Vessels needed for brewing
Commercial brewing requires several different types of large stainless steel vessels. First, the water is heated in a dedicated vessel called the Hot Liquor Tank (note: “liquor” refers to any liquid used in a process, not alcoholic beverages).
The hot water is then transferred to a vessel known as the Mash/Lauter Tun, where it saturates milled grain to extract sugars and flavors.
After a while, the carbohydrate-rich water is transferred to the Boil Kettle, where it is brought to boiling temperature by steam or electric elements. Hops and other ingredients are added during the boil. Once complete, the boil kettle becomes a Whirlpool tank, which separates larger particles from the solution.
The Boil Kettle/Whirlpool and the Mash/Lauter Tun are usually located next to each other with a platform and stairs between them so the brewer can monitor the process. Together, they are referred to as the Brewhouse. As breweries expand, they may add a third vessel for a dedicated whirlpool, increasing production efficiency.
The hot liquid is then cooled and transferred to a Fermentation tank, where yeast is added and fermentation begins. After fermentation, the beer is transferred to a Brite Tank, where it is further cooled to allow remaining particles to settle. Finally, the beer can be kegged or bottled/canned for serving.
ACE brewhouse and hot liquid tank
Most start-up microbreweries use a 10-30 barrel brewhouse and equivalent-sized fermenters/brite tanks.
Sizing the brewhouse is a balancing act for new breweries. Starting too big can strain finances and increase the cost of mistakes. Starting too small can make it difficult to meet demand and increase ingredient costs. Doubling the system size doesn’t necessarily double the cost, but that alone isn’t a sufficient reason for buying a bigger system.
Consider the available physical space in the brewery. If there’s limited room for additional tanks in the future, starting with a large brewing system isn’t wise. Also, consider the clear height of the ceiling compared to the diagonal height of the vessels. These tall vessels require adequate ceiling height to fit. Large breweries often create openings in the ceiling to install these tanks.
One strategy is to start with a smaller brewhouse and leave room for a dedicated whirlpool in the future. Size the fermenters/brite tanks at double the brewhouse size. This allows flexibility in production capacity and reduces initial costs compared to purchasing additional tanks.
Number of Vessels
A general rule is to purchase enough fermenters and brite tanks for the first 2-3 years of production. You can calculate the maximum annual capacity of a fermenter using these metrics:
Daily fermenting volume available = # of vessels * volume of vessel
Turns per year = # of brew days per year / average fermentation time
Annual capacity = fermenting volume * turns per year
Assuming 80% ale production, 20% lager production, and 50 weeks of brewing per year, the simplified formula becomes:
Annual capacity = fermenting volume * 42
This also assumes sufficient brite tanks to rotate beers quickly.
If you plan to have many different beers on tap at once, consider maintaining the same ratio of brite to fermenting vessels.
Brewhouse Heat Source
Large heating elements are placed inside the kettle, similar to a residential electric water heater.
Less expensive than steam; efficient energy utilization.
Electrical costs may be higher than gas; requires heavy 3-phase power; not suitable for systems larger than 10 barrels.
This is the industry standard for brewing systems sized 10 barrels and up. A separate boiler heats water with a gas flame to create steam, which is circulated through an insulated steel jacket around the kettle.
Fairly efficient; quick heating.
Most expensive; requires a separate costly boiler; boiler maintenance.