sized hood for venting the fumes, and your burner supplier should provide you with the requirement to ensure safe operation. Not much more is needed here, and while perhaps the most familiar to a homebrewer going pro, direct fire is a less efficient heat source as compared to electric or steam and has some functional limitations.
For an electric setup, equipment requirements are also fairly minimal. You’ll need brew house tanks that are ported for your heating elements, a control panel (your inspector will look for it to be UL listed) to regulate power to the elements, and a power supply that can range from 90A single phase for a small system to 300A-500A of three phase power for a 15BBL system (more on power requirements in our article Debunking the Myths of Electric Brewing.) You may also wish to add a RIMS tube to your mash setup to maintain temperatures or facilitate step mashing if you’re going electric.
For a steam heated system, a boiler will be added to your setup. These can be powered by propane or natural gas, or you can consider an electric boiler. Your equipment supplier will also specify a steam jacketed HLT and boil kettle. An optional steam jacketed mash tun will let you gently control your mash temps – a nice and simple benefit to brewing with steam. Not to be overlooked is the piping and valves for the steam lines. While not necessarily a piece of equipment, the installation can be a significant portion of your startup costs and should be accounted for in your planning.
Brew house pumps are the underappreciated workhorse of the brewery…until they stop working! The types, sizes, and quantities vary, but their function is to transfer liquid (and, in some cases, grain) throughout the brewery. A typical “two vessel” brewhouse (which actually has three vessels– the HLT, mash tun, and kettle - but the HLT of often not considered part of the brew house) will have at least two pumps, but sometimes three or four. The first is a water pump that transfers the heated water from the HLT, which can be filled directly from the water source, to the mash tun. The second is a wort pump to recirculate the wort during the vorlauf and transfer the wort to the kettle. Since you are not recirculating and lautering at the same time, this pump can do double-duty. The third pump would be a dedicated kettle pump, which is used to recirculate the wort during the whirlpool. Each of these pumps are, most likely, going to be a centrifugal pump, which is fast and, when paired with right pump head design, easily able to handle hot water and hot, sticky wort. Their pumping speed can also be dialed up or down using a variable frequency drive (VFD).
In some cases, a system will include a dedicated sparging pump that uses a peristaltic action (as opposed to a centrifugal action) to push the water through the sparge arm. The advantage of a peristaltic pump is that they are positive displacement pumps, meaning that each revolution of the roller corresponds to a precise volume of liquid. This allows a set amount of sparging water to be used, helping to hit your target pre-boil volume and gravity. A second peri-pump is used to transfer wort from the mash tun to the kettle at the same rate that sparge water is being introduced, keeping the liquid level above the grain bed throughout the lautering process. While these are tried and true, a centrifugal pumps paired with a flow meter achieves the same result and is a more flexible, and lower maintenance, solution.
The last type of pump you might find is a diaphragm pump. Unlike the two styles above that are powered by electricity, diaphragm pumps are air operated. These are more often used in distilleries where explosion proof pumps are required, but can also be used in a brewery when grains are being transferred from a mash tun to either a dedicated lauter tun or a filter press.
A mobile cart pump is also an in valuable addition to the brewery. Used for transferring to and between cellar tanks, as well as for the cleaning process, these are usually centrifugal pumps with a VFD mounted to a push cart, but can be any of the above-mentioned style of pumps.
The next piece of equipment needed in a brewery is a heat exchanger (HEX.) These also come in a couple different styles and configurations, and their job is to cool your hot wort to as close to yeast pitching temperatures as possible. The most common type is a plate heat exchanger, which can be thought of as a series of corrugated plates that, when stacked together, form two isolated fluid paths. The hot wort flows through one of these paths, and the cold water flows the opposite direction through the other. As they do so, the cold water picks up heat from the hot wort. The wort temp at the outlet depends on the temperature of the water, the flow rates of the liquid, and the number of plates (length of fluid paths for the heat exchange.) While these use a lot of water, it can be recaptured to the HLT for cleaning or your next brew.
A two-stage heat exchanger is similar to the single-stage describe above, but adds a third isolated fluid path (after the water does its job) through which chilled glycol passes. Because the glycol is typically around 28°, much colder than your water temperature is likely to be, it finishes the chilling that the water starts and can come in handy if you’re brewing lagers (with a colder pitching temp than ales) or if your ground water is too warm to chill to your pitching temp. Your chiller wouldn’t be able to keep up if you used the second stage without the first, so the glycol stage always follows the water stage.
As mentioned, cold water from the CLT can take the place of glycol in the HEX. As the glycol flows through the HEX, it picks up heat from the wort before being cycled back through the chiller to be cooled. For larger brew houses, your chiller and glycol reservoir might be undersized to keep up with the HEX. This is very situational-dependent(location, water temps, cellar size), but the CLT mitigates this by providing a large supply of cold water (assume 10° warmer than the glycol, or about 38°)that will be able to cool your wort to pitching temps.
Last, but certainly not least, are the brewery controls. These can range from a simple on-off switch to your heating elements or pumps to a fully automated, programmable touchscreen interface allowing you to control everything from your HLT to your heat exchanger…and everything in between! What’s best for your brewery depends on your preference, but a well-planned control system will not only make your brew days go a lot smoother, it’ll allow you to brew a more repeatable product, improve your brew house efficiency, and save you time, labor, and money. (Check out our video on Brewery Automation & Controls for more on this.)
There is a lot to look for when selecting a controls system. First and foremost, your controls should ensure your safety and the safety of your equipment. Many start-ups are tempted to build their own controls, or assemble a pre-engineered kit, and while this can be a fun and satisfying experience for a hobby brewer, it’s critical that the controls are engineered, assembled, and tested to conform to UL/cUL requirements in a commercial brewery. Not only will your inspector look for it (we’ve heard from brewers who had to delay opening and pay high costs to have their controls rebuilt or replaced with proper UL panels), but a poorly built panel will not provide adequate protection against shorts to your equipment and your brewers. Everything from the style of and location of connectors to the GFCI circuitry, power management, and heating element interlocks must be considered.
Not all controls are created equal, and this is not an area where cutting corners can be shortsighted. For example, a lower quality control panel will regulate the power to your brew tank’s heating elements by turning off one or two of the three elements. While this reduces the total power to 66% or 33%, the third element is still operating at 100%power. Brewmation controls adjust power to all element equally, with the ability to set them infinitely from 0-100%. If your kettle only needs 75% power to maintain a boil, this can be set. In the example above, if you needed 75%power you would have to turn on all three elements, each running at 100% power. This not only risks scorching the wort and the dreaded boil-over, but also is a waste of power and money.
Do your controls provide the ability to precisely regulate your steam valves, modulate your direct fire burners, or set power to the heating elements? Does a tripped breaker cut power to all of your elements, ending your brew day mid-stream, or does each element have its own breaker? Are the heating elements tied to a float switch to prevent dry-firing, or do you risk accidentally turning them on before they’re submerged? Do your controls (and local regulations) allow you to pre-heat your strike water before you get to the brewery, or does your brew day only begin when you arrive? These are some of the questions you’ll want to ask.
Each brewery has different requirements and the control setup can vary as widely as the styles of beers being brewed with them. It’s important to talk with your controls supplier about your needs and wish-list, and put together a control system that will work for you.
The process is simple: mix grains with hot water, filter the grains from the wort, and boil. Of course, the process can also become as complex and precise as we want it to be. Grain bills, step mashing, hopping schedules, temperature corrections, decoctions, hop stands, and endless other variations make for a host of beers varying in appearance and flavor. Ultimately, the decision on how to brew is left to the brewery.
Similarly, a brew house system can range from the minimalist (three drums and some gas burners) to the advanced setup with complex automation and additional equipment. Both will allow the brewer to exercise their creativity and have the potential to brew great (or poor!) beers. In general, the more advanced you get, the easier and more consistent your brew day will become, and the happier your brewer - and customers - will be.
When you’re ready to talk about the options for your brewery, give Brewmation a call. Our Brewery Specialists have built thousands of systems and will help you put together a plan to meet your brewing requirements, your building space, and your budget.
In our next article, we’ll continue our walkthrough the brewery and look at the equipment needed in your cellar.