This guide serves as an introduction on how to buy a craft brewhouse (specifically, the key components of one), and is intended for craft brewers, breweries, brewpubs, restaurants and anyone who's looking to invest in their own tailor-made brewing system.
What is a Craft Brewhouse?
With the craft brewing industry rapidly growing, it's now easier than ever to brew both small and large quantities of beer. In order to brew that beer, you'll need to invest in a craft brewhouse.
A brewhouse usually refers to the entire brewing system, including the fermenters and the bright tanks - but can also refer to just the vessels, like the kettle or mash tun. Depending on the production needs, physical size, and scale of the operation, brewhouses are fully customizable for each buyer.
Prospective buyers can range from beer enthusiasts looking to buy a home-brewing system to brewpubs and full-scale craft breweries who are investing in a turn-key brewing system. That said, if you're curious about how to buy your own, we recommend working with suppliers to create a personalized solution based on your specific wants and needs.
What are the Different Sizes & Annual Production Capacities of Craft Brewing Systems?
Depending on the scale of production, brewhouses are built on a case-by-case basis to produce a specific amount of beer. Small-scale home systems appeal to homebrewers producing smaller quantities of beer, while nano and craft systems are sufficient for minor commercial operations. Brewpubs (restaurants/pubs that brew and sell their own beer) produce thousands of barrels per year, and therefore require full production facilities designed to produce mass quantities of beer for large-scale distribution.
Calculating the Size of your Craft Brewhouse
The size of your craft brewhouse should be based upon your production capacity as well as the size of your facility. The typical units of measurement (in terms of both brewhouse systems and annual beer production) include:
Beer Barrel - BBL, Gallon - GAL, and Hectoliter - HL
1 BBL = 31 GAL, and 1 HL = 0.85 BBL
The maximum annual production capacity is dependent on how often you'll be brewing on any given week. A nano/craft brewery or brewpub system usually ranges between 5 BBL - 15 BBL, which produces between 500 - 3,000 barrels per calendar year. On a macro scale, a full production brewery system would be 15 BBL or greater, with the ability to produce upwards of 3,000 barrels per year.
The annual production is calculated using this formula: (brewhouse size) x (number of brews per week) x (approx 50 weeks per year) = Annual Production
- A 5 BBL system x 2 brews a week x 50 weeks = 500 BBL annually
- A 5 BBL system x 3 brews a week x 50 weeks = 750 BBL annually
Suppliers should ask about the size of your facility, which will help determine how your customized brewhouse will be designed and installed for maximum efficiency and output.
What Are Brewing Vessels?
Brewhouses are typically measured by the number of vessels. For example, a 2-vessel brewhouse may have a Mash/Lauter Tun/Hot Liquor Tank combination vessel paired with a Boil Kettle/Whirlpool combination vessel.
On the more advanced end of the spectrum, a 5-vessel brewhouse would have a designated Mash Mixer, Lauter Tun, Holding Kettle, Boil Kettle and a Whirlpool. Each of these designated vessels serves a particular purpose, allowing you to brew larger quantities of beer simultaneously.
Again, the setup you ultimately choose will depend on your brewing needs, the space you have to work with and your budget. Listed below are several different configurations of brewhouses based on the number of vessels:
- 2-Vessel Brewhouses
- Mash/Lauter Tun/Hot Liquor Tank Combination Vessel + Brew Kettle/Whirlpool
- Mash/Lauter Tun + Brew Kettle/Whirlpool
- 3-Vessel Brewhouses
- Mash/Lauter Tun/Hot Liquor Tank Combination Vessel + Brew Kettle + Whirlpool
- Mash/Lauter Tun + Brew Kettle + Whirlpool
- Mash Mixer + Lauter Tun + Brew Kettle/Whirlpool
- 4-Vessel Brewhouses
- Mash Mixer + Lauter Tun + Brew Kettle + Whirlpool
- 5-Vessel Brewhouses
- Mash Mixer + Lauter Tun + Holding Kettle + Brew Kettle + Whirlpool
What is the General Timeline for Buying Brewery Equipment?
Most craft brewhouses are custom-built, so it can take several months to curate all of the various components involved. The larger and more complex a brewhouse is, the longer it will take to produce, deliver, and install. If the brewing equipment is produced in China or Europe, shipping times will be longer than if the equipment is produced domestically or in Canada. New equipment must be designed and built, whereas used and floor model equipment can be ready to ship much more quickly.
Suppliers will be able to provide you with an estimate of when your craft brewhouse can be installed and ready to use.
How Much Do Craft Brewhouses Cost to Build?
There are a variety of factors that contribute to the overall pricing of a brewing system, and inevitably impact how to buy your own craft brewhouse. These factors include if the components are built by a domestic or foreign manufacturer, the equipment is purchased new or used, the scale of the brewhouse or factors like the delivery and installation of the entire system. For example, a used 3.5 BBL system may cost $30,000, whereas a new 3.5 BBL system can go for $200,000. The least expensive brewhouses are typically manufactured in China, while pricier ones are designed and built in the U.S., Canada and Europe. Depending on the scale of your production, suppliers can provide you with quotes based on your brewing needs.
What are the Components/Vessels in a Craft Brewhouse?
Hot Liquor Tanks
The hot liquor tank (HLT), also referred to as a hot liquor tun, is a tank/vessel that heats the strike and sparge water to a desired temperature. The HLT is essentially a hot water heater, and the size of the HLT should be proportional to the size of your brew. For example, you would ideally use a 10 gallon HLT for a 5 gallon batch or 15 gallon HLT for a 10 gallon batch. Large-scale operations use an industrial-sized HLT to heat large amounts of water.
Hot Liquor Tanks are typically stainless steel and, depending on size, can range anywhere from 10 to 1000 gallons. Some breweries may use a Hot Liquor Tank / Mash Lauter Tank combination vessel, while others may invest in two designated vessels to expedite the process.
Mash Tuns / Lauter Tuns
The Mash Tun/Lauter Tun is a vessel used to mash the grist and hot water to create the wort (unfermented beer). The mash tun is a vessel in which mashing takes place and where wort (unfermented beer) is separated from the grains. Most homebrewers use a 10 or 15 gallon mash lauter tun to heat their sparge water.
Depending on the scale of production, brewpubs and breweries may use a mash lauter tun that holds 100 gallons or more. The majority of mash and lauter tun vessels are stainless steel.
Brew Kettles and Whirlpools
Brew kettles, also known as boilers, boil kettles, or coppers (if made of copper), are vessels where the mash is boiled to a specific gravity, and hops and other flavorings are added. The boiling process allows for various chemical reactions to take place, including sterilization of the wort, releasing hop flavors, concentration of the wort, releasing bitterness and aroma compounds through isomerization, as well as stopping the enzymatic processes.
For smaller operations, homebrewers will frequently improvise by boiling the mash in the mashing vessel. However, more sophisticated brewpubs and breweries designate brew kettles for the boiling process, in addition to whirlpools, which allow the wort to settle. Whatever your preference, cleanliness and sanitation are essential for brew kettles.
Brew kettles are typically manufactured using stainless steel or copper (depending on the make and manufacturer) because these materials are easier to clean. Prices for brew kettles is determined by their size, manufacturer (US-made versus German or Chinese), and quantity. Some brew kettles are sold as sets, providing multiple boilers for simultaneous brews. Brew kettles are sized anywhere from 50L to 1000L (or greater), and are typically measured by the BBL production capacity, ranging from 1-7 BBL to more than 50 BBL.
Depending on your projected production capacity, as well as the heating process you plan on using (electric versus steam, direct versus indirect fire), you should speak with your supplier to determine what type and size of brew kettle would work best for your craft brewhouse.
Whirlpools allow the boiled wort, all soluble proteins (trub), and vegetable matter from the hops to settle and collect in the center of the kettle. By collecting in the center of the whirlpool, it is easier to remove the undesirable trub from the wort. The clear wort is then pumped through the heat exchanger and into the fermenter. Many brew kettles are designed to function as a whirlpool after the boiling process has occurred, and the wort may settle in the same vessel.
Heat exchangers, also referred to as wort chillers, allow you to cool your wort from boiling to yeast-pitching temperature in a timely manner. Immersion chillers, plate and counterflow wort chillers will exchange (or reduce) the heat to help improve overall beer clarity, and reduce the chances of off-flavors and contamination. In order to pitch the yeast and begin the fermentation process, the wort must first be cooled to a suitable temperature for fermentation.
Modern breweries typically utilize a plate heat exchanger, which contains ridged plates that form two separate paths. One path is for the wort, while the other path is for the cooling medium, which is typically water. Plate heat exchangers are usually made of stainless steel and brazed with copper. Depending on the brew capacity, you will need an appropriately sized plate heat exchanger to properly cool your wort when transferring it to the fermenter.
Fermentation / Aging Vessels
Fermentation tanks, also referred to as fermenters, are aging vessels where yeast is pitched into the wort, effectively turning it into beer. The wort is pumped into this vessel through a heat exchanger and then added to the previously pitched yeast, where it can begin fermenting. Some breweries have designated aging vessels where the beer is transferred for the aging process.
The number of required fermentation tanks is based on your brewing production. In general, the more fermentation tanks available, the more beer that can be simultaneously brewed, fermented, and aged. Similar to other vessels, fermentation tanks are usually stainless steel and range in size from 5BBL to 6,000 BBL. Depending on your floor layout and production output, tanks may be open or closed, horizontal with manholes, or vertical with conical bottoms (as pictured below). Unitank fermenters may be used for both fermenting and lagering. Today, most craft breweries use cylindroconical fermentation tanks, which are engineered with a conical bottom and a cylindrical top.
Other Brewhouse Parts To Consider Buying:
A malt mill, also referred to as a barley crusher, allows you to crush barley or "mill the grain." Cracking the grain is necessary for the starch conversion process, as well as activating enzymes. Using a set of rollers, barley enters the malt mill and is crushed to the desired coarseness, creating the grist. Some malt mills are hand operated, while others are motorized.
A hopper can be attached above the malt mill to house and feed the grain. Hoppers are measured by the amount of grain (in pounds) they can hold. The grist is then combined with liquor (the brewing term for hot water) in the lauter tun to create the mash.
Diverter Panels and Transfer Pumps
Diverter panels are used to transfer the wort flow from the mash / lauter tun to the brew kettle, and then into the fermenters. Transfer pumps are used to pump beer from the fermenter to the serving/bright tanks. Additionally, you would use transfer pumps to pump cleaning solution through your brewing system to sanitize it, as well.
Filters (DE or Plate & Frame)
Filters, strainers, and funnels are used to filter the leftover yeast and sediment from the beer before they're transferred to the serving/bright tank. While not all beer needs to be filtered, it does provide for a clearer product and also extends the beer's shelf life.
Oxygenation and aeration systems are used to infuse oxygen and conduct the anaerobic breathing process of yeast, facilitating the fermentation process.
Serving Vessel vs. Bright Tank
The beer is transferred to an aging vessel, where it is then carbonated and settles. From here, the brew may be kegged, bottled, refrigerated and served.
What Are the Best Heating Methods for Craft Beer?
A major consideration when thinking about how to buy a craft brewhouse will be the heating method you choose for your facility. Most breweries typically use either electric or gas solutions to heat vessels. An electric system is more efficient and price-effective in the long run, but does require a larger initial investment.
Depending on your current budget and needs, suppliers should be able to provide assistence with choosing an ideal heating solution.
- Lower initial investment
- Easier to set up and move
- Options include propane and natural gas
- Requires careful monitoring for safety
- More energy efficient
- Option to include a timing system
- Saves certain boil settings
- Significantly quieter and safer - no possibility of gas leaks
Now that you know how to buy a craft brewhouse, let Kinnek do the hard part. Submit a free request for quotes and we'll find multiple manufacturers to provide you with pricing for whatever your supply needs.
Finally, watch some of Kinnek's top craft brewhouse manufacturers in action in our video series below: