Buying A Custom Brewery from China

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I wanted to discuss “buying a custom brewery from China”, after an email from Eric, in The Philippines, He said he’d wish he found my website earlier.

He had searched “200L custom brewery system from China”, and Google hadn’t really delivered. He was a homebrewer looking to get his first commercial system and wanted guidance.

Many of my clients are like, Eric, new to commercial operations. In need of assistance with both equipment sourcing, as well as getting the new brewery operational.

A Pilot Brewery Case Study, Chaba Brewing - First Brew on the Chaba Pilot System
Chaba Brewing in Kunming, China – Their First Foray into Commercial Brewing

I help new breweries get started, evaluate cost per liter numbers, lock in standard-operating-procedures (SOP’s) and work out production schedules. However, today we’ll concentrate on buying a custom brewery from China.

Whatever brewery someone is planning, there’ll always be some customization.

Please note: What we cover in the post below, is relevant for any brewery project, not just for equipment sourced from China.

Some Chinese Manufactures Look to Offer Only Off-The-Shelf Solutions

As I said many times, you need to do your research (or contact me 😊). As there are many Chinese manufactures to choose from.

With more popping up all the time. It can be overwhelming, when they’re emailing and messaging you all the time.

The issue is: not all manufactures have brewers on their staff or understand the latest developments in brewing.

There’s never been more information available to brewers, when it comes to brewing process and technological innovation. No two brewing projects are the same; and every one of them requires customizations.

Buying a Custom Brewery from China - The Mashing In Process
Please note: Depending on the hot water temperature, you might need to mix with cold water for correct mash temp

Here Are Some Projects I’ve Been Working on Recently

  • Haze IPA brewery for Japan – Needed to make some “hop baskets” for different vessels.
  • 350-Liter Brewery for The Philippines – Where only single-phase electric was available.
  • New 1,000-liter semi-automatic brewhouse for France – To fit in an existing brewery and use the old mill. Plus, add grain delivery, while working with limited space.
  • 600-liter brewery for The Caribbean – Working with severely limited space and strange local regulations

There are more projects I’m currently working on. However, these were the ones which were more troublesome.

As they had certain obstacles and restrictions to overcome. In none of above instances, would an off-the-shelf solution have worked.

Finding a Chinese brewing equipment manufacturer who understands the nuances of your project is the second thing you need to do. Do you know the first is?

You Need to Have a Detailed Equipment List First and Foremost –Buying A Custom Brewery from China

When clients first approach me, I give them this questionnaire to fill-in. If people can’t answer all questions, it’s fine. Any information shared helps.

I’ll check the answers, and ask some questions off the back of the replies given. Then we’ll have a video call to chat further.

As the prep work done makes the initial discussion productive. This is all working towards having a detailed list, with notes as to why said equipment is needed.

Below are some of the key factors, you need to understand for any brewing project. Which should be relayed to an equipment manufacturer.

What Beer Styles Will Be Made?

The beer styles planned for a brewery determines the vessel set-up needed. For example:

Making mostly lagers – May need a dedicated cold liquor tank (CLT) sized appropriately for a typical (double) brew day. Rather than a two-stage heat exchanger using mains water and glycol.

–> Also, horizontal conditioning tanks too!

Hazy IPA’s – A client I’m working with wants to use “hop baskets” in the brewhouse and FV’s. He believes using baskets gives him better results, means less hop burn and lower beer losses.

Buying A Custom Brewery from China - Hop Basket Design for Hazy IPA's

Mostly Strong Ales – If making stronger beers, with an all-malt grain bill. Then the mash and lauter tun will have to bigger to accommodate more volume. Furthermore, grain bed depth is important to brewing efficiency and good lautering.

How Many Beer Styles and Volume Output Per Month – Buying a Custom Brewery from China

If the brewery is mainly doing one brew a day, a project is easier plan. As a 2-vessel system will usually be enough. The brewery will have a combined mash/lauter and kettle/whirlpool.

Typically works for a 500-liter (or less) brewpub. Even with a 2-vessel system, if it’s designed right, a brewer can brew two batches in 10 to 12 hours to a 1,000-liter unitank.

There’s more planning needed when a brewery has multiple beers to be brewed and with several different sized unitanks.

For example a 1,000-liter brewery with 1, 2, 4 and 6,000-liter tanks. In this instance a brewery will need multiple brewhouse vessels.

What Are Turns?

When brewing several times on one system in a day, they are called “turns”. The simplest way to increase output, and have a quicker brew day is to add a whirlpool.

So, it becomes as combined mash/lauter with separate brew kettle and whirlpool. Furthermore, in a brewery looking to do several turns per day; the set-up can look more like this:

Mash mixer -> Lauter tun -> Wort holding tank -> Brew kettle -> Whirlpool -> HX -> FV

Larger breweries may have even more brewhouse vessels, when doing 10+ turns per day. When looking to fill large unitanks, and/or brew several different beers in one day.

Buying a Custom Brewery from China - Multi-Vessel Brewhouse

Brew Styles and Volumes Conclusions – Buying a Custom Brewery from China

When planning a brewery and customizing to the needs of a project. Proper planning of the volumes predicted and confirmation on the beer styles to be brewed, are key. As this will determine what vessels and layout is required.

A brewery needs to factor in volume requirements now, and for the future. As, when planning to add more fermenting capacity later. It often makes sense to oversize your initial glycol/cooling system capacity.

Granted, it means you’ll have larger upfront costs. However, it’ll save money, time and work down-the-line. Furthermore, if planned correctly, a brewery can quickly plug in new FV’s to the current glycol system, at the first expansion phase.

Even if someone doesn’t precisely know the needs for their brewhouse. The more information you can share with knowledgeable Chinese equipment manufacturer or brewing consultant, the better chance of getting a brewery fit for purpose.

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Heating and Utilities

Any decent brewery consultant will ask some of the following questions, at the start of a project:

1. What electricity is available at the location; what hertz and voltage is the three-phase?

2. Is there a gas main connected to your building?

3. What is the water pressure of your building?

4. Have you gotten an analysis of mains water at your location? If so, can you share the results?

Determining, the best heating option for your brewery can save money down the line. Some places have higher electrical costs. So, opting for a gas boiler, instead of an electric steam generator, could be the right choice.

If water pressure to your building is low and can’t be easily increased, it might be best to look for another location.

If you want to persist, having at CLT for wort cooling may make sense. Plus, mains water buffer tanks, running with an on-demand pump will make a brew crew’s life much easier as well.

If a water analysis is bad, with lot of TDS (total dissolved solids) in the water. Then adding an RO machine, treated water buffer tank and an on-demand pump makes sense.

Buying a Custom Brewery from China - Typical RO Set Up for a Brewery
Typical RO Water Set-Up for Many of My Clients

Automation – Buying a Custom Brewery from China

As labor costs and laws change, many breweries are considering automation. For example, as I write this article; I’m speaking to a brewery in France about a project.

Next year (2024), the client believes France will go to a 4-day work week. If they do, then having less employees and paying them higher salaries makes sense.

This mean investing in automation becomes attractive. If seeking Chinese equipment, the list of manufactures, I’d trust to automate a brewery, could be counted on one hand!

One Chinese manufacturer I heard about was commissioned to make a 5,000-liter (50HL) automated brewery. They fabricated the 50HL lauter tun so, it could still fit in a regular 40ft shipping container.

Rather than to the correct dimensions, needed for ideal grain bed size. This was on top of adding a rake which couldn’t be raised and lowered, and all set-up like their typical manual brewhouses. Not allowing for the needs of automation.

The brewery with this system now has 4 to 5-hours lauters, as the tun is not fit for purpose. In fact this isn’t just an issue with Chinese manufacturers, many fabricators the world over don’t understand how brewhouse automation should be implemented.

Buying a Custom Brewery from China - Brewery Automation

Process Flow – Buying a Custom Brewery from China

The importance of process flow is often overlooked on a brewery project. When brewing, cellaring and packaging, production staff may walk a lot during a typical work day.

An intelligent brewery layout can save a brew crew time and vastly reduce a brewery’s labor costs. It’s a win-win, but where many breweries leave money on the table.

I like to think about triangles in a brewery. There are often three spots in the brewery where a brewer needs to be during a typical day.

For example, on the brew-deck, the keg washer and taking fermentation samples.

Can the brewery be designed, so a brewery employee can cut the distance travelled between these 3 areas? Yes, by understanding day-to-day needs and factoring this into brewery layout.

Again, communicating to Chinese brewing equipment manufacturer (or any fabricator) beliefs about process flow are important.

Hot Side: Milling -> Mashing-in -> Lautering -> Boiling -> Whirlpool -> Wort cooling -> FV

Cold Side: Fermentation -> Free Rise -> Crashing -> Separating -> Carbonation -> Packaging

I’ve simplified the processes, but I feel it gets the point across. There are many elements to consider when putting a custom brewery together.

Installing a Brewery Tips - Fermenters
Installing Unitanks for a Project in Kunming, China (2,000-liters)

Packaging in a Brewery

The first thing I tell all my clients thinking of buying packaging equipment from China, is consider sourcing elsewhere.

When it comes to packaging at smaller-scale, China doesn’t have a track record of manufacturing solutions.

To get a license to package and distribute in China until recently, meant a brewery needed to be able package 12,000 units per hours.

Well beyond the means or needs of smaller breweries. Times have changed in China plus, Chinese packaging line manufacturers now catering to the worldwide market.

However, DO (dissolved oxygen) pick-up on small craft lines, is often not within acceptable parameters, with machines from China.

I’ve had a few brewers comment numbers over 100ppb. In fact, I even had one brewer tell me they had a Chinese bottling line which read over 3,000ppb at times. This was an older machine.

I do know of one canning line, which I wrote about here. Which when tested with an Anton Parr CboxQ during trials, gave numbers below 30ppb. I’ve a few friends who have this machine, and they like it. It runs at about 400-cans per hour. It holds-up and offers decent shelf stability when canning.

Small Scale Canning for Breweries - For One of My Clients
A Small-Scale Canning Line from China Which Works with Good DO Numbers

Buying a Custom Brewery from China – Conclusions

I’m helping clients all the time, to buy a custom breweries from China.

My key take-aways are:
  • Write out and fully understand the needs of the brewery project
  • Styles and volumes to be brewed now and in the future need to be locked-in
  • Use the two above points to lock in the equipment list
  • Know and understand the utilities available at location, and tell the manufacturers
  • Automation aids consistency and cuts down on labor, even adding a couple of flowmeters can help
  • Packaging – Honestly look beyond China for most solutions

Process flow is important for labor saving and helping your brew crew

There’s a lot more involved to putting a brewery together. However, after numerous projects with feedback from clients and manufacturers. The above points are the ones I’ve learnt are most important.

This will allow a brewing equipment manufacturer in China (and honesty any company) to better build a custom brewery to the needs of the project.

Need Help Buying a Custom Brewery from China?

If you would like help with the process, please get in contact. I can assist you, like many of my previous clients. From an inception of an idea to getting a turnkey brewery ordered.

My name is Neil and I’m a British brewer based in China. I first came to The Middle Kingdom in 2010 and know the brewing equipment market here, better than most.

It all begins with you filling out this questionnaire and sending your answers to me via email at:

neil@asianbeernetwork.com

Additionally, you can message me directly on WeChat or WhatsApp by scanning the relevant QR code. Scan the code, add me and then send me a message.

I look forward to discussing your new brewing project or expansion with you. 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 neil@asianbeernetwork.com.
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