Calculating Brewery Capacity and Labor Costs

Calculating Brewery Capacity and Labor – Elements to Consider

I often get asked about calculating brewery capacity from my clients. In fact, today the same guy Ryan who gave me the inspiration for my last article asked me the question below.

Calculating Brewery Capacity

I thought it’s time to take a look at calculating brewery capacity. Or more precisely which elements when putting a brewery together effect total brewhouse output. Like most things in brewing, it isn’t as simple as you might first think.

Here are some of the main issues:

  • Residence time of beer in tank
  • Number of beers in your core range
  • Number of fermentation, serving and brite tanks
  • The configuration of your brewhouse (difference between a 2, 3 and 4-vessel brewhouse)

Some of the above points might not seem key but, together they all effect total output of a brewery. Below we’ll explain how the above fundamentals affect calculating brewery capacity. Starting with residence time in tank

Please note: In brewing we calculate for 50 brewing weeks a year. You lose some time with public holidays, down time for maintenance and other variables.

Not All Beers Are Created Equal

There are many beer styles you can brew, I like the Brewers Association guidelines pdf to get information on a particular style of beer. As a brewer, when putting together a new recipe I start with the basics of a beer like:

  • Target FG and SG
  • Color
  • Bitterness
  • Characteristics like mouthfeel and CO2 volume
Sequential Yeast Pitching

However, I digress the main point to consider when calculating yearly output of your brewery is residence time. How long will the beer spend in tank before it’s ready to be packaged.

If you’re brewing a lager, it can spend 4-6 weeks in tank before it’s ready, an ale like and an American Amber might be ready in two weeks. The introduction of Kveik into commercial brewing has seen some beers with a turnaround time of under a week.

It makes sense the longer your beer stays in tank the less you can brew. Let’s say a lager spend 4 weeks in tanks before it’s ready. If you’re brewing 50 weeks of the year, you can brew 12.5 lagers into one tank per year (we call them cycles).

-> 50 weeks of brewing / 4 weeks for a lager = 12.5 brews per year

Now, with ales with a 2 weeks turnaround time we have:

-> 50 weeks of brewing per year / 2 weeks for an ale = 25 brew cycles per year

So, immediately you can see if mostly make ales, then the brewery has a larger potential output than one making mostly lagers.

How Many Beer Do You Have?

A 15HL tanks (approx. 12.7 US beer barrels) can produce more than twice as much beer per man hour as a 7HL (approx. 6 US beer barrels) tank. However, if you’ve a wide range of beers in your lineup you’ll have some slower sellers.

It might not be viable to produce 15HL of an 8% milkshake IPA. Which should be drank fresh so it’s best brewed in smaller batches. Modern craft breweries usually have a number of tanks of different sizes.

It allows a brewery to be dynamic giving them flexibility to brew the latest styles for what the market wants. Depending on type of brewery you are, you might be limited by floor space. So, there’s only a set number of tanks you can fit in your facility. If you’ve some smaller tanks for more niche beers your overall capacity will be reduced.

If your plan is to brew only a few styles; it’s best to have a bigger brewhouse and tanks. Still, you need to consider your total sales. To ensure beer doesn’t go out of date if you’re packaging for distribution.

Chinese Canning Line for Beer

Calculating Brewery Capacity – Cellar Tanks

In brewing there are several types of tanks you can have, with the main ones being:

1. Fermentation vessels

2. Brite beer tank

3. Horizontal maturation tank

4. Serving tanks

5. Unitanks

For more information on tank types and which are right for your brewing project, please see our in-depth article by clicking here please. Your choice of tank can affect a brewery’s output and labor costs. For example…

If you’re a brewpub having serving tanks is a viable option. There are breweries which keep serving tanks in their cold room and pour beer directly at the bar from these tanks.

The reason is; it saves on labour from not having to the keg beer for draft. Most brewpubs have one or two main sellers. In China, wheat beers often make up 50%+ of a brewpub onsite sales.

If you’re say producing 1,000 liters at a time and putting the beer in 30 liters kegs, it’s a lot of work. With losses due to production, it’s still 28 *30 liters kegs which need to be clean, sanitized and filled. It’s a lot of man hours, including the staff having to changes kegs several times an evening.

Horizontal Maturation Vessels

A lot of breweries like to use unitanks these days. Also known as dual purpose vessels. These tanks can be used for both fermentation, maturation and carbonation as they come with a sintered stone.

Carbonation Stone Brewing -  Calculating Brewery Capacity
Carbonation Stone for Brewing

The issue with these vessels is when they are occupied for maturation, you’re not brewing or fermenting beer. If you’re producing a lot of lager, having a dedicated maturation tanks are recommended.

Moving your beer to a tank that’s designed for maturation is beneficial to your beer as well as reduce the time the beer needs to be tank. Furthermore, you’re freeing up your FV to make more beer.

Horizontal maturation vessels allow for larger surface area for the yeast to do it’s thing. Furthermore, it less distance for yeast and sediment to drop to the bottom of tank, to clear the beer.

The Number of Vessels in Your Brewhouse

The design of your brewhouse can also influence the amount of beer you can brew onsite. The most common setups are:

2-Vessels System – Combined mash/lauter tun and kettle/whirlpool

3-Vessel System – Either as a combined mash/lauter tun with separate kettle and whirlpool OR separate mash and lauter tun with combined kettle/whirlpool

4-Vessel System – A separate mash, lauter, kettle and whirlpool

In general, additional brewhouse vessels means more brews you can be produced in one day. On a 2-vessel system it might be possible to do 2 brews but, it will be a long day.

Some breweries have 5 or 6 vessel system and can-do 6+ brews in a day. In brewing it’s not the number of cellar tanks which limits brewery output but the design of your brewhouse.

Calculating Brewery Capacity and Labor Conclusions

My discussions with Ryan made him realize opening a brewery is a complex beast. Many key decisions have several elements you need to consider before a final decision can be reached. It’s true when calculating brewing capacity as you can see from the article.

We covered the basics above, if you’ve follow-up questions or in need of some assistance on your upcoming brewing project then please get in touch. I offer a FREE 30-minute phone consultation so; you can tell me a little about your project and I can provide some initial feedback.

It’s a no obligation call and I’m always happy to chat about a new project. I’ve had 5 chats this week with people from Burma, Australia (3) and the US. Plans from half a million liters per year to a US 3.5-barrel system. Not all of them wanted to follow-up, but were appreciative of the advice I gave.

If you’d like to contact me you can email me at:

Or you scan the QR code below to add me to your preferred network if it’s easier to chat that way. Anyway, thanks for reading my article, I hoped it help. There are many articles on how to start a brewery and they can be accessed by clicking here.

Contact Asian Beer Network QR Codes

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
0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments