Every brewhouse should be a palace of production, safety, and innovation. The brewhouse is the heart and engine of your brewing business, and its many complex systems and operations (from mills and mashing tuns to kettles and fermenting tanks) require constant vigilance, maintenance, and safety. The journey to the perfect brewhouse and brew crew is a long road rife with big decisions. What is the size of your system, available space, desired flavor impacts, heating time, and, of course, ease of cleanliness using the right chemicals at the right frequency? When selecting a brewhouse, it is important to do some homework and understand what size beers you will be brewing and how much you want to brew.
For example, many high-quality brewhouse suppliers are from Germany, and they design their brewhouses to brew German-style lagers. Higher gravity brews and high hop usage like what we have in the United States are not things they always factor into their equations. Make sure you calculate your lauter tun loading, proposed grain bed depths for the range of beers you want to brew, and also whether you want to brew 24/7. All those things will factor into the size of the brewhouse you need.
The second tip is to visit a few breweries that are operating the equipment you are considering and talk to them about the project management process and the commissioning process. Most brewers are happy to candidly share their experience. Were the suppliers easy to work with? Were they on time? How much support was provided during commissioning? In the end, much of the brewhouse selection process will be highly dependent on your comfort level with the supplier. The opinions and experiences of brewers who have worked with the suppliers can help you make a decision.
After you calculate the size of the brewhouse you need, increase it by 50 percent. Just about every brewer out there over the last few years has underestimated growth. More quickly than they imagine, they are out of brewhouse capacity and either have to expand or build a new facility.
Operating a brewhouse:
My biggest tip is to make sure you identify critical spare parts and keep them on hand, especially those with long lead times. Work with your supplier and maintenance teams to develop an effective preventive maintenance program that includes proactive replacement of valves, lauter tun plow blades, etc. Another tip is to get into the routine of auditing your brewhouse process. Track a beer you brew often from start to finish, make notes on how the mash and wort move through the brewing process, and then periodically recheck this to make sure things are still working consistently. Measure details such as first-wort gravity, final run gravity, and evaporation during the boil, and strive to make these consistent from batch to batch.
What is the final production capacity you want to achieve with the new brewhouse, and what is your projected growth rate? Do you (initially) want to work in two shifts? Brewhouse capacity is determined by batch size and number of brews per 24 hours. Modern brewhouse equipment can produce up to 12 brews per day, even with strong craft brewer beers.
Look for expandability of the system. What is the desired degree of automation? Can you easily add and integrate new process vessels in the future? Is the brewhouse able to grow with your sales? Take into account alternative technologies, e.g., mash filter.
The craft brewer market is growing and getting increasingly competitive. Raw materials are becoming more expensive. In a couple of years, it will be difficult — even for small breweries — to run a successful business with a brewhouse that produces 20 percent losses when brewing an IPA.
Here is the most important advice of all: Make sure you get guarantees for yield and brewhouse production capacity, and make sure your contract makes them enforceable.