microbrewery equipment

Microbrewery Equipment List: All You Need to Get Started

If you are really passionate about homebrewing and want to consider starting your own business, I offer an overview on how to get started with your own microbrewery.

I lived in Asheville, NC for 18 years and was active in the early brewing scene there from 1997-2006.  I founded two breweries there: Green Man Brewing Company and the second was French Broad Brewing Company.

Today, Asheville is known as the East Coast focal point for beer production, holding over two dozen micro and macro craft breweries.

It rivals Portland, Oregon for America’s number one beer city.

There are two types, brewpubs and microbreweries. A brewpub is smaller, perhaps 3-7 barrels (1 US barrel equals 31 gallons).  A microbrewery is larger, perhaps from 10 bbls. to 30 bbls. The barrelage is measured by the brew-kettle, or how much wort you produce in one batch.

Here is a list and description of the key microbrewery equipment that you will need to get started.

 

A mash-lauter system

A mash/ lauter tun (tank or vessel) is your primary piece.

In it you mash your malt and extract your sugar from the raw grain.

It will also serve as your lauter (lauter is to wash).

After the mash, run a specified amount of water through the mash to bring the volume of the wort up to capacity.

There will be an electric stainless-steel pump for transfer.  You will fire the kettle with gas or a steam boiler.

The kettle is just this, a big pot for boiling.  It is vented through the ceiling and will be direct fire with a gas burner or have steam jackets wrapping it.  Steam is more efficient.

If you buy a grain mill, a three-roller mill is best but much more expensive.

You can buy pre-milled malt or crack your own for freshness and cost-savings.

A hot-liquor tank is for bulk hot water heating.  You can live without it but not recommended.  Its primary role is to heat water for mashing.

A cold liquor tank is useful, and a luxury.  I never had one, sigh. You keep cold water solely for cooling the wort after boiling.

Your brewhouse pump will transfer your raw wort through a heat exchanger.  The heat exchanger is a tall block-shaped device made of layered plates.  200° wort goes in one side, 40° (or ambient) water goes in the other.  This counterflow process cools your wort in 30-40 minutes.  A cold liquor tank really comes in handy.

The same system that you use for your homebrew is simply not effective at this scale. The biggest difference is planning, investment, and determination.

 

Fermentation systems

Fermenters are the vessels in which raw wort transforms into beer.

As seen in the photo, they are cylindroconical.  They have a 45-60° cone that facilitates the drop out of solids once fermentation is complete: dead yeast, proteins, hops, and the healthy yeast too.

This is to effectively clarify the beer.

This is one of the time-consuming aspects of brewing.

Fermentation will last 7-14 days for ales and 21-35 days for lagers.

You will need to have ample fermentation equipment set up and ready to store and monitor the progress of your beer.

fermentation tanks
Fermentation tanks

 

Brite-tanks and tax determination

Brite tanks are beer tanks used for storage, conditioning, carbonation, and packaging. They will have dish bottoms and sight glasses (a thin glass tube running the vertical height of the tank).  They will also have ports for a carbonation stone and sample cocks (small spigots) for measuring CO2 volumes.

They are cheaper than fermenters as the dish bottoms are single-walled and easier to make than cones.

Brewpubs will serve beer from brite tanks.  In this case, you pay taxes based on the volume in the tank.  Production brewers will pay taxes based on what makes it onto the pallet and into the walk-in, whether steel, bottle, or glass package.

brite tank
Brite tank

 

A cooling system

Beer tanks have cooling jackets.  They are double-walled stainless-steel, insulated and have large sections for the circulation of coolant- propylene glycol.

A glycol chiller has a large reservoir as well as a refrigeration compressor.  It keeps the glycol at 28-30° F.

As you circulate this through the fermenter or Brite-Tank  jackets, the beer is finished, aging, or being prepared for packaging.

Glycol chilling keeps the beer stable and inhibits bacteria growth and prepares the beer for sale.

 

Filtration systems

There are three types of filters to clarify your beer: plate and frame, diatomaceous earth, and centrifuges.

Utilizing a portable pump, run your beer through a clarifying process to get rid of any sediment.

You need not always filter but as a commercial brewer you will have time constraints.

Commercial brewers do not often have the luxury of time to make the perfect beer.

Clarifying will make it more stable for transport.

You will likely have 2-3 portable pumps in the brewery to assist you in various transfers and processes.

 

Controls

You will need to have temperature controls set up for your beer tanks.

You may also have a centralized control panel for your brewhouse, depending on its level of automation.

A main control panel is optional as there are quality affordable NEMA 4 (waterproof) controllers available that can be mounted directly to the tanks.

The brewhouse (production area) switches can all be thrown manually.  It depends on your budget and priorities for your brewery that determine what kind of switch system you have.

Controllers can also be viewed as safety measures you can use to halt production and prevent accidents in your facility.

 

Cleaning and sanitation

You will need a portable CIP (clean-in-pace) tank that you can use for housing your sanitation solution, caustic (alkaline cleaner for organics) wash, and acid washes (largely for mineral build-up). It may have a built-in circulation pump, or can be paired with a portable pump.

You can use the vessels themselves as reservoirs, but the portable CIP tank streamlines the process.

With the CIP and pumps you will sanitize all your production equipment as well as sanitize the other empty tanks so that you can run multiple processes simultaneously: racking, filtering, wort production.

Without the right sanitation equipment and applicable chemicals, you should not even consider getting started with brewing a new batch of beer on site.

 

A bottling / kegging line

You will need an automated or semi-automated keg washer. 

You can fill kegs directly from your bright tanks.

This is a manual operation and still very efficient.

Bottling and canning are labor-intensive and require large amounts of packaging inventory.

They are vital however to effectively reach all market segments.

Not everyone has space for kegs, even just 5 gallons.

Competition has made bottles or cans essential.

Many microbreweries and brewpubs use a bar tap for filling growler style containers by hand.

This is cost-effective for to-go beer.

At my old Asheville brewery, we built a four-growler filler, connected directly to the beer tank.

It only cost about $500 to build and could fill 40 cases an hour- six ½ gallon bottles per case.

beer taps

 

Your basic ingredients

Getting together your ingredients is the easy part as the market and suppliers have grown so much.

Build a line of credit with your suppliers and manage your inventory precisely.  

Before starting your first batch of beer, scale up some of your favorite recipes and prepare to offer them on a commercial scale.

 

Go to the next article: How Much Does It Cost to Start a Microbrewery?

 


 

4 Must-reads on how to build a successful microbrewery

1) Brewery Operations Manual : 3 steps to open and run a successful brewery

Brewery Operations Manual
87 Reviews
Brewery Operations Manual
  • Hennessy, Tom (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 276 Pages - 02/20/2015 (Publication Date) - Tom Hennessy (Publisher)

 

2)Brewing Up a Business: Adventures in Beer from the Founder of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery

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Brewing Up a Business: Adventures in Beer from the Founder of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
201 Reviews
Brewing Up a Business: Adventures in Beer from the Founder of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
  • Calagione, Sam (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 312 Pages - 02/08/2011 (Publication Date) - Wiley (Publisher)

 

3) So You Want to Start a Brewery?: The Lagunitas Story

So You Want to Start a Brewery?: The Lagunitas Story
123 Reviews
So You Want to Start a Brewery?: The Lagunitas Story
  • Chicago Review Press
  • Magee, Tony (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 224 Pages - 10/01/2014 (Publication Date) - Chicago Review Press (Publisher)

 

4) A Brewer’s Guide to Opening a Nano Brewery: Your $10,000 Brewery Consultant for $15, Vol. 1

A Brewer's Guide to Opening a Nano Brewery: Your $10,000 Brewery Consultant for $15, Vol. 1
291 Reviews
A Brewer's Guide to Opening a Nano Brewery: Your $10,000 Brewery Consultant for $15, Vol. 1
  • Woodske, Dan (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 112 Pages - 02/15/2012 (Publication Date) - CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (Publisher)

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