When it comes to buying the main equipment for your brewery, there are several factors to consider. In this guide, we’ll take a look at the essential pieces you’ll need, and discuss the various options where relevant.
The brewery can be split into two major sections. The first is the brewhouse, also known as the ‘hot side’. This is where the first stage of brewing is completed, from milling to mashing, and boiling to chilling the wort.
The second section is the cellar, also known as the ‘cold side’. This is where fermentation, conditioning, dry hopping, and everything else that happens as wort becomes beer takes place. Most brewery equipment falls into one of these two sections, with a few exceptions.
Brewhouse (hot side) essentials
The brewhouse consists of various heated vessels, with pumps to transport the wort.
The first decision to make is how you will heat your brewing vessels. The most common methods are:
Steam heated vessels are fairly common and require a steam generator. This simply transforms city water into boiling steam, which is then piped into steam jackets that are fitted on your vessels. Steam generators are typically powered by either natural gas, electricity, or diesel. They require a water softening system, which is normally sold with the generator. Steam tends to offer more control than other heating methods, as the input of steam can be finely adjusted.
Vessels heated by electricity typically use elements, similar to those found in a common kitchen kettle. These come in various sizes and powers, and the best have 2 or 3 elements that can be switched off and on, providing a level of control over the heating. Electrical brewhouses have the elements in-built, and don’t require additional equipment.
Only necessary if you’re using uncrushed malt. Look for models that are easily adjustable. The most common models have 2 rollers, which is adequate for the needs of most small breweries, though some have 3 or more. Depending on your space, you may need a model that is easily maneuvered. Suppliers typically list the capacity in terms of weight of malt per hour.
Hot Liquor/Water Tank (HLT)
The HLT stores and heats up your brewing water (known as liquor in British brewing). The best models have at least two heating elements or steam jackets, allowing you to start heating with just a small amount of water in the vessel. Your HLT should have a level indicator for easy calculations.
In terms of size, it should be around double the size of the rest of your brewhouse. So, if you have a 500 litre boil kettle, you should order a 1,000 litre HLT. This will ensure you always have enough liquid for strike water, sparging, and cleaning.
It should also be fitted with a pump that connects to the mash tun and sparge set up via a flowmeter, as well as the CIP valves on the rest of your equipment. The pump should also allow for recirculation to ensure accurate temperature readings and even mixing of cleaning agents or sparge water additions if you’re using them.
The flowmeter is used to accurately measure strike and sparge water. It should be heat resistant and waterproof.
There are many types of mash tun, from the most simple open vessels, to enclosed, heated vessels, fitted with stirring paddles. The more features, the higher the cost. For larger outputs (higher than 200 litres or so), it becomes difficult to mix the mash by hand. If you plan to use step mashing, you’ll need a mash tun that can be heated.
It should also be fitted with a pump that transports the mash to the lauter tun. Desirable extras include the ability to recirculate for more consistent temperatures, and an inbuilt temperature probe.
The lauter tun is fitted with a filter, used to separate the sweet wort from the grain. It is also fitted with a sparge ring, connected to the HLT via the flowmeter. The ability to recirculate the hot wort back over the grain is extremely useful for clarifying the wort before transferring to the boil kettle. It’s not typically necessary for the lauter tun to be heated. During the sparging process, the filtered hot wort will be pumped to the boil kettle.
You will typically need a spent grain outlet – a side mounted door from which the spent grains can be pulled out and disposed of easily.
A relatively simple, heated vessel, the best can start heating the wort with as little as 20 litres inside, reducing the time taken to reach a boil. Depending on your space, you may need a condenser. This draws the steam (and other unwanted compounds) out of an enclosed boil kettle. Alternatively, if space allows, fit a flue that leads outside.
The whirlpool vessel isn’t absolutely necessary, depending on the type of beer you’re producing. It can be used for late hop additions, and dropping solids out of suspension before transferring to the heat exchanger.
Used to drop the temperature of the boiling wort before transferring to the fermenting vessel. The most common type in breweries is a plate heat exchanger (PHE). The beer flows through one side, and cold water and glycol (or ice water) passes through the other. It should come with at least a thermometer in the beer outlet.
There are several configurations. The most common include a hop filter or even a hopback before the PHE, and a yeast tank and oxygenation system after the PHE. They come in many sizes, often measured in sq. metres. The larger the PHE, the quicker it cools your wort.
As a general rule of thumb, a 500 litre brewhouse doesn’t need much more than a 5 sq metre PHE, a 1,000 litre brewhouse works well with a 10 sq metre PHE, and so on. There should be a pipe that returns the warm city water into the HLT, providing pre-warmed water to save energy costs.
Most small breweries don’t have separate vessels for the mash tun, lauter tun, boil kettle, and whirlpool. There are various combinations that you can use to save space. The most common include;
- Mash/lauter tun: mash, lauter, and sparge in the same vessel to save space and time. It will need to be heated if you plan to use step mashing.
- Boil kettle/whirlpool: a common space saver, it will need two outlets, one for clear wort to be transferred to the heat exchange, and a lower one for emptying the kettle at the end of the brew.
- Mash/boil kettle: with this system you mash in, then transfer the mash to a separate lauter tun, before returning the sweet wort to the original vessel to boil. An economic way to save space and allow for step mashing. Potential downside is that you have to be very thorough about removing any leftover grain before returning the wort for boiling.
- All-in-one: a simple vessel in which you mash, lauter, boil and whirlpool all in one vessel. They generally use a large basket to contain the grains, lifted up using a winch and hoist. The entire vessel can be heated, and in some cases, cooled as well. This is an affordable, space saving solution for small spaces. Speidel’s Braumeister series offers an all-in-one solution for up to 1,000 litre batches.
Control panels come in many shapes and sizes. Common solutions utilize simple PID systems to monitor temperatures and control pumps, and other motorized operations, such as mash paddles, etc. Alternatively, PLC systems offer a touchscreen interface to monitor the entire process, and set automated operations.
The control panel can be restricted to the brewhouse functions, but can also encompass the chilling operations.
Cellar (cold side) essentials
In the cellar you’ll mostly find fermenting vessels and conditioning tanks.
The type of fermenting vessel you choose depends largely on the type of beer you want to brew. From simple open vessels to pressurized uni-tanks, there are several things to consider. Many small breweries prefer enclosed pressurized vessels – these allow for natural carbonation and faster turn-around times. However, if you plan to bottle condition your beer, pressurized vessels aren’t necessary.
Size is important, and it’s not a bad idea to have a mixture. For example if you have a 1,000 litre brew house, it can be good to have a selection of 500 litre, 1,000 litre, and 2,000 litre fermenters. This allows you to split batches for experiments, and produce larger quantities of core range beers. This depends entirely on your business model, however.
Fermenting vessels can be customized in many different ways. Some common modifications include dry hopping port, carbonation stone, racking arm, and spunding valve. As standard, they should typically come with a temperature probe, spray ball for CIP, and sample valve.
These aren’t essential for all breweries, but can be a useful addition. Bright beer tanks (or BBTs) are most often used to clarify and age beers such as lager, but can also be used to add carbonation. Vertical or horizontal, there are several options.
Glycol/Ice water tank
Many breweries use a cooling agent to maintain fermentation temperatures and cold crash their beers. Glycol is the most common, which is stored in a large tank and pumped into jackets within the fermenting vessels.
If using a glycol tank, you’ll need a separate pump for the system, automatic (solenoid) valves on the fermenting vessels, a control panel, and industrial chillers. The glycol should also have a loop that runs through the PHE to aid in wort chilling.
Cold-side control panel
Used to maintain the temperature in your fermenting vessels, as well as control cold crashing. Like the brewhouse panel, it can be PID or PLC, or can even be incorporated into the same panel. They typically vary in size depending on how many temperature controllers they have, generally ranging from 2 to 8 or so.
It’s important that you can switch from manual to automatic if you use glycol in your PHE.
Besides the larger equipment for the brewhouse and cellar, there are a few other essentials you’ll need when opening a brewery.
Also known as a CIP (clean in place) station, this is a useful addition to the brewery. Most small breweries have CIP systems in their cellar and brewhouse vessels – a simple spray ball that spray cleaning solutions at high pressure, coating the interior.
A CIP station typically consists of 2 or 3 vessels (around 50 – 200 litres normally), attached to a cleaning pump. Ideally, the station should be mobile to avoid using long pipes during cleaning cycles. One tank is typically used for a caustic cleaning agent and is often heated via an element, while a second is used for sanitizing acid washes.
A third tank can be used for other acids (for passivation, beer stone removal, etc.) or simply for rinse water. Cleaning solutions are pumped into the vessels that need to be cleaned, and recirculated for the adequate period of time.
Hoses & pipelines
You need food-grade, heat resistant hoses in the brewery, that can take a decent amount of pressure. You’ll find decent hoses in Romania rated up to around 10 bars. It’s good to buy various lengths, long and short. Shorter hoses are best for cleaning, as they allow for higher pressure during cleaning cycles. Ideally, use hoses with tri-clamp connections, as these can be connected to make longer runs when required.
Pipelines will typically be supplied when ordering brewery equipment, linking pumps to vessels, and ensuring a steady flow of wort and beer. Stainless steel is the best material.
CO2 tanks and regulators
Even if you carbonate your beer naturally, you’ll need a CO2 tank or two throughout the brewing process. If you plan to move your beer to another vessel, you’ll need to purge the oxygen from the pipes and tanks using CO2. It’s also used during packaging, to maintain the pressure in the tank.
Let’s start with the most important part:
Whether you use cans or bottles, you’ll need a filling machine. There are many different types to choose from. Particularly with bottling machines, you’ll need to know if you’ll package carbonated beer, or rely on bottle conditioning for carbonation. If you plan to package carbonated beer, you’ll need an isobaric (counter pressure) bottling or canning line.
In this instance, the entire process is carried out under pressure, with very little opportunity for oxygen to seep into the beer. With such machines, it’s important that the machine is able to purge the bottles/cans of oxygen prior to filling. Filling lines vary depending on how many filling heads you need, but can also carry out a multitude of other tasks, from washing to labeling and capping.
Many small breweries continue to apply labels by hand, but the job goes faster with a labelling machine. You can find manual, semi-automatic, and automatic options depending on your needs. Choosing a labelling machine will require you to think ahead in terms of branding. Will you use a single label, back and front, neck label, etc?
Properly washing your bottles prior to use will increase the shelf life of your beer and keep infections out. The most simple solution is to use a home-brew style set up, with an immersible pump and jet sprays. However, if budget allows or output demands, you can opt for larger bottle washing machines as well. Some filling lines also wash the bottles/cans before filling.
Whether you use metal or plastic kegs, you’ll need a few pieces of equipment with which to fill them. Be sure to order a few keg couplers first and foremost. The simplest way to keg is to hook up a simple beer line quick connect (john guest fitting) to the fermenting vessel via a tri-clamp fitting.
Brewery parts wear down over time, and it’s important to have a good supply of spares to prevent delays and quality issues.
Gaskets, clamps, valves
When buying an entire brewery, you’ll normally receive a set of clamps and gaskets to connect everything together. Tri-clamps and silicon gaskets are a good choice, rather than threaded connections that can become damaged more easily. Be sure to request a set of spare gaskets and clamps.
Many breweries use butterfly valves throughout the brewery. Over time, these can wear down and start to leak, so it’s good to have a few spares. Plus, you’ll often find several uses for extra valves.
Sight glasses are a great way to check on your beer throughout its life span, from checking for wort clarity during the sparge or bottling, to monitoring oxygen intake during transfer to the fermenter. However, they can leak from time to time, so it’s a good idea to order spares.
Probes and gauges
Temperature probes and pressure gauges can cause big problems if they fail, so it’s a good idea to have a few spares in the brewery.
This wraps up our piece on the brewing equipment you’ll need to open a brewery. There are some other tools that will help you along the way. Some you already know if you’re into homebrewing (such as a hydrometer or scales for hops and malt), others are optional (such as microscopes or dissolved oxygen meters). If you’re looking to open a commercial brewery and need some assistance along the way, drop us a line and we’ll take it from there.
Cover photo via r/The Brewery (used with permission)