Nowadays, many homebrewers and enthusiasts have transitioned into the commercial brewing industry.
Here are 5 key differences to consider between home brewing and commercial brewing. Sharing beer with others and making a good living is an admirable goal.
Homebrewing and commercial brewing share both similarities and differences. Here, we present 5 differences to inform passionate brewers and better prepare future entrepreneurs. Some individuals are driven to become professional brewers and won’t stop until they run their own commercial brewhouse.
As one dreams of achieving professional brewing success, it’s important to view this as a piece of the puzzle that pushes you forward or makes you take a step back.
1) Mastery of All-Grain Brewing and Recipe Formulation
While extract brewing is an option, it can be expensive compared to raw barley malt.
To establish a thriving microbrewery, an all-grain system is essential.
Master the art of mashing and producing all-grain beer.
All-grain brewing is more complex than extract brewing, but it is rewarding and a great way to spend your Saturdays in cool spring and fall mornings.
If you aspire to become a brewmaster at your own pub or microbrewery, you must truly master the craft.
It takes a minimum of 40-75 batches, with the last 35 being all-grain, to gain a basic understanding of the complete brewing process.
2) Temperature Control
For most homebrewers, brewing is a seasonal activity during spring and fall, with occasional winter and summer brews in temperature-stable environments.
In a commercial brewery, the tanks are double-walled, insulated, and made of stainless steel with glycol jackets.
You have full control over cooling the beer.
The glycol jackets are located on the inner walls and circulate propylene glycol, a liquid coolant with a very low freezing point.
If the temperature of the beer rises above 69°F (20.5°C), the glycol system activates and turns off when the beer cools down to 67°F (19.5°C).
It is strictly a temperature-controlled environment.
In summer, the glycol compressors work harder, while the insulated tanks remain unaffected by the cold during winter.
In my case, my ambient temperature in winter was around 55°F (12°C) at best since I had an old drafty converted lumber warehouse. The heating was turned off at night, but the beer temperature never dropped too low.
At home, unless you have a fridge or fermentation cabinet in your garage, you are subject to the elements, either too hot or too cold.
Working within these parameters is reasonable, and there are techniques and simple hacks to overcome temperature challenges.
These techniques are extensively discussed in articles such as “How Do You Brew Beer in Hot Weather?” and “How Do You Brew Beer in Cold Weather?”
3) Establishing and Maintaining a Sanitary Environment
In brewing, there is no such thing as being too clean.
By clean, we mean not only visually free of dirt but also sanitary and free of bacteria.
Something that appears clean may still have surface microflora contaminants.
At home, use bleach for bacterial control.
Sanitizers alone cannot remove dirt.
If you have brewing equipment that is discolored, scratched, or has abrasions after boiling, it’s best to discard and replace them.
An exception is if you use an iodine solution for sanitization, which can discolor plastic. However, as the discoloration may mask dirt, dried beer residue, or other contaminants, it might not be the best choice for home brewing sanitation.
Breweries need to sell their beer. Although this vital information is often hidden in the sanitation section, it is nonetheless crucial.
To survive in the industry, you must consistently produce and sell high-quality beer.
Commercial brewers also use many strong and corrosive chemicals for cleaning and sanitizing. We wear heavy gloves and masks when handling these chemicals.
It’s not a major issue, just a very different experience from the relaxed Saturday morning brew sessions at home.
4) High Overhead: The Business Aspect
Building a nice all-grain setup for homebrewing can be done gradually over time.
As you progress from being a beginner to an intermediate, journeyman, and advanced brewer, you acquire equipment along the way.
Using coolers, old plastic fermenters, pickle buckets, and various kitchen utensils, along with a few specialized items like a grain mill, sparger, and copper coil wort chiller.
Depending on your time and dedication, it may take a while to reach the 25-50 batch milestones that require all of this equipment.
In contrast, commercial brewing requires significant capital investment.
With enough social and family capital, it is possible to build a 7-barrel brewery with a small taproom.
While it may not seem like much to some, it can be a real stretch for most individuals.
There are articles available that discuss commercial brewing ventures in detail, such as “Microbrewery Equipment List: All You Need to Get Started” and “How Much Does It Cost to Start a Microbrewery?”
5) Artisanal Qualities and Inner Drive
In my opinion, brewing requires more than just scientific knowledge, the ability to read recipes, and follow instructions.
It requires a deep connection to the essence of the brewing process.
You need to understand everything about brewing, including its chemical, environmental, and cultural aspects.
There is a reason why the most unique and complex beers come from Belgium, the finest lagers from Germany (and the Czech Republic), and the best ales from England.
Brewing is deeply rooted in their culture, their lifeblood, their raison d’être.
While business acumen, scientific knowledge, and market awareness are essential in commercial brewing, if you don’t have the drive to explore the answers to life, the universe, and everything through beer, then perhaps commercial brewing is not the right journey for you.
But don’t worry, keep brewing beer and have fun!