Test Kitchen: Why You Shouldn’t DIY in the Beginning

Test Kitchen is an ongoing print column and online blog by the Publisher of Brewer Magazine and Test Kitchen Brewer Tyler Montgomery. With a 1.5 barrel brewhouse launched in 2019, this is his experience and notes from the journey along with reviews of products and services.


We are officially four days from the first anniversary of the Brewer Magazine Test Kitchen.

When we started planning the anniversary about two or three months ago never did I think we’d be celebrating with only beer-to-go orders. However, with the downtime, I’ve had quite a bit of opportunity to reflect on the year.

Recently a comment was made about how the brewing industry is slightly more creative at DIY projects when it comes to production material early on. I would say in a lot of cases for opening breweries I would agree.

One of the areas that I’m thankful for out of the gate was that we did not utilize DIY for any of the production pieces. In fact, if we did go DIY for anything in the brewery or taproom, it was extremely limited.

I despise the idea of looking cheap. I know it’s all about the beer quality and you can make great beer with randomly rigged equipment, but that’s just not what I wanted to present to our customers.

My cousin, who is a pretty solid golfer, once said to me that if you never invest in your game, you can only expect so much. I think that’s true all around. You don’t see world-renowned breweries making large batches on something they designed in their tool shed.

Initially, we used Ss Brewtech fermentation tanks and brite tanks. The brite tanks have never worked for our needs and have created more stress and chaos than I can begin to discuss. Almost a year in I found a review on the company’s website that discussed my own annoyances for these single barrel brites. In reflection, I would have gone with uni-tanks and I’m still not 100% sure why I didn’t.

However, I’m extremely thankful for going with the fermenters we did. The stainless has allowed us to brew at an extremely high level, experience minimal issues with cleaning and connect easily to a glycol chiller. I would never DIY this aspect as it could be the difference between successful beers and dumps — we only dumped three beers in the first year (knock on wood).

The second is our Sabco Brew-Magic system. I explored systems for a long time before settling on this equipment, and it wasn’t the Dogfish Head story that sold me. When I looked at other single-barrel brewhouses the tanks limited you to exactly that, a single barrel (31.5 gallons). I wanted something that would make double batching into a 2 or 3 bbl fermenter easier. The system we went with is 55 gallons at capacity and allows us to get a maximum of 40 gallons or more in our fermenters. While this is still small, imagine if you had to almost double batch the small system to fill the already small fermenters. This would have been a nightmare.

Admittedly I have fought with this brewhouse and its creators for a long while. It had a multitude of issues from pump malfunctions to vessels being dented. Early on I was so angry at myself for spending the money on this system, but then I talked to my friends at Mirror Twin Brewing and Country Boy Brewing in Lexington, Kentucky and realized that all systems have extreme glitches out of the gate and you’ll just have to grow through them. I’m a journalist by trade and magazine developer in business, so breaking out my limited engineering knowledge was tedious.

Overall I would still utilize the same equipment I did out of the gate. It’s all had its ups and downs, but truly I believe if we had tried to DIY the entire system we’d have more issues and our brewhouse wouldn’t have the professional look it does.

I hope you all are staying safe out there and I hope you’re taking some time to reflect on how amazing it is that you work in this industry!

1 Comment

  1. I am currently starting a construction project of turning an old barn / carriage house into a brewery/ tap room. I have been looking at small brew systems and the new Blichmann 2bbl system seems to be a good system for a start up with the ability to do double batches. The turnkey package seems pretty reasonably priced. With fermenters and brites. Just would like to know what other people think of Blichmann systems as if they think it’s a good system to start with

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