Fermenters – There are many choices regarding fermenters. They can be horizontal or vertical, dish or cone bottomed, jacketed or single wall. Doors can be on the top or on the side. The main requirements are that the tank can be safely cleaned and sterilized, that the tank be made of material that will not taint the beer, and that proper fermentation temperatures can be maintained. The most commonly accepted standard for craft breweries is an insulated vertical stainless steel tank with a cone bottom, a manhole on the side, glycol cooling jackets on both the cone and sides, CIP attachments, and an adjustable racking port. The cone bottoms allow for the efficient removal of yeast from the beer after fermentation. The glycol jackets and insulation make it possible to install the tanks almost anywhere.
Jacketed Fermenter – Glycol jackets allow the brewer to adjust the temperature inside the tank. A brewer can ferment the beer at one temperature, attenuate it at another, and then cool it down to an aging temperature cold enough to encourage the yeast to settle out of the beer. Surrounding the tank with insulation and cladding it will allow a tank to be located in warm rooms or even outside.
Single Wall Fermenter – Single walled tanks such as Grundies require the brewer to regulate the fermentation temperature by controlling the temperature of the room they are in. Dropping the beer temperature after fermentation is complete is difficult without moving the beer to a different tank and room for aging. As tanks grow larger, the ability to maintain a desirable fermentation temperature in a single walled fermenter becomes more and more challenging. There can be significant temperature spikes inside the tank during active fermentation with this method, contributing to higher esters and potential off flavors.
Brite Tanks – Brite tanks are used to hold beer that is ready for consumption. They will need to be able to hold more pressure than fermenters to establish and maintain proper carbonation levels. A brite tank used for daily bottling and racking should be rated to safely hold at least 15 psi, and often 30 PSI head pressure. For the smoothest bottling or canning operations, the brite tank should be capable of holding the beer at less than 32 degrees. For “keg only” breweries, higher temperatures are acceptable, but ideally 36 to 38F maximum. Your glycol system will be a factor as well. Brite tanks that are used as serving tanks are usually kept at 40 degrees; with a head pressure under 20 PSI. For nitrogenated beers, even high pressures may be necessary.
Jacketed Brite – Most brite tanks have glycol jackets on both the bottom and on the sides. This enables the beer temperature to be maintained regardless of the fill level, an important consideration over the course of a packaging day.
Single Wall Brite – Single wall brite tanks are commonly seen in brewpubs, where they are kept in refrigerated rooms and used as serving tanks.
Glycol Chiller – There are many types of cooling systems, with the industry standard being one where Freon is used to cool a propylene glycol/water mixture, which is then circulated through jackets on the brewery tanks. Some glycol solutions are also used to provide cooling to the brewhouse. There are “packaged” chiller systems available that will cool and circulate the glycol to the tankage. It is best to purchase one with some room for expansion in mind given the large cost of these units.
Piping – The piping to the tanks is often copper. Many brewers have had success with Schedule 80 PVC, which is easier to install and costs less; however, some glycol system suppliers do not approve of PVC piping because it may fail at the cold glycol operating temperatures. Pre-fabricated insulated piping is also available which will provide the best overall performance and appearance. Insulating the piping well is recommended as it will prevent energy losses, moisture buildups and dripping, and reduce the tendency for mold growth. Glycol piping is typically handled by the brewery or its general contractor.
Solenoid Valves – The temperature of the beer in the tanks is measured with a thermocouple in the tank’s thermowell. A temperature controller uses the data from the thermocouple and regulates the beer to your desired set-point by controlling the glycol flow to the tank jackets by opening and closing solenoid valves in the piping.
Accessories – Beer tanks require a number of accessories. They may or may not come with them, so you, the buyer, need to make sure you order them properly equipped for the way you intend to use the tank. Otherwise you’ll have to purchase the accessories separately.
Pressure Relief Valves – The tanks can be damaged if they are subjected to either high pressure or to a vacuum. The larger a tank is, the more sensitive it is to damage by vacuum. Some tanks use a fitting with a blade in it that will rupture a diaphragm if a vacuum occurs. They will also have a separate fitting designed to vent off excess pressures. These are often set at 15-17 PSI for fermenters and brite tanks and 28-30 PSI for 30 psi rated brite tanks.
Carbonation Stones – These are installed in brite tanks to establish a proper carbonation level in the beer. They disperse the injected carbon dioxide into very fine bubbles. The large surface area created by the tiny bubbles aids in the quicker absorption of the gas into the beer. The tanks will also have CIP equipment, a sanitary sampling valve, a pressure gauge, and a fitting for adding carbon dioxide to the tank’s headspace or venting it out.
Filter – A turnkey system may come with equipment to filter the beer if filtering is required. You may wish to work directly with a company that specializes in beer filtration. A diatomaceous earth leaf plate filter is the most common and versatile filter for perhaps 15/20 bbl breweries and larger breweries. These are the “workhorses” that can remove relatively high yeast and haze loads. They will make the beer “bright,” but not sterile. Other filter options such as membranes are available for tighter polish filtrations or to achieve sterility. Sheet filters are often used in brewpub settings.
Keg Cleaner/Filler – A turnkey system is also needed to provide a method of cleaning and filling kegs. There are many arrangements for this. They vary tremendously in sophistication, automation, and speed. They also vary tremendously in cost. This is a part of the system where you, the buyer, will need to assess the value of the equipment being proposed by the supplier and make sure you are getting a good value. These can be separate machines that clean or fill, or one machine that does both. There are also manual options for both cleaning and filling that are much more cost effective for the nano-brewer.