Expert Tips on Purchasing New Equipment for Your Brewery

Big or small, old or new, a kettle is a building block to beer.

From figuring out a first-time system, planning for a future expansion or adding on to increase capacity, which kettle to choose can be one of the first thoughts brewers have. Experience with certain kinds of kettles can lead to an affinity to what becomes the first plan.

FATE Brewing’s Jeff Griffith said he had been brewing with direct fire for eight years prior to getting a 10-barrel three-steam vessel for the Boulder, Colorado brewery in March of 2013. “It’s what I knew, it’s what I kind of wanted to go with,” he said.

When it came time for inspection by the city though, the direct-fire method was nixed. “It threw us into the direction of steam and I am happy that we did it,” he said. “It works great. I like it just as much as direct fire. My boil times are less and I get a lot more evaporation.”

Brian Helton, who is starting his own brewery to go with 18 years of professional experience with his Helton Brewing Co. in Phoenix, said that although he initially looked at a new system, he found a good deal on a used hybrid brewhouse and went that route.

But that came after a lot of research.

“I was looking more for performance than price structure, which is different for a lot of startups,” he said. “I made the determination because of quality of work. I didn’t want a lot of bells and whistles. The less surface a beer has to travel, in my opinion, the better off it can be. More points of contamination can be detrimental to the brewing quality.”

Another new venture from Ishpeming, Michigan, head brewer of Cognition Brewing, Brian Richards said his team opted to use re-purposed dairy vessels for their processing tanks. “It allowed us to save a lot of money and buy some really nice fermenters and brite tanks,” he said. “A lot of breweries start with imported tanks because of the cost savings. Some of them are decent but the quality is not as good.”

Money can be a factor, when it comes to the decision between a nano brewhouse or a larger system, the amount of money to invest can go upward of four times the cost.

“You see some people want to go out and do it and get a system and then before they know it they are upgrading to a bigger system,” Griffith said. “I would say if you could afford it to have a minimum starting system to be seven to 10 barrels. I understand it’s not always possible, but depending on what your goals are starting on nano systems are tough because within two to three years they are up to a bigger system.”

Sourcing and researching a task like this can be daunting. But just like waiting for a great bourbon barrel-aged stout, patience can be the hardest part when it comes to going from the thought process, through research and into fabrication.

“There is always going to be a turnaround in this industry toward production of equipment,” Helton said. “Fabrication is huge and important. If they are quoting you a month or so, you are getting a product that is pre-fabed and coming off a production facility compared to being fabricated to your design.

“What’s kind of nice about some companies is that you can dictate your parameters for things like size. They can work with you compared to pre-fab. They should be flying you out to see your system being fabricated. When it comes to the construction of the systems you have to accept a certain duration [of time] as the norm.”

Griffith said that they began the process of looking near the end of 2011.

“This was on cusp of a big explosion of new breweries,” he said. “Our first quote was three months and we waited a month and then they told us we would have to now wait seven months.”

Griffith said researching and going in with some thought is a good plan.

“I had seen other brewer’s systems and I did a lot of looking online and looked for quotes to see what they could offer.”

Griffith added that they maximized the space available to them with their fabricator and hopes to use the system to the end of the building’s life. “There is nowhere else for us to go in terms of size and moving in and out of where we are … we would have to blow the roof off this place,” he said. “Our next expansion would have to be someplace else.”

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