Equipment 101: Brewhouse Part I

This will be the first in a series of posts on the kinds of equipment you'll need to open a brewery and where to get it.  I won't claim to know a fraction of what there is to know on this stuff, but I'll share what I THINK I know and anything I learn along the way. My 20 BBL system! Minus 19.5 BBL.

We'll start the series with an obvious choice: the brewhouse.  The brewhouse is the system with which a brewery actually makes the wort (unfermented beer) which will be magically turned into beer after fermentation.  Unsurprisingly, brewhouses come in many different sizes, options, configurations, and prices.  Typically, for a start up brewery such as Panic Alarmist, the brewhouse is a two vessel system consisting of the mash/lauter tun (MLT) and the brew kettle/whirlpool.  If you are an all-grain homebrewer, this is very likely exactly what you already do.  As a brewery needs to expand production, a two vessel system can become a four or even five vessel system with separate vessels for mashing, lautering, boiling, and whirlpooling.  This allows for much faster production as it allows for parallel processes to take place in all vessels at once.

Alas, for us start ups with limited capital, two vessels is the way to go.  So what kinds of features does one look for in these vessels?  Well, as I mentioned earlier, I don't know a lot, but here's what I've learned thus far:

MLT's can be fitted with or without mash rakes.  These are stainless steel mixing arms that are turned by a drive motor (hopefully variable drive to control rotation speed).  Mash rakes are great because they ensure that the mash is thoroughly hydrated with no "dough balls", the temperature is consistent through out the mash tun, and they make cleaning ("grain out") much, much easier.

MLT's can also have active heating.  A heated mash tun is steam jacketed, just like the boil kettle, which allows a brewer to more easily control the heat of the mash and, more importantly, do multiple step infusion mashes.  With today's highly modified malts and the additional costs involved, few American craft breweries have steam jacketed mash tuns.  They definitely exist and I don't know how many there are, but they are much rarer than the standard, insulated mash tun where the heat is controlled simply by the mash water temperature.

This brings us to the boil kettle/whirlpool.  A boil kettle can either be heated via steam or direct fired much like many of us homebrewers do in the back yard with a turkey fryer burner.  Steam is usually preferred for a variety of reasons.  Steam is more efficient, provides a gentler and more homogenous heat transfer, and it doesn't scorch the bottom of the brew kettle.  Also, after a brew kettle gets to a certain size (maybe 20 bbl?), direct fire might not even be an option (I could be wrong on this).  Two disadvantages for steam heat are the cost for the steam boiler and its installation and maintenance costs.  A steam boiler (which I'll cover in another post) is a massive natural gas powered heating unit which heats water to steam.  The steam is then pumped via process pipe to the jackets surrounding the kettle.  As the heat is transferred from the steam to the boil kettle, some (or most?) of the steam goes back to its natural state of water, aka condensate, and is pumped back through the boiler.   This is a closed loop system but does require some maintenance including chemicals that must be added to the water to prevent corrosion or mineral build up inside the system.  The installation costs of a boiler are very high.  Steam boilers require the installation of water piping, steam piping, electrical, and venting.  And the boiler must be installed in a fire resistant room which local building codes will define for you.

Another component of a brewhouse is a grant, which is a reservoir tank that holds the run-off from the MLT.  A grant maintains a volume of liquid which can then be pumped to the boil kettle during run off.  It also allows the brewer to see and test the run-off during the entire lautering process.  Speaking of pumps, they are an important part of the brewhouse.  The brewhouse at Metropolitan Brewing has a pump to move liquid from the MLT to the kettle, and a pump for recirculating the wort during whirlpooling in the brew kettle.  The pumps are also used for things like vorlaufing, cleaning, and general water transfer such as heating mash water in the boil kettle, if needed,  and then pushing the heated water over to the MLT.

So that's a very general run down of a brewhouse.  I'll go into more details on features once I learn about them myself.  I'll also be talking about the different vendors and my experiences with working with them.  There is a lot of ground to cover with equipment, so hang on tight!