In the world of craft beer, pushing boundaries is crucial to keep customers engaged. One way to achieve this is through introducing new beers. However, not every new beer is a success, which is why breweries utilize smaller brewing systems to test out recipes. These pilot brewing systems enable them to bring new products to market and generate excitement about their brewery.
While flagship beers generate revenue, special or limited release beers often attract more attention. Therefore, investing in producing small batches of unique beers is an excellent strategy to create hype, gain recognition, and increase beer sales.
What Is a Pilot Brewing System
Every brewery has a brewing system, also known as a brewhouse, which is the core component that defines it as a brewery. The size, features, and other aspects of the brewing system may vary depending on the brewery’s needs, goals, size, and financial resources.
The main brewing system is where the majority of the beer is produced.
Pilot brewing systems serve as secondary systems used by breweries. Typically, they produce a smaller quantity of beer compared to the main system. Like the main system, pilot brewing systems come in varying sizes.
These smaller systems might lack some features found in the main system, and brewing on pilot systems tends to require more labor. The primary purpose of a pilot brewing system is to create smaller batches of beer that complement flagship beers, experiment with new recipes, and produce limited or special release beers.
Brewing a small or large batch of beer takes approximately the same amount of time and effort. Therefore, from an outsider’s perspective, having a pilot system might seem inefficient.
ACE 100L Pilot Brewing System
Why Not Brew Everything in Larger Quantities on the Main System?
Two factors come into play: risk and sales volume.
In many cases, experimental beers are brewed on pilot brewing systems. If a beer does not turn out well, disposing of a smaller amount is more preferable as it minimizes financial risk.
Even if a beer meets expectations, it does not guarantee a demand for that particular style or flavor. Therefore, producing small amounts of beer often helps limit the quantity in such cases.
The larger brewing system does not allow for the same level of volume and risk control.
This line of thinking applies to all breweries. Pilot systems are valuable regardless of the brewery’s size.
For instance, as a brewery expands, it often requires more brewing capacity than its system can handle. In such situations, the brewery cannot afford to allocate time brewing experimental beers on the main system; instead, all brewing capacity must be focused on producing flagship beers.
On the other hand, a brewery with a brand new system, either upon opening or after expansion, may find that the additional brewing capacity poses too much risk for a test batch of a new recipe.
In both scenarios, these breweries have a need to experiment with new recipes without disrupting their normal brewing schedule. They also seek options to minimize risk if a new beer fails to meet their flavor or quality standards.
So what does all this mean for craft beer drinkers like you and me?
For some, these are industry details that may seem rather dull. However, understanding the philosophies and processes behind brewing helps us gain a deeper appreciation for our favorite drink.
The brewing process is an art as much as it is a science. Pilot brewing systems serve as blank canvases that brewers use for development and creativity, while main systems are reserved for applying scientific principles to consistently produce excellent beer.
Both types of systems are necessary and valuable.
Next time you visit a brewery, ask about their brewing system, and inquire about their pilot brewing system and how they utilize it. You’ll likely find that they have much more to share about how they use the smaller system to create and shape the future of their beers.