Overview of small brewery brewing equipment
Homebrewing and craft brewing have exploded in popularity in recent years. As more beer enthusiasts try their hand at brewing quality beer on a small scale, the market for microbrewery and nanobrewery equipment has grown tremendously.
This guide will provide an in-depth look at the essential brewing equipment needed to outfit a small brewery. We’ll explore the different systems and components, from mash tuns and brew kettles to fermenters and brite tanks. You’ll learn the capacity, material, and functionality considerations for each piece of gear.
Whether you’re equipping a small commercial brewery, scaling up a homebrew system, or just want to understand the brewing process better, this equipment guide will give you the details on building an efficient brewing setup. Let’s get started!
Types of small brewery brewing equipment
There are a few configurations of brewing systems aimed at nano and microbrewery scale production of 1-7 barrels per batch. Here are some of the most common small brewery setups:
Table 1: Small Scale Brewing System Types
|An integrated electric brewing system with all vessels and components in one unit. Plug and play design requires minimal setup.
|Traditional brewing system with separate mash tun, kettle, fermenters purchased individually. Customizable but more hands on.
|Tiered Direct Fire
|Gravity flow system with mash tun above the brew kettle. Direct fire heating under kettle. Classic manual brewery layout.
|Individual vessels connected with pumps and automation. Higher degree of control and consistency.
The choice depends on budget, production goals, desired hands-on involvement, and brewing style. All-in-one electric systems offer simplicity for nano-scale brewing, while larger microbreweries may prefer more customizable individual vessel setups.
Key Components of a Small Brewery
Whether going with an integrated unit or individual vessels, there are some essential pieces of brewing equipment needed. Here are the key components of a small brew system:
Table 2: Small Brewery Equipment Components
|Mixes crushed grains with hot water to convert starches into sugars. Often insulated and may include false bottom.
|Separates sweet wort from spent grain particles through sparge process. Sometimes combined with mash tun.
|Boils wort with hops to impart bitterness, flavor, and aroma. Usually direct or indirect fire heated.
|Settles out trub and hop particles via swirling action. May be combined with brew kettle.
|Ferments sugar into alcohol and CO2. Closed, temperature-controlled vessels up to 7 barrels.
|Clarifies and carbonates beer with filtered air or CO2. Cold conditioning creates bright, polished beers.
|Cools fermenters and brite tanks for precise temperature control. Uses recirculating glycol and refrigeration system.
|Moves liquid between vessels and equipment. Typically stainless steel centrifugal or positive displacement pumps.
|Heats or cools liquids via heat transfer with steam, water, or glycol. Often used to accurately control mash temperatures.
|Food-grade stainless steel or plastic tubing to transfer liquids between vessels.
|Automated system for timing steps and monitoring temps. May include switches, sensors, valves, and software.
Additional equipment like grain mills, yeast propogation, filtration, and carbonation systems may be incorporated as well. We’ll now dive deeper into considerations for each of these key components.
Mash Tun Selection
The mash tun is one of the most important vessels, used to soak milled grains and convert their starches into fermentable sugars via natural enzymes. Here are some factors to consider when selecting a mash tun:
Table 3: Mash Tun Considerations
|1-7 barrel systems available. Size for your production goals with room to grow.
|Stainless steel preferred. Copper and plastic tuns also used.
|Insulated tuns help maintain mash temps. Custom jackets or integrated insulation options.
|Perforated stainless sheet prevents grain bed compaction and stuck sparges.
|Direct vs. Indirect Heat
|Direct steam injection or external heat exchanger for temperature control.
|Single vs. Double Vessel
|Some systems combine mash and lauter tuns for efficiency.
|Computerized systems control temperature profiles and multi-step mashing.
Mash efficiency and consistency will be driven by tun design and degree of automation. Well insulated tuns with automatically controlled heating tend to perform the best.
Brew Kettle Options
The brew kettle is where sweet wort gets boiled with hops and undergoes various chemical changes. Key factors in selecting a brew kettle include:
Table 4: Brew Kettle Considerations
|1-15 barrel kettles available. Allow for future production increases.
|Stainless steel for durability and weldability. Copper offers good heat conduction.
|Direct vs. Indirect Heat
|Direct fire or steam kettle. Indirect heat exchanger for precision.
|Computerized boil temperature and duration control.
|Sight glass, thermometer, whirlpool inlet, valves, and sample ports.
|Freestanding or elevated stand with stairs. Allows pump underside access.
Kettles with indirect heating and digital controls allow the most consistent boils for repeatable beer qualities. A whirlpool attachment can replace a separate vessel.
Fermenter Options for Small Breweries
Fermenters come in many shapes, sizes and configurations for primary fermentation. Below are some top considerations when selecting fermenters:
Table 5: Fermenter Considerations
|Conical or cylindro-conical are most common. Can also use open or closed buckets.
|1 to 7 barrel batches. Get multiple fermenters for complex recipes and stages.
|Stainless steel or plastic (PET Polycarbs). Stainless offers durability.
|Helps maintain fermentation temperature. Can add jacket later.
|Integrated cooling jackets or glycol hookups work best.
|Automated controlled cooling is ideal for consistency.
|Pressure-capable, racking port, sight glass, thermometer, adjustable pressure relief valve.
|Allows access underneath and gravity transfers. Stair access recommended.
Conicals with glycol cooling and digital temperature control allow precise management of fermentation for best quality and consistency.
Brite Tank Options
Brite tanks, or “serving” tanks, are commonly used for clarifying, conditioning, carbonating and storing beer prior to packaging or dispensing:
Table 6: Brite Tank Considerations
|1-7 barrel capacity. Purchase multiples for storage flexibility.
|Cylindrical or “bullet” slimline shape. Conicals can also be used.
|Integrated cooling jackets or glycol hookup for precise temperature control.
|Well-insulated units prevent fluid temperature fluctuations.
|Sparge arm, diffusion stone, or inline for dissolving CO2 into beer.
|Sight glass, racking arm, pressure gauge, sample valve, CIP ball.
|Allows access underneath and gravity liquid transfers.
As with fermenters, temperature-controlled brite tanks with integrated cooling improve beer clarity and shelf life.
Pumps for Liquid Transfer
Pumps smoothly transfer wort, beer, water, and cleaning liquids between vessels in a brewery. Here are common options:
Table 7: Brewery Pump Considerations
|Centrifugal or positive displacement pumps are most common.
|Stainless steel for durability and cleanliness.
|Size for kettle heating, knockout, and peak transfer demands.
|Ability to prime without external priming pot.
|Smooth surfaces and CIP sprayballs. Tri-clamp connections.
|Remote operation and speed control allow automation integration.
Centrifugal pumps offer economical low-flow transfer capability, while positive displacement pumps provide high pressure and large volume flows. Sanitary pumps reduce contamination risks.
Heat Exchange Options
Maintaining proper temperatures is critical when brewing beer. Heat exchangers accurately control heating and cooling:
Table 8: Heat Exchanger Considerations
|Plate, shell and tube, coil types, each with pros and cons.
|Steam, water, glycol. Steam offers fastest heating.
|Single vs. Multi-Stage
|Series or parallel exchangers to optimize heating/cooling.
|CIP sprayballs clean without disassembly.
|Prevents unwanted heat loss and glycol temperature shifts.
|Thermometers and sensors for automation.
Efficient heat exchangers like 3-stage plate models optimize temperature control precision throughout the brewing process.
Piping and Valves
Food-grade piping transfers liquids between vessels and small brewery brewing equipment:
Table 9: Brewery Piping Considerations
|Stainless steel and food-grade plastic like PVC or HDPE.
|Size for flow volumes. 1.5-3 inches for most lines.
|Weld, clamp, or thread connections. Tri-clamp preferred.
|Manual valves or electric actuated valves to direct flows.
|Flow, pressure, and liquid detection sensors for monitoring.
|Color coding and labels for clear liquid identification.
Sloped piping allows drainage, while removable sections facilitate cleaning. A well-planned pipe layout eases operation and maintenance.
Automation and Controls
Breweries can incorporate automation to improve efficiency, consistency, reporting, and product quality:
Table 10: Brewery Automation Considerations
|Sensors track tank levels and initiate transfers.
|Software records temperatures, gravity, pH and other parameters.
|Get notifications if measurements fall outside ranges.
|Create and trigger automated brewing recipes.
|Automatically control flows and direct liquids.
|Modulate pumps, agitators, heat to programmed settings.
Start with basic automation like temperature control and monitoring. Later add actuated valves and motorized systems for full hands-off operation.
Some supplemental small brewery brewing equipment may help improve efficiency, quality, and brewery operations:
Table 11: Supplemental Brewery Equipment
|Crushes grains for optimal mash extraction. Roller or hammer type.
|Carbonation stone, diffusion stone, or sparge arm to dissolve CO2.
|Filtration, fining agents, or centrifugation to polish beer clarity.
|Clean-in-place tank, pump, valves, and nozzles for automated cleaning.
|Remove dust, pollen, and odors that can impact beer taste.
|Refractometer, microscope, DO meter. For QC and fermentation tracking.
Start with the core equipment first, then add supplemental gear to suit your brewing goals and growth.
Sizing Your Brewery Electrical System
Operating multiple pumps and motors along with heating elements can put significant demand on your electrical system. Use this general guidance for sizing:
- Size main service for 125-150% of total connected equipment loads
- Provide 200-240V 1 phase or 208-240V 3 phase power
- Dedicate 40 amp circuits for each direct fire or electric heating element
- Install 20 amp circuits for each motorized system like pumps
- Include a 60 amp circuit for the glycol chiller
- Use 10 amp circuits for control panels, lighting, outlets
A certified electrician can help properly size and install suitable electrical service and wiring for your brewery equipment.
Planning Your Brewery Layout
A good small brewery brewing equipment layout promotes smooth work flows and allows gravity liquid transfers where possible. Here are some brewery layout tips:
- Position mash tun above brew kettle for easy draining
- Place fermenters/brite tanks close to cooling system lines
- Centralize control panels for access and visibility
- Allow walkways for movement and maintenance access
- Minimize piping runs to reduce liquid waste
- Cluster equipment functions into zones (mash, boil, fermentation, storage)
Also factor in floor sloping, drainage, ceiling height, and room to expand when laying out your brewing equipment.
Sourcing Your Brewery Equipment
Once you’ve selected your ideal equipment configuration, here are some tips for sourcing high quality brew gear:
Table 12: Tips for Sourcing Brewery Equipment
|Contact 3-5 equipment suppliers for competitive quotes on your system.
|Focus on commercial or industrial grade equipment built for longevity.
|Check feedback and reviews of the manufacturer’s reputation and customer service.
|Ask About Training
|Look for setup help and brewery operations training.
|Ask for and contact references using that company’s equipment.
|Equipment should have a 1-2 year comprehensive warranty.
|Review Maintenance Needs
|Understand cleaning requirements and maintenance schedules.
|Tour existing installations of the equipment you’re considering.
|Look for UL/CE/ETL listings on electrical components.
Taking the time to research vendors will pay off in a hassle-free equipment buying experience.
Key Considerations When Budgeting
The total brewhouse equipment costs for a small 1-7 barrel brewery can range from $50,000 to $250,000. Here are the key factors that affect the budget:
Table 13: Brewery Equipment Budgeting Considerations
|Impact on Budget
|Brand and Quality
|Commercial and import equipment costs more but offers reliability and durability.
|Stainless steel is preferred but pricier than plastic options.
|Capacity needs drive mash tun, kettle, fermenter, and brite tank costs higher.
|Pumps, actuated valves, sensors, controls, software all add cost but improve consistency.
|Multi-vessel individual systems cost more than integrated all-in-one units.
|Options like whirlpools, sparging, CIP, grain handling, etc. add cost.
|Having equipment installed and integrated by the supplier adds 15-25% typically.
|Freight costs can be 5-15% of total depending on supplier location and delivery model.
Carefully factor in these elements when estimating your startup brewery capital expenses.
Comparing Pros and Cons of Brewing Systems
Different small brewing system configurations have their own advantages and drawbacks. Here is a high level comparison:
Table 14: Pros and Cons Comparison of Brewery Setups
|Compact, fast setup. Ease of use.
|Limited customization. Production capacity capped.
|Highly customizable. Flexible production scale.
|Complex integration and controls. Higher startup cost.
|Tiered Gravity Flow
|Energy efficient. Classic appealing aesthetics.
|Inconsistent brewing results. Limited automation.
|Very repeatable results. High degree of control.
|Equipment cost. Maintenance of automation systems.
Factor in your budget, brewing knowledge, desired automation level, and production goals when selecting a system.
Choosing Between New vs Used Equipment
The choice between buying new or used brewing equipment comes down to budget, risk tolerance, and goals:
Table 15: Comparing New vs Used Brewery Equipment
|More expensive. $50k – $250k range.
|Less expensive. $10k – $100k range.
|Can get the exact equipment you want.
|Limited to what’s available on market.
|Pristine, warrantied, peace of mind.
|May have wear and repairs needed.
|Direct ordering, delivery, and integration.
|May need to disassemble and move systems.
|Meets all current codes and standards.
|May lack upgrades or need refurbishment.
|Gets maximum yields and performance.
|Older systems may be less efficient.
|New equipment shouldn’t have failures or downtime.
|Higher risk of breakdowns and malfunctions.
|Often 3-6 month order timeline.
|Ready for pickup immediately in most cases.
For a higher startup cost, new equipment provides optimal performance, safety, and reliability. Used gear costs less but has more uncertainty.
Installation and Facility Requirements
Properly installing brewing equipment takes expertise. Here are some key requirements:
Installation and Facility Requirements (continued)
Table 16: Brewery Installation Considerations
|Plumber installs glycol piping, drains, liquid transfer lines.
|Specialist required if steam heating is used.
|HVAC pro provides venting for boils and fermentation.
|Slope floors for drainage. Floor drains every ~200 sq ft.
|Scrubbable surface for cleanability. Stainless steel ideal.
|15-20 ft height allows headroom for equipment access.
|Size electrical service and circuits to handle equipment loads.
|Bright, waterproof LED lighting for work areas.
|OSHA standards including emergency eyewash station, first aid kits, fire extinguisher.
|Doors and corridors sized for equipment entry and movement.
|Loading bay and access for deliveries and waste removal.
Take time to prepare your brewery space to meet equipment requirements prior to installation.
Safety Practices and Standards
Operating brewing equipment safely is critical. Follow these best practices:
- Provide staff training on equipment operating procedures
- Create SOPs for each piece of equipment
- Require PPE like gloves, goggles, protective clothing
- Install emergency shut-off switches on vessels
- Use lock-out tag-out for maintenance procedures
- Keep walkways and work areas clear and tidy
- Provide adequate lighting in all work zones
- Regularly inspect, test, and certify all pressure vessels
- Have sprinkler systems, smoke detectors, and fire extinguishers
- Follow OSHA and local safety regulations
Prioritizing safety improves the work environment and prevents accidents.
Maintaining Your Brewery Equipment
Keep your brewing equipment in top shape by following a strict maintenance regimen:
Table 17: Brewery Equipment Maintenance Tips
|Daily visual checks, watch for leaks/damage
|CIP after each use. Breakdown monthly.
|Monthly greasing of motors and moving parts.
|Annual calibration of sensors, meters, automation.
|Replace gaskets, seals, hoses every 6-12 months.
|Annual pressure vessel re-certification.
|Tune PID control settings and automation quarterly.
|Log maintenance tasks and equipment performance.
Preventative maintenance reduces unexpected downtime and replacement costs.
Training Staff on Brewery Operations
To maximize safety and beer quality, thoroughly train staff on equipment operations:
- Review operating manuals and SOPs for each system
- Conduct hands-on training during brewing sessions
- Train on CIP procedures between batches
- Discuss cleaning and sanitizing chemical handling
- Review lock-out tag-out steps before any maintenance
- Clarify emergency shut-off procedures
- Outline daily, weekly, and monthly preventative maintenance
- Train personnel on recording tank levels, temperatures, gravities
- Cover troubleshooting procedures for issues like leaks or clogs
- Schedule refresher trainings periodically to maintain knowledge
Proper training ensures smooth brewery operations and prevents accidents.
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about small brewery systems:
Table 18: Small Brewery Equipment FAQs
|What’s the smallest brewing system I can get?
|All-in-one nano systems produce 1/2 barrel batches.
|What factors affect brewing equipment costs?
|Materials, size, features, quality, installation all impact cost.
|What electrical and utility requirements are needed?
|Expect to need 200+ amp electrical service, water, drains, ventilation.
|Should I buy new or used equipment?
|Used can save money but may need repairs. New ensures reliability.
|How long does brewery equipment last?
|With maintenance, 20+ years of service life is typical.
|How do I learn to brew on new equipment?
|Suppliers offer training, and you can take brewing courses.
|What are the most critical elements?
|Mash tun, brew kettle, fermenters, and temperature control.
|How much space do I need for a brewery?
|Plan for ~500 sq ft for a 3-7 barrel brewhouse.
Carefully plan out your goals, space, budget and growth plans when selecting brewery equipment.
Summary of Key Points
- Small breweries require an efficient brewhouse setup to productively make quality beer.
- All-in-one electric and individual vessel systems each have pros and cons.
- Essential components include the mash tun, brew kettle, fermenters, brite tanks, pumps, and temperature control.
- Pay close attention to equipment material, insulation, heating method, automation capabilities, and accessories.
- Get quotes from multiple vendors and critically evaluate options.
- Carefully layout equipment and prepare your facility to support the brewhouse.
- Focus on safety, training, and preventative maintenance practices.
- Investing in quality equipment matched to your goals will pay dividends for years to come.
This comprehensive guide covers all the key factors in planning and equipping your small commercial brewery or scaling up your homebrew system.