A well-equipped brewery is paramount to your success. It’s more than a question of if good beer comes out the other side; it’s about profitability, efficiency, reliability, sustainability, and much more. In the business of beer, the tools you use will truly separate the wheat from the chaff. With that, welcome to the home of everything you need to know about effectively equipping and maintaining your brewery. Navigate the page to “Ask the Experts,” peruse recent FAQ’s, view relevant discussions, and check out the latest insights.
Ask the Experts
Need an answer you can rely on, and fast? That’s what we’re here for. With a single click, you’ve got the wisdom of a panel of the leading brewery equipment experts at your fingertips.
Senior Project Engineer, Ampco Pumps
David has been a part of the Ampco Pumps team for over 5 years. David’s primary area of focus revolves around the Ampco Applied Products group.
President, Blichmann Engineering
John has over 25 years of brewing experience. He started Blichmann Engineering over 16 years ago and is now the industry leader in quality, support, and innovation.
Brewery Equipment FAQ
Q: Do you need a heated mash tun?
HERMS/RIMS systems (heating the wort while mashing) for temperature maintenance and step mashing are requests we often get from homebrewers going pro. As homebrewers we always use small vessels that are often uninsulated and they cool off fairly quickly – 5-10 degrees per hour. The larger vessels used in pro brewing don’t suffer from those unfortunate heat losses. Our 3.5 bbl non-insulated mash tun loses less than 1F per hour, so adding the complexity of a RIMS system is not needed. The other reason, step mashing, is also something habitual to homebrewers. As mentioned earlier, pro brewing is a business, and you’ll have a ton of other things needing attention like cellaring, distribution and just managing the business. With today’s highly modified malts step mashing is rarely done by pro brewers as there is little to be gained. Step mashing is time consuming and you’re better served spending that time focusing on fermentation quality that step mashing.
Q: How many tanks do I need, and what size brewhouse?
Selecting a system size is probably the most challenging and important decision to starting your brewery. But given a few key things to consider, it isn’t as difficult as it seems. First is whether you plan to only distribute beer wholesale (through a distributor or self-distribute). Or whether you plan to sell beer strictly retail through a tap room, or a mix of the two. That is the most vital decision. Retail you’re selling beer for $4-7 per pint depending on your location, and you don’t have to fight for tap space. But you do have to invest in retail space and staffing. Wholesale you’re getting something more like $1.5-2 per pint, but you’ll likely be in a lower cost area than retail. That said, you’ll also need to spend more on a larger system. So in distribution, volume is key, as is a solid path to availability of open taps in your target market. The key here is to do research in your area and be mindful and realistic about your local market, competition, and your goals for profit. If there is one time to be conservative with your estimates, this is the time. If you’re in the middle of a large city you’ll have different capacity needs due to the higher local population, higher rents, buildout costs, and labor rates than in smaller communities. Get to know a local general contractor and ask for some ballpark build out prices for similar spaces. And also engage the help of a real estate agent. Last, but not least, talk to your distributors for a realistic assessment of volume they could move and at what price. If your state allows self-distribution, reach out to a number of local craft beer bars and restaurants about volume and pricing. And if you’re interested, talk to them about creating house beers for them! That is much more likely to secure a long term tap for your beer.
The next thing after you’ve done your research is to determine your niche. Remember above all, being the owner of a commercial brewery means you are a business first, and a brewer second. What matters most of all is what your potential customers want to drink, not what you want to brew. And if you don’t generate profit quickly it matters not if you’ve got the best beers on the planet. Also remember that most businesses fail from lack of cash flow, not from lack of sales. While starting out with a larger system to start with might look good on paper, but if you can’t get brewing quickly and generate cash fast enough it is all moot. Back to your niche – does your community have one or more large distribution breweries? Brew pubs? Tap room breweries? What can you do that is different and needed? Bringing a special twist to your local market, like partnering with a like-minded local restaurant, or adding a local theme to your beers and taproom. Above all, develop a business plan that factors in local retail and wholesale beer prices.
As mentioned earlier, revenue is driven by price you can get per barrel. And profit is driven by all the expenses to generate that revenue. Ingredients, rent, loan payments, utilities, labor, taxes etc. must all be accounted for in your business plan. Distributing, either through a 3rd party or self-distributing, you’ll gross about $125-170 per 1/2 barrel for a typical brew. Whereas selling that same half barrel retail in your tap room will gross you about $500 (100 pints after losses per ½ BBL @ $5/pt). So in general you’ll need to sell significantly more beer distributing vs. through a tap room to generate the same profit.
As the market is becoming more saturated with larger craft beer brands, hyper-local tap rooms are becoming more popular for a number of reasons. They are much less capital intensive and much faster to get into operation. And even small communities can support them. The trend for local fresh food and drinks are well trenched throughout the country. Most importantly, you won’t have to fight for taps, and you’ll also control every aspect of the consumers experience. While you won’t likely make a fortune, you’ll have a good income doing something you love. And you’ll be able to provide jobs to those that share the same passion. You’ll also develop a track record as a successful business and you’ll have established solid credit with a bank – the lifeblood of any growing business.
Q: What type of power should I use for my brewhouse?
After you’ve selected your brewhouse size you’ll need to consider the type of power supply for it. Specifically: steam, direct electric, and direct fire (gas). Of course even steam systems require a power source most always gas, but they’re also available in electric. Each have their pro’s and con’s.
Steam is probably the most traditional power source for industrial heating. It is the fastest and most gentle heating and quite economical for energy consumption. However, there are some drawbacks. First is cost. For safety reasons (steam can be very dangerous) nearly all communities require installation by licensed steam fitters. The labor to have a steam fitter install the system will likely be as much as the boiler itself, particularly in larger cities. For a smaller system (10 BBL and below) you’ll potentially spend as much on the boiler and installation costs as the brewhouse itself ($40-60K), The equipment is a bit more expensive too since it requires a steam jacket and insulation on each heated vessel. Also building codes are fairly strict so be sure to consult your local building inspectors for requirements for local codes. Some may require annual safety inspections, particularly high pressure systems (over 15 PSI). Also note that boiler water chemical maintenance is required and are ongoing expenses.
Electric is by far the safest and lowest maintenance power source and local fire and electrical building codes are pretty straight forward. While operating costs are typically more than gas fired steam, electric systems are still quite reasonable in all but high utility rate areas. And they are almost always the lowest capital costs to install. Panels that are UL listed and include an integral GFI protected main breaker are always easier to get approved. And it is the only source that is safe to operate unattended. It is handy to arrive in the morning on brew day with strike and sparge water ready to go! One drawback is whether you have adequate power available in your building as these systems require 100-250A of power. Fortunately, most utility companies will run additional power to your building at no charge as they are more than happy to sell you energy! There is one main drawback, however – firing a brewhouse on direct electric power is limited to systems 7 BBL and below due mostly to the current needed to power them. We have included a simple calculator at the end of this document so you can estimate your costs to brew a batch of wort in your community. Our 3.5 BBL system, for example, costs about $18 to operate per batch on average, compared to about $12 for a comparable gas system. Another advantage, like a steam system, is you’ll only need to ventilate your boil kettle which will save a lot of capital over the gas systems we’ll discuss next.
Gas is an economical choice for energy costs, and is fairly economical to install. Like electric systems, you can do a lot of the installation of the gas piping, but again, local regulations will dictate that. And similar to electric systems, you’ll want to ensure that your building has a large enough gas supply to power your equipment. The main drawback is that it does require high temperature exhaust piping for each fired kettle to be directed out of the building through an exterior wall or ceiling if you’re using a traditional firebox system. If you’re leasing your building you’ll want to inquire with your landlord in advance about building modifications needed. If you’re using open burners for your system, you’ll need significantly more ventilation to keep your brewery cool and free of carbon monoxide. You may also need fire suppression systems for open burners. Lastly, your local fire Marshall and inspectors may not even allow it if it doesn’t meet UL and/or NFPA certifications. So again, check with your local authorities on these requirements.
Q: What are the most important factors that affect pump sizing?
Flow rate: This can be chosen by the brewer based on required flow rates in the plant. Common units are GPM (gallons per minute).
Pressure: This must be calculated based on the distance the pump must deliver the fluid on the discharge side. It is important to consider the friction losses throughout the entire piping system, including elbows, tees and vertical height. Measured in TDH (total discharge head – feet) or psi.
Viscosity: Viscosity is the resistance of liquid to flow. Centrifugal pumps are limited to lower viscosity fluids – like water or beer. Higher viscosity fluids require a PD pump. Measured in centipoise (cP)
Q: Why is my pump performing so poorly?
It may be running in reverse. This is a common mistake that is overlooked because centrifugal pumps will still produce flow in the correct direction even when running in reverse but at a significantly reduced performance.
Q: Do mechanical seals in pumps allow oxygen into the system?
A mechanical seal is lubricated by the fluid being pumped, a thin film of the fluid is constantly slipping over the seal faces and generally vaporizes as it makes it across. Even with a leaking seal, when the pump is running it is creating high pressure internally so fluid is pushed out of the leak and air will not go from the low pressure (atmosphere) to high pressure (pump). If the pump is not running the CO2 pressure on the fermenter helps make sure that any leaks in pump or clamp connections are leaking from the system out to atmosphere rather than the reverse direction. Even if there is not CO2 pressure on the fermenter the pump is many feet below the level of the fluid which creates a higher pressure than atmospheric pressure at the seal location.
Q: Do the RDH dry hopping units damage the beer or yeast due to the shear pump?
Even at full speed (60hz), no damage to beer quality or yeast cells has been recorded.
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