Brewing Raw Material Tips – Getting A Brewery Operational

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Today we’ll be concentrating on brewing raw material tips. Which will be the first in a series of articles on getting a brewery operational.

Been thinking of writing about “getting a brewery operational” for a while. As many of my clients after the equipment is on its way to site, and ready to be installed.

“Say to themselves, now what do I need to think about?”

The process of sourcing equipment (my main service), preparing the location for install and commissioning the equipment takes up most of client’s thoughts.

When the equipment is nearly ready, then thoughts turn to “getting the brewery operational”. This process can be overwhelming, and now clients are asking me to help them with this process.

I cover some of this in another of my articles about brewery schedule planning. However, there are a number of steps we need to consider before this.

I plan on sharing insider knowledge, I’ve learnt in my 27-year brewing career, stuff not mentioned elsewhere. I’m going to start with a fun one, to gently lead us in…which is recipes.

Please note: A lot of my clients are based in less developed craft markets. So, some of the issues I mention will apply to similar projects, but not necessarily to yours.

A Pilot Brewery Case Study, Chaba Brewing - First Brew on the Chaba Pilot System
Getting a Brewery Operational Can Be Challenging

Recipe Development

Now the chances are if you’re opening a brewery, you’ve already recipes in place. Which you intend to scale up.

Most of my clients have been working on 30 to 75-liter systems for R&D. When it comes to commercial brewing, there are many more things to consider, including:

Core beer range – Needs to cover typical beers likely to be served at your location

Cost per liter price – When you scale up, costs are always a factor

Suppliers available – When scaling up the choice of materials can be more limited

Leaner approach to materials used – Look to see where some malts (for example) can be used in more than one beer

Overall beer processing – Turnaround times and overall beer process. Use of brewing adjuncts.

These are the main factors to consider when assessing raw materials. So, let’s begin digging into them deeper.

Core Beer Range – Brewing Raw Material Tips

Now, some people will read what I write below and disagree. Brewing is a very subjective matter, ultimately there’s no right or wrong answer.

There are breweries making only wild ales and doing great. While others are making only hazy IPA’s (mainly) and killing it. I’m going to be a bit more generic and talk about most of the start-ups I come across, and what they are looking to brew.

One factor, I like to consider, which maybe others don’t feel is so important. Is to have a color range for the beers offered. There’s a debate to; if beer flights are still worth it, or not. Either way, having a range of colors for the beer, is one thing I like to consider.

We live in an age where people take pictures and share them on social media. Be it Facebook, WeChat or more beer centric apps like Untappd. Having your beer shared on “dem networks” is free marketing.

Micro-Brewery Setup Costs - Beer Flights

A Good Example

For instance, I’m helping a brewery in The Philippines (The Coron Brewhouse) who got their first commercial brewing system. They’d been working on a basic 150-liter system and had a range of beers which were selling well.

Most of their beers we light or IPA based. So, I suggested making a dark larger and created a recipe for them.

The idea of this beer was to offer a nice color off-set, compared to the beers they were already brewing. Plus, “scratch the itch” of stout drinkers, as they didn’t have one. The feedback was great.

Brewing Raw Material Tips - Recipe Creation Ideas and Implementation

As you can see in the communication with the client. After a trial brew on their 65-liter system, they planned to brew a big batch on the commercial system.

Which they have actually done so now. The client feels the beer is selling well and is a good addition to the beer range.

What I tell many clients, which seems obvious. Is you need to brew what your customer base wants.

I’m not a fan of German wheat beers, for instance. However, in China if I don’t brew one, I’m leaving a lot of money on the table. For many Chinese craft breweries, a German wheat beer can be 50%+ of sales.

I was speaking to a client today, who is currently brewing in the US. He was telling me, the brewery he works for, is cashing it with fruited sours. He doesn’t like them himself, but can see the value in them being brewed.

Beer Parameter Matrix – Brewing Raw Material Tips

One option is to make a beer parameter matrix, like the one below. To see at a glance how the core range beers compare to one another.

Brewing Raw Material Tips - Beer Core Range Matrix

The matrix above was a starting point for beer style suggestions for a planned brewery in SE Asia. This allows the client to see clearly the important data of each brew and how they compare across the range.

Cost per Liter Metrics

There are a few strings to this one. When making R&D recipes, it can be easy to use many raw materials. Sometimes overall costs to produce these beers, isn’t considered enough.

It’s easy during R&D, to use say eight malts to brew a stout. In actuality, this isn’t always the best course of action, at commercial scale. We’ll go into this in more details when we look at leaner approach to materials.

Some measures I’ve implemented over the years to help reduce beer costs. I’m going to share below, let’s start with hops…

Hop Usage and Costs – Brewing Raw Material Tips

Look at the alpha acid of the hops used for bittering a beer. There are some good high alpha hops commercial brewers use for the bulk of bittering for their core range.

Hops such as Magnum, Warrior and Nugget are hops considered fairly neutral, and can be used for bittering many beer styles.

When making my German wheat for example, I’ll use Magnum for bittering if using pellets. Then go for more traditional aroma hops with the choice of Saaz.

The saving is two-fold, I’m using less hops so, saving money there. Using Magnum hops at say at 12% alpha acid; compared to Saaz at 3%. Means I’m using 75% less hops for bittering the beer.

Plus, using fewer hops means less beer loss. Due to there being less vegetive matter in the wort/beer.

These traditional bittering hops are generally cheaper too. For example, I pay 170 RMB (US$ 23.81) per kilo of Magnum and 210 (US$ 29.4) per kilo of Saaz. Hops like Mosaic come in at 345 RMB (US$48.30) per kilo.

Brewing Raw Material Tips - Alpha Acid in Hops

Using Less Hops

The use of less hops can be more critical in hop forward and/or more bitter beers. This is where the use of hop bittering extracts can also be considered.

You need to run the numbers however, when using a hop bittering extract like Flex. In China the cost of bittering with Flex, actually made financial sense for my cost per liter numbers.

Furthermore, I had the bonus of less beer loss, due to reduction in hop material. Plus, flex is easier to store and keeps it’s IBU’s longer (compared to pellets). Up to two-year shelf life. As well as taking up less space.

It’s the same with hop aroma products too, they’re getting better all the time from a sensory perspective. Replacing some of the whirlpool and dry hop additions with hop liquid extracts can lead to less beer loss as well. Plus, still provide great sensory.

Hop Bonus Tip

I was speaking with my friend Nicolas Clark of Crafthead in China. He’s one of the people in the brewing industry, I love to discuss brewing with.

He read a rough draft of this article and brought up a great tip. When it comes to hops (and dry yeast too). It’s good to buy a vacuum bag sealer.

The cheaper option uses plastic bags, and are similar to ones you see used in kitchens, like pictured below. As Nicolas says, hops when opened can oxidize quickly, depending on conditions.

Brewing Raw Material Tips - Crafthead Logo

So, if you know a bag of pellet hops is going to be used for multiple brews. It makes sense to break it down and store in 1Kg or 500g vacuum packed bags, then store in a fridge of freezer too.

It’s the same for dry yeast, if you not using a whole brick at once, then split and vacuum pack cold till needed. The upgraded choice is to buy a machine which vacuums aluminum foil Mylar bags. The machine and bags are more expensive. However, when it comes to keeping ingredients in better condition, it’s the best choice.

Brewing Raw Material Tips - Vacuum Pack Your Hops

Malt Considerations and Scaling Up – Brewing Raw Material Tips

Malt supply is more of an issue as I write this (7/11/2023), prices are up and sometimes malts are less consistent than before. For example, seeing smaller kernel sizes.

I often use a different supplier for my base malt; as compared to who I get my specialist malt from. A good example is my malt purchasing habits, when brewing in China.

I will use base malts from Malt Europ, as they import barley and malt it in China. It costs from 6.4 RMB (0.89-US cents) per kilogram of lager, ale and wheat malt.

If I were to use imported base malt; say from Gladfield in New Zealand. I’d be paying around 17 RMB (US$ 2.36) per Kg. It’s cheaper and relatively easy to shop around to get cheaper base malt in many locations.

I will still use Gladfield malt as for specialty, I absolutely adore their Manuka Smoked malt, and plan to brew a lager with it this week.

An example again from my Philippine client, they’ve a choice of Weyermanns or Joe White malt. Joe White malt base is cheaper so, I advised them to use Joe White wheat and ale malt.

However, there’s only a 20-US cents difference in price (per Kg) of their respective lager malts. So, we decided to use Weyermanns lager malt, as with the smaller price difference. Weyermanns quality lager malt wins out.

Water Treatment

Seems prudent to talk about water treatment here too. I cover water treatment for brewing in a series of articles here.

However, when planning your brewery, you need to get a water analysis from the location you use. As you need to see if you need any form of water treatment. Most breweries have a minimum of sand and charcoal filter.

If the water contains a lot of total dissolved solids (TDS numbers are high), then a RO (reverse osmosis) machine will likely need to be installed.

Use Malts in More than One Recipe – Brewing Raw Material Tips

This is a quick one and not possible for all breweries, especially nano-breweries. However, where possible I like to use full or half bags on malt in recipes.

Most malt sacks come in 25Kg sizes, especially for specialist malts. If I’m making an IPA with Gladfield’s Supernova malt, I like to use a full bag in a brew.

This was the case when I was brewing at a production brewery in Shanghai. As I say for smaller breweries it’s not always possible. However, always something worth considering.

It makes stock control easier, and also means you’ll have fewer open bags in the brewery.

Yeast: Cone-to Cone Pitching

Another tip not always possible, but one I did try to do as much as possible. Was work out my production schedule, to try and pitch yeast from one batch direct to the next batch.

Going cone-to-cone, from one FV to the other. There’s a good friend of mine, who is coming up to 500 generation of a particular yeast.

He mostly goes from cone-to-cone to re-pitch. As such, I think it’s best for him to explain a little bit about his process. So, I’ll let the wonderful Jan Paul (pictured here) of JP Brewing Consulting explain in his own words.

Brewing Raw Material Tips - Jan Paul

“When I took over the head brewer position at Svaneke Bryghus in 2005 the craft wave had already hit Denmark with force.

Since the founding of the brewery in 2000 severe expansion had taken place and there were huge numbers of fermenters spread out over to different locations. The four-vessel brewhouse produced 4 x 10 HL each day and bright beer was transported to the packaging line with a tractor.

It was, mildly sad, a big mess and the beers were lacking quality. No laboratory. After giving the brewery a refit and regaining control over the microbiology I started focusing on yeast management.

Historically mainly Lagers had been produced and I wasn’t satisfied with the yeast in use:

Too neutral in taste, poor flocculation properties, difficult to re-pitch. So, I started searching for a more suitable strain and found it in a German yeast bank.

Propping From Agar Slants

By that time, I had built up a little laboratory and started propagating from agar slant every 7 – 10 generations, just like the professors say. However, as the one-man-band I was, I didn’t have time to dart around in the lab too much and, for my own convenience, went up to thirty generations:

No change in the yeast’s behavior. I went back to zero and up to thirty again: Still no change. Then I went to sixty and back to zero and back to sixty again and then I thought to myself:

This works! – and it still does today, having reached 482 Generations! The only notable changes are: Cell shape slightly more oval, Attenuation 0,2 % lower, Flocculation improved.

My message is: By strict monitoring of the yeast (microscopy, fermentation behavior, aroma/taste of beer), ensuring good reproduction (proper wort aeration, sufficient amount of FAN and nutrients), good harvesting practice (just in time after sedimentation, “core” yeast only, cylindroconical fermenters) you can re-pitch lager yeast from cone to cone over many, many generations – that’s if it is a normal- to highly-flocculent strain.

Stages of Beer Fermentation - Yeast Krausen
Yeast Krausen in an Open FV

A Real Time Saver

It saves you a lot of time and money and ensures steady production – but craves good planning. Top fermenting yeast asks for different harvesting patterns, as the active yeast will gather in the top when ready for harvest, with either open or semi-open fermenters or by moving the green beer to another tank leaving the active yeast behind on the bottom.

Feel free to contact me if you want to learn more – also about non-alcoholic yeast: It shall be mentioned, that I was assigned to build a greenfield brewery a year after I started in Svaneke.

So today our set-up is a 50 hl 5-vessel system with an annual output of 17.000 hl. The 10-hl brewery is still operational for wild yeast and other fun brews.”

The Round-Up – Brewing Raw Material Tips

We’re at over 2,000-words now, I think there’s enough actionable information to be getting on with. I hope you found our article on “Brewing Raw Material Tips” useful.

As I say I’ve picked up a few tricks over my 27-year+ brewing career, and happy to share the knowledge I’ve gained.

A huge thank you to Jan Paul for his cone-to-cone content. He is truly one of the best brewers I know. Plus his sharing of knowledge with others shows how much of a great guy he is too.

Likewise, thanks to Luke and his team at The Coron Brewhouse for allowing me to use them as an example throughout this article. It’s been great working on their new brewery project.

After helping Luke and his team source a new brewhouse. I have also been remotely working with them to get operational too. As it was their first time working on a larger commercial brewhouse.

Need Help Getting a Brewery Operational?

I can help you like I did Coron Brewhouse. I helped them…

  • Scale-up and tweak their recipes
  • Made Google sheets on a shared drive to help with raw material and beer inventory, plan production plus more
  • Wrote SOP’s on how to use their new system and cellaring correctly
  • Be on call for video chats and text messages, to help them work through issues
  • Reduce their cost per liter costs on brews
  • Introduce them to some brewing adjuncts to help with beer production, save money and speed-up beer turnaround times.
  • Be there to work through the install and commission, which they did themselves. Plus, be a liaison between them and the equipment manufacturer too.

If you’re close to opening a brewery and need some assistance or just have someone to call on. If there are any issues or you’d simply like a second opinion on things.

Feel free to email me at:

Or you can message me directly on your preferred network by scanning the relevant QR code. Adding me and then sending me a message.

Thanks for reading and have a great day!

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
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