Brewery Equipment Cost Saving Tips

This article on brewery equipment cost saving tips, was inspired by a conversation I had yesterday with potential client.

The person I was chatting with, was in a similar position to many people I take on as clients.

The common traits are:

  • Looking to open a brewery in a less-developed craft beer market
  • Coming from a background in homebrewing, wanting to get into the industry
  • Often has several partners, who all want to work on the project together
  • Partly self-funded with money from the group, plus loans from a bank
  • The budget is quite small, the plan is to start lean, and invest back into the brewery to grow it.

With this typical situation the challenge is to put together a brewery which will last in terms of quality. As well as one which can grow, as the brewery increases its client base.

Bear Pond Brewing Wuxi
Small 300-Liter Brewery In Wuxi Called Bear Pond

When the budget it’s lean, it’s about pairing back the equipment list. The equipment needs to be:

  • Able to brew good quality beer, with consistency being key.
  • The equipment should be built to last, go too cheap and you’ll have issues sooner rather than later.
  • The brewery needs to be adequately sized so, it can do greater volumes in the future.
  • Oversizing certain parts of the brewery, to grow into plus, some modular elements.
  • Need to play around with equipment list, to make best use of the space in the shipping containers.
  • One critical part is the glycol system – more on this later

There are some other elements to consider, however, we’ll go in to those in more details as we go through this post.

So, let’s get started, with some tips to make you initial brewing project “lean”. So, you can have a working brewery on a budget.

Brewery Equipment Cost Saving Tips – Go with a Two-Vessel System

A two-vessel brewhouse means you have a combined mash/lauter tun, as well as a combined kettle/whirlpool.

—> Will this effect overall brewhouse efficiency? Yes, a little…

However, with good brewing processes, you can still have an efficient brewhouse. Here are some extra tips for saving money, on a two-vessel system:

No heating on the mash/lauter tun

With modern modified malts you don’t need to step mash to help with efficiency. Furthermore, many beer types like a Hefeweizen, can still taste true to style, without step mashing. Simply by using other techniques or brewing aids.

Small Brewery Equipment List - 150 Liter Two Vessel Pilot System
My current pilot system has no mash tun heating

No Rakes in the Mash/Lauter Tun

If you’re brewery is small, under 500-liters, then it’s possible to forgo rakes in the mash/lauter tun. Granted rakes do help with mashing-in (a wee bit), and cutting the mash bed for a better lautering, as well.

Furthermore, rakes aid grain out too; but on smaller system using a grain out hoe, for emptying the grains from the vessel, is easy enough.

—> It must be noted; you can still get good efficiencies without rakes.

However, you might need to reach for the rice hulls more often on brews using a lot of adjuncts in the mash, when a system doesn’t have rakes.

Still, rakes aren’t particularly expensive, compared to the cost of the whole brewhouse. I would advise adding then to your system, if the budget allows.

However, where every dollar counts, you can do without them, on smaller systems.

Yeast Adding Tanks

If you buy a Chinese made brewhouse, the fabricators often add, what they call a “yeast adding tank”. This is placed just after the heat exchanger.

Brewery Equipment Cost Saving Tips - Yeast Adding Tank
A Yeast Adding Tank

Usually the cost is quite small, however it’s not really needed. You can add the yeast direct to the FV. I’ve honestly never used this type of equipment, ever in my brewing career.

Where every dollar counts this is a small saving.

Brewery Equipment Cost Saving Tips – Measuring Volumes

When it comes to measuring volumes for each brewhouse vessel, brewers like to have flowmeters.

However, flowmeters are expensive, with reliable ones, built to last, generally sourced from Europe or Japan.

When you’re looking to save money, you need to go old-school. Meaning using dipsticks for both the mash/lauter tun and brew kettle/whirlpool.

Ideally, it’s best to have a sight tube on the mash/later tun as well so, you can check the liquid volume in the vessel more easily.

  • As it offers a visual aid, to check the liquid volume level, when collecting wort to the brew kettle. Making it easier to ensure you don’t run the lauter tun dry when lautering.

Please note: When ordering a brewhouse from China, they really like to have these oversized wort grant.

Breweries use wort grants to ensure the lauter never runs dry, and there always liquid for the pump, to pump.

I’m not the biggest fan of these things, but for some beers with a lot of adjuncts in the mash they can be useful.

When ordering a brewhouse always make sure there is a bypass for the grants. So, you have the option to not use if it, when not needed. For instance, when making core beers your familiar with brewing on the system. In this instance, you can just use the sight tube on the mash/lauter tun as your guide.

CIP Cart/System – Brewery Equipment Cost Saving Tips

Below 500-liters, if money for the project is tight, I’d forgo having a CIP Cart. Above, a 1,000-liter brewing system having a CIP cart becomes more viable with, the extra expense more justifiable.

My opinion on this matter may differ from other brewers. For me, being able to re-use caustic on smaller system is less important.

You’ll have a fair percentage of loss during a CIP, compared to total volumes, when using a larger system.

Brewery Equipment List Options - CIP Cart
CIP Cart on Wheels for a Smaller Brewery

Furthermore, on smaller system the number of times you can re-use caustic is reduced.

In my real-world experience, the caustic gets dirtier quicker, with less reuses possible, compared to cleaning on a larger system.

Re-using caustic is more of a wasted effort on smaller systems as result. I know my views may differ, but this is what I’ve experienced throughout my 25+ year brewing career.

Brewery Equipment Cost Saving Tips – Buy Bigger Tanks

You’ll have some beers which sell better than others. These biggest sellers will need brewing more often. The ideal scenario is to brew double batches of these beers into bigger tanks.

When buying cellar tanks, you don’t pay twice the price for a double-sized vessel. For example, a 1,000-liter tank isn’t twice the price of a 500-liter vessel.

It takes almost the same amount of time to fabricate both sizes of vessel. What you’re really paying for, is the extra materials.

It means buying bigger tanks will lead to more total tank volume, for less upfront costs.

Furthermore, you’ll have less beer loss when making double batches into one tank too.

Brewery Equipment Cost Saving Tips - FV Costs

As you can see in the image above, a 1 x 1,000-liter FV costs US $4,700.80 and a 2,000-liter FV costs US $5,741.80. There’s only a US $1,041 difference in the price of a 1,000 and 2,000-liter FV.

Obviously, you want to ensure you beer is fresh so, you’ll need some single batch tanks, for some of the slower selling beers.

However, where possible buy double, triple, quadruple or larger sized or larger tanks, where appropriate. This will lead to significant cost savings.

Buy Spunding Valves for Your Unitanks – Brewery Equipment Cost Saving Tips

For those who don’t know what spunding is, please read my article here. These valves will add to your total cost of the equipment.

However, over time they will pay back this initial investment, as you’ll use less CO2 in the brewery.

As explained in the article, these spunding valves allow a brewer to capture the CO2 given off during fermentation, to begin carbonation of the beer.

You’re naturally carbonating the beer…

Which in my opinion, leads to a better finished beer and more dense foam and lacing.

I believe the bubbles from natural carbonation are “smaller”, than if a brewer is force carbonating a beer. The result is a smoother flavor and less CO2 “bite” as well.

There’s also a belief with some brewers, fermenting under pressure leads to a cleaner beer too.

Beers you intend to dry-hop, or those where you want a lot of phenolic character from, shouldn’t be spunded.

Although some brewers do spund hoppy beers, and use a dryhop doser.

Spunding Beer During Fermentation - Spunding Vavle
An Example of a Spunding Valve – Learn About Spunding Here

Buying A Dryhop Doser

Brewery Cellar Tank Guide - Dry-Hop Doser

I’ve a deep dive article on dryhop dosers so, I’ll make this section short and sweet. My thoughts on dryhop dosers are similar to those of spunding valves.

Brewers can buy this equipment for a small outlay, which helps make better beer. There’s research been done by AB InBev, which unfortunately I can’t share.

Which indicates static dry-hopping gives better sensory results than dynamic dry-hopping, such as using a hop rocket.

Many brewers really like using hop rockets and I’ve had some good results using them too. See the link to my article on hop rockets, linked above.

However, when on a budget a hop doser is likely the right low-cost solution, for a brewery project.

They aren’t expensive plus, allows a brewer to dry-hop a beer, without having to open a tank to the atmosphere. Which means no potential for DO (dissolved oxygen) pick-up.

Leading to better shelf-life and less chance of oxidizing the beer.

Beer Off-Flavors - Oxidization

Brewery Equipment Cost Saving Tips – Manually Filling Kegs

A lot of equipment manufacturers will try and push a semi-automatic keg filler onto brewery equipment list. If local laws allow, it’s best to fill the kegs by hand.

Take these two manual keg setups below. The on the left is for smaller breweries. You see the two-keg couplers on the kegs?

Brewery Equipment Cost Saving Tips - Manually Kegging Beer Cheaply

Well, the other end of the beer hose is connected to the beer in the tank. With this simple set-up I can fill 2 x 50-liter kegs within 5 minutes.

So, realistically a cellarman can fill 1,000-liter of beer into keg, in an hour, with this very simple set-up.

On the right side we have a keg filling manifold from Bespoke Brewing Solutions. They have a few iterations of this manifold. One where you can place a pallet underneath it.

Meaning you can fill the kegs directly on the pallet, for ease of use. This particular manifold has room for three couplers. So, you could fill 1,500-liters of beer, into kegs in an hour.

With the 4-manifold set-up, this becomes roughly 2,000-liters per hour. This manifold is much cheaper than buying a semi-automatic beer filler can. Plus, actually be quicker filling, than a machine too.

Optimizing Shipping Container Space – Brewery Equipment Cost Saving Tips

One unfortunate side-effect of Covid was, shipping went up in price drastically. Fortunately, prices are coming down now. Still, they are significant.

When it comes to planning equipment for your brewery, it’s worth considering how much space each vessel takes up.

It might mean playing around with the configuration of the size of the fermentation tanks, to squeeze as much equipment into a container as possible. Shipping containers are 20 and 40ft.

If you’re planning a 500-liter brewery, it’s possible to fit all the equipment into one 40ft container. If it means, losing one 500-liter tank, or replacing two 500-liter tanks for one 1,000-liter tank then do it.

There are other ways to squeeze in as much in as possible. This is actually one area, where my experience in the brewing industry comes to the fore, to save brewery projects money.

I can play around with the equipment list, to utilize the space in a container for the most bang for the buck plus, have a brewery which meets the scope too.

If there’s some extra space in a container, fill up with some other stuff like kegs. Make the most use of all available space in a container.

Making A Brewery in A Shipping Container - Brewhouse Layout
Plans for a container brewery project, which are ongoing

A Quick Mention for Glycol Systems

If you’re planning to grow the brewery over time. With the intention of adding more cellar tanks. It might be best to oversize your glycol system, with the initial equipment purchase.

I know it’s not in the spirit of the article, where we are trying to put a lean system together, for less money as possible.

However, having excess capacity, to add some extra cellar tanks later on, can really save your money in the long run. It’s something to consider if the budget allows.

Brewery Equipment Cost Saving Tips – Conclusions

I hope you found our article on “brewery equipment cost saving tips” useful. I wanted to share some truly actionable content, with you.

Having worked on many brewing projects in the last few years, these are pointers I’ve been using myself, to help my clients.

When I’m working on projects in out of the way places, where the budget is small. You learn to adapt.

I can make equipment lists lean, then if there’s some extra money left. I can add to it, where the money will be most useful.

The biggest takeaway is tank sizes, the bigger they are, the more volume for less cost. Plus, they take up less container space too.

Two 500-liter FV’s take up more space, than one 1,000-liter tanks. Think about the legs of the vessels.

Need Help with Your Brewery Project

I’m a British brewing consultant based in Shanghai. I’ve brewed thousands of batches of beer, on brewpub and production brewery systems around the world.

I’ve done many brewhouse installations. I first came to brew in China in 2010 and know the brewing equipment market well, here too.

As a consultant, I help people with brewery projects, putting equipment lists together according to the scope of their project.

I ask them to fill in this questionnaire, with their answers allowing me to understand the project in more detail.

I’d love to discuss your project so, please feel free to reach out to me. My email address is:

neil@asianbeernetwork.com

You can also message me directly on your preferred network. Simply scan the relevant QR code below, add me and then message me there.

Thanks for reading and happy brewing!

Neil Playfoot

Neil is a brewer with 25 years international brewing experience. Based out of China (first came in 2010) he works as a brewing consultant helping brewers with their projects and brewing processes. To find out what services Neil can provide your brewery please click here. If you'd like to contact Neil you can email at neil@asianbeernetwork.com.
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Beer Snobs

With how everything is expensive nowadays, I’m honestly grateful to find some cost-cutting tips for brewing beer. Nothing better than saving as much while pursuing my hobby.