Lately, I’ve been involved in some brewery build projects which, to be honest, brewery engineering isn’t really my forte (I’m more of a beer-making guy than a brewery engineer/builder but I have some great colleagues who support me when I build a brewery).
Planning these breweries has been fun and it’s great to see the excitement on the future-brewery-owner’s face as their dream slowly becomes a reality.
But in almost every project, I’ve seen clients come to me with an exact configuration of the brewery they’d like to build.
I recently had a client come to me and say, “Hendo, I need a 20hL, 4 vessel brewhouse and 5 x 20hL Unitanks.”
Sure, while this is a considered configuration, more often that not, it does not meet their requirements.
Why is that? What is the thing that sees someone with perhaps some great home brewing experience get the engineering all wrong when it comes time to scale up?
Usually, it’s because that person hasn’t delved into the dark arts of brewery engineering before.
In this article, I’m going to run through the 5 considerations you need to make in order to size your brewery properly, get the maximum output and reduce capital costs at the same time.
1 – How Much Beer Do You Intend To Sell Each Week?
At the end of the day, you’re starting a business and building a brewery is just a part of that.
Your business plan should have at the very least, a 2 year sales forecast which should be broken down into keg and pack (bottle/can) sales as well as how many different types of beer you intend to brew simultaneously.
Once you have your plan then you need to break it down into weekly production volume.
So, let’s say you intend to sell 50 x 50L kegs of beer and 100 x 24x375mL Cases of Cans (9L each), that’s a total of 3,400L of beer production per week.
At the risk of being over-simplistic, wort in = beer out so this brewery needs to brew 3,400L of wort per week.
That’s not a lot when you own a 2,000L brew house.
2 – How Many Shifts Per Day?
When running a brewery, it’s usually set up into “shifts” which is an 8 hour work day for an individual.
This means that you can have up to 3 “shifts” per 24 hour period.
But in reality, it’s only very large breweries that run 3 shifts, 24 hours per day.
As a small or new brewery, you’re probably going to start with 1 shift per day.
That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t eventually consider utilising this tactic in your brewery operation.
You have the option to overlap shifts or run 2 shifts per day (e.g. 5am – 1pm for early shift then 1pm – 9pm for late shift).
Why does shifts per day matter?
Because it determines the number of brews (aks turns or brew cycles) you can pump out in a day on your brewhouse.
The more brews per day, the more volume of wort you can produce which equates directly to the amount of beer you can produce.
But brewing is only wort production, and that’s only one part of the job (often, it’s the only job people consider when building a brewery).
When working out how many shifts your brewery will run, don’t forget to consider the time you’ll need to take quality checks, do cellar work such as yeast handling, dry-hopping and transfers.
Oh, and you have to package beer as well.
3 – How Many Styles of Beer Do You Intend To Simultaneously Make?
The next thing you need to consider is how many different product variants or SKUs you intend to make.
This is something you would have considered when writing your business plan, which would have included a product plan as part of it.
A SKU is a beer brand/style and it’s package type.
For example, let’s say I plan to brew a Lager and it’s sold in 50L Keg and 24 x 375mL Cans – that’s two SKUs, even though they are the same beer.
The more diverse your line up of beers you want to sell, the more tanks you’ll need to buy.
Because you can only fill a tank with one type of beer at a time.
Some beers sell better than others – these top sellers can go into bigger tanks so you have more of that popular beer to sell.
Your brewery might be a mixture of different size tanks.
While it sounds great to have 20 taps with 20 different beers at your brewpub, is it really feasible?
4 – Tanks Are The Measure of Brewery Throughput…Not Your Brewhouse
So here’s a common mistake I often see – new brewery owners often buy tanks that are the same size as their brew house’s brew length.
i.e. they buy a 10hL brew house and 10hL tanks.
This is a critical mistake that I often see.
Why is it a mistake?
Because it limits the total throughput of the brewery.
If you buy a 10hL tank, you will only be able to fit 10hL of beer into it.
But, you can put 10hL of beer into 20hL tank when you start out and fill it later as your demand grows!
Think about the difference in price between a 10hL tank and a 20hL tank – it is usually not much.
The other thing with regards to tanks and throughput is called “residence time”, which is the number of days between brew day and packaging day.
This takes into account the total time for brewing, fermentation, diacetyl rest, chilling, transfer, carbonation and packaging.
This equates to the number of times you can fill and empty each tank per year which directly relates to production capacity.
When starting out, 21 days is a pretty good residence time to start with.
So a 10hL tank on a 21 day average residence can make 10 x 365 / 21 litres of beer per year.
That’s about 173hL of beer per year.
So buying those 20hL tanks for $1,000 more each means you have the ability to double your output!
All you need to do is brew twice to fill it.
That’s a no brainer. Do it.
5 – Brewhouse Size Alone Is Rarely The Key Production Metric
There are many stainless steel suppliers out there and make no mistake, all of them want you to buy more stainless steel from them!
But you need to be objective in your equipment selection.
Does my client really need that 4 vessel, 20hL brew house with 5 x 20hL Unitanks?
On the surface of it, my client above asking for a 20hL brewhouse with 3,400L per week production expectations really only needs to brew just 1.75 times per week.
You have the option to knock out more brews per shift if your brewhouse has more vessels e.g. a Mash/Lauter & Whirlpool/Kettle 2 vessel system VS a Mash & Lauter & Kettle & Whirlpool 4 vessel system.
But in this case, at 1.75 brews per week, my client doesn’t really need a 4 vessel brewhouse….and probably doesn’t need to brew 20hL at a time either.
So my client should just buy that 2 vessel, 10hL brew house at a significant capital cost saving and maybe buy some more tanks to increase throughput.
Another consideration with regards to tanks is that you can brew 2, 3, 4 up to whatever number of times you need to in order to fill a tank.
I have personally brewed into tanks that require 10 brews to fill and I have heard of breweries that take more than 20 brews/cycles/turns to fill!
Also, don’t forget you can high-gravity brew. I’ve brewed on a 10hL brewhouse with 30hL tanks and we high-gravity brewed in order to fill the 30hL tank in only 2 brews instead of 3.
The time saving and efficiency here is phenomenal!
My wort dilution calculation played a big part in achieving that outcome.
In short – your brewhouse is rarely your bottleneck yet it’s your most expensive bit of stainless so make sure you “sweat the asset” and brew heaps of cycles on it.
Designing a brewery is never easy and many of us are not that experienced in brewery engineering when we are starting out.
Your sales/business plan should feed directly into your brewery’s design – not the other way around.
Question your assumptions – remember the number of tanks and the size of those tanks outweigh the considerations of the size of the brewhouse you might actually need.
And while your stainless steel supplier might have your interests in mind, don’t be afraid to seek some independent advice to ensure you’re getting the most bang for your buck.
As always, my door is always open so feel free to reach out.