I wanted to write an article covering some commercial brewing cost saving tips I’ve picked up over the years. As I think it could be valuable right now.
Across the globe brewers are seeing the cost of making beer rise. With the purchase of hops & malt, delivery costs and utility prices all on the rise.
I’ve also roped in a few of my brewing industry buddies on this one too. As it a conversation I’ve been having with them recently
Brewers need to look at their processes plus, take some time to look at available suppliers and chat with them.
I’ve been talking with many suppliers in the last couple of months. To see how we can work together, to keep costs as low as possible.
In this article, we’ll cover some easy to implement tips and processes which don’t require equipment upgrades or significant investment.
In brewing there are four main ingredients; water, malt hops and yeast. I think the natural starting point, is to look at water first.
Please note: Justin Fox the Flow Master for Bespoke Brewing Solutions, was kind enough contribute to this article…I’d like to thank him for his time.
Furthermore, he offered advice on a couple of different subjects. So, I’ll be dropping his nuggets of gold throughout.
Water Savings – Commercial Brewing Cost Saving Tips
When it comes to water there are a few basic tips we suggest. I’ve been brewing for over 25-years now. I admit in my early career, I picked up the bad habit of cleaning up many spills using a hose.
I’ve now changed; for example, if there is yeast slurry on the floor. I’ll squeegee as much as possible first. Although, I still may might to finish the job, with a quick rinse with water to get the last bits.
However, this practice over time will save money, using less water. Plus, I’ve found it’s often quicker this way, than trying to wash everything away with a hose.
High Pressure Low Flow Nozzle
When using a hose, it’s good to use a high-pressure low flow nozzle water gun. This may seem like a small detail to bring up, I know.
However, when you think how much water a brewery uses weekly, these small savings quickly add up. It’s like the old saying “look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves”.
Brewer joke, the job is 90% cleaning, well a lot of this cleaning involves using water. Small savings add up over time. In many countries you pay for water twice. Once when you use it and again when you send it down the drain.
Track Your Water Use – Commercial Brewing Cost Saving Tips
If you don’t measure it, you can manage it. If you measure your water usage regularly, and keep a record of it, then it can be tracked. Meaning any leaks or issues can be discovered more quickly and addressed.
Also, with this in mind, it worth taking time once a week for one employee to do a walk-through of all piping, looking for any possible leaks.
Over time leaks can present themselves, but be easily missed without regular checks.
Many breweries by design, have high water pressure. Pipes and particularly where there’s a connection (point of weakness) can start with a small drip, which becomes more severe over time.
Did you know if three taps leak one drip per minute, over a year it equates to 100-gallons of wasted water?
Glycol Too! Commercial Brewing Cost Saving Tips
As we said before; a once-a-week walk around the brewery, to check for leaks is good practice. Catching an issue early can save a brewery money. It’s the same with your glycol lines too.
Glycol system are notorious for leaks, you can actually get dyes which you add to your glycol system to help a brewer spot leaks. Use your favorite search engine and use the term “glycol leak detection dye” to find a suitable product.
Furthermore, make sure your glycol banks don’t run low. It will make for a more efficient system. One other tip I’ve shared before on this website, is to have an engineer check colling the system.
I like to have an engineer check the glycol system in the month of May (northern hemisphere), if possible. It’s before the weather gets too hot.
The main check is for the freon levels in the compressors. It’s also a good time to check the cooling fins too, ensuring they are clear of dust and other particles.
I like to check the cooling fins once a month. If there’s an issue use compressed air (plus wear a mask) to clean the fins out.
On some compressors you can use water too but you need to check. If the fins are clean, the compressors work more efficiently, saving money.
Most breweries I’ve worked with, use compressors working with freon gas. Now in the summer it’s hotter plus, it’s the busiest time of the year for most breweries.
So, making sure your glycol system is in tip-top shape before the summer months begin, is a logical preventive maintenance action.
Plus, in the height of summer, if your glycol system breaks down, engineers may be too busy to see you right away.
This may mean your system can’t run for a few days at the hottest time of the year, OR you have to pay a small fortune to get someone out ASAP. Neither scenario is ideal.
I think we’ve covered water and glycol enough for now. So, let’s move on to malt.
Commercial Brewing Cost Saving Tips – Malt
With malt I’d like to start with an example please, I took over the running of a small production brewery in Shanghai, China last year. It was in some disarray when I took over.
I mean the brewery had 3 bags of malt, only one-third of the tanks had beer in them and some of the beer was infected.
Please see the pictures of how the mash/lauter tun looked before and after I got to work. In four-years the lauter plates had not been taken out, according to the assistant brewer onsite.
Furthermore, the raw material costs per liter, for all beers was high. Oh! And they had stupid amounts of many varieties of hops. Twenty kilos of Sorachi Ace anyone!
Quite frankly it was carnage…
As I spent time cleaning with the team, I also reached out to raw material suppliers I know, to get their pricing.
My aim was to substitute for some cheaper malts, or to use similar malts with greater extract potential, to bring the production costs of beer per liter down.
When looking to reduce costs by using cheaper raw materials, breweries must ensure this process, doesn’t result in a significant flavor change.
It wasn’t much of an issue for me, as the beer being brewed before me, wasn’t great. My aim was to cut costs, revamp the beers and improve beer quality.
Malt Chat – Commercial Brewing Cost Saving Tips
If you’re making a beer using 100% Marris Otter Pale malt. The chances are, switching out a percentage of the grain bill, will not change the overall sensory of the finished beer in a recognizable way.
Please note: When discussing “sensory” in this article, I talking about the color, aroma and taste of the beer.
When looking to change the raw materials, it’s time to experiment. There are two main ways to approach this:
- Use a pilot system and play around with percentages
- Slowly replace a growing percentage of the malt, for the cheaper malt option, on your main system.
A lot of breweries may not want to experiment directly their main system, I can understand this. However, if you don’t have a pilot, it might be the only option.
If you’re a production brewery, then you should also have a pilot system. If you’re a brewpub then why not get a small home-brew set up or better yet a small 50-liter system.
See the picture below of the pilot system my friend has at it his brewpub in Kunming, China. It makes 50-liter of beer per batch.
Such a system doesn’t take up much space and ideal for a brewpub to experiment on.
Look these are only my suggestions, from my experiences, switching in 20% standard pale ale for Marris Otter doesn’t impact overall flavor. Start at 10% and then keep increasing in 10% steps.
Most Drinkers Won’t Notice the Difference
Honestly the chances of your customers noticing any real difference are negligible. Do you know who will notice? Your accountant. Look the only way to know, is to try it yourself.
Experiment and test…however, as I say if you’re not comfortable with this, then I understand.
The process is to check the COA’s (the link is good guide to how to read them), trial batch and use small amounts in your recipes.
If all goes well then, it’s possible to push the percentage of cheaper base used higher, for more savings.
If you felt you’ve gone too far then dial it back. As always, whatever changes you make, keep good records of them. Plus, only change on thing at time, otherwise you’ll not know which tweak changed the sensory.
Likewise, when looking through those COA’s, check the extract yield potential, like in the picture below. The extract potential of some suppliers can be significantly higher than others.
Side note: It’s always worth checking this value of each malt before purchasing, and again before accepting delivery too.
For Those Using Imported Malt – Commercial Brewing Cost Saving Tips
For those who read my articles, and use imported malt…this section is for you.
Unfortunately, the craft beer market right now, is proving tough for breweries around the globe. It’s leading to some breweries having to default on their malt contracts or unable being unable to meet their forecasts.
For example, as I write this, I’m in lockdown in Shanghai and several of the brewery staff cannot leave their living areas too. Our sales this week were 440L across the 10 venues, as many bars are closed as well.
When breweries suffer, so do the suppliers. There might be some room to work with, or possibility of substitution for lowers costs.
Recently one supplier I buy from, had some Marris Otter close to expiry date and was offering it at a reduced rate.
The malt was still good, but I don’t use Marris in my house beers. So, I had to pass on the opportunity. As ever peeps; test, test and test!
Commercial Brewing Cost Saving Tips – Let’s Talk About Hops
I’ve spoken about this before; asking you what hops you’re using for bittering additions. If you’re using the same hops for bittering as you do for aroma, for example Citra. Then you’re doing it wrong.
Granted Citra is high in alpha acids (10 to 15%) but they aren’t cheap. You need to be using suitable lower cost high alpha hops.
There are several hops’ brewers in the industry typically use for bittering, which don’t break the bank. Plus, offering decent/smooth bitterness.
Columbus is a good substitute for Citra, I’ve actually been using this hop for part of my dry-hopping regime, for my house IPA too.
It’s a under appreciated hop these days, as people look for “joose” in their IPA and NEIPA’s. Some of other bittering hops brewers use are; Chinook (good for some “dankess”), Nugget (one I use a fair bit), Magnum and Warrior.
Whirlpool and Dry-Hopping
It’s the same with whirlpool and dry-hopping…test, test and test.
I’ve been looking at some of the new German hop varieties; like Callsita, Ariana and using some more established ones like Mandarina Bavaria. They are cheaper for me to source and use in China.
So, they can be added into the mix to bring the overall price down of the hop load. Furthermore, they offer some great aromas and really add to the total sensory of the beer.
I’m a big fan of Ariana as it can add some real nice tropical notes. So, please explore and experiment with other hops out there. If it was easier for me, I’d really be leaning on some of the Polish and Slovenian varieties out there.
When I was in Armenia, this Polish hop farm sent me some great samples of different Polish hops to try. Unfortunately, I can’t get them in China otherwise I’d be using them for sure.
Depending where you are these hops maybe cheaper to source but also make your beers interesting and possibly unique if nobody else is using them.
I’m brewing in Shanghai, as many of you know. So, pretty much all of the hops I use are imported. Hop prices are expensive for Chinese brewers, compared to many other countries.
I like to use Flex, which a CO2 extract for bittering. I’ve run the numbers and it works well, proving cost effective for me to add IBU’s as a bittering addition.
Using Flex might not be economical to all brewers. You need to check the figures, to see if the number of milliliters needed to reach your target IBU’s (using Flex), works out cheaper than the gram added equivalent using bittering hops.
Hop Cannons and Aroma Extracts
I’ve written about hop cannons in the past having, in article such as “Hop Cannons – Issues and Fixes” and “Hop Cannon – FAQ’s”. Modern breweries, producing a lot of hop forward beers are using hop cannons, as they can increase hop utilization rates.
As Justin Fox says,” When looking for cost savings in a brewery, the tangible expenses stand out as the easy wins, for example recovering cleaning solutions by way of a CIP cart, or increasing hop utilization via a hop cannon”
It’s believed using a hop cannon, you can reduce your hop loads by 25 to 30%. Your mileage may vary. Not all brewers are convinced by hop cannons. However, I’m a fan, as are many people like me are.
Please note: I know I’m discussing mostly Bath Haas products for hop extract examples. However, it’s because I’ve most experience with these products, as they are easier to source in China.
I prefer to write about products I’ve had experience with. However, there are other hop extracts you can try like Hopzoil from Glacier hops.
I’m not realty a fan of Hopzoil however, the aroma they produce seems fake to my colleagues and I, when we did some sensory bench trials.
Still, it’s worth trialing them yourself, if you can get some samples.
Hop Extracts and Trialing
Like we’ve said before, when it comes to using hop products it’s all about trialing and experimenting with them.
Most of the more established hop products can be “Googled”, to find forums where brewers discuss their experiences and results using them.
For example, from my own research (using in experiments and some “Google Fu”), it seems when using Spectrum only replace up to 50% of the dry-hop, with this product. It’ll not replace pellets entirely.
Furthermore, you need to work out if using these extracts make economic sense and determine if you like the sensory too.
Another reason brewers turn to products like Incognito and Spectrum, is they lead to less vegetative matter and trub in beer production. Resulting in lower beer losses, when compared to using all hops.
Commercial Brewing Cost Saving Tips – Yeast
Yeast is a bit trickier than the other main brewing ingredients, when it comes to cost savings.
Still, we’ll look at a few options here…
Buying Smaller Pitches and Propagating
Now propagating yeast isn’t an option open to everyone. You need to have some technical know-how, the right equipment and proper sanitary conditions.
There’s a more “ghetto” way to do this if you’ve a decent sized pilot system to feed you main brewhouse.
At the current brewhouse I’m running, we can buy a one-liter wet yeast pitches, and make a 150-liter starter with them. We then brew the main batch on the big system, then push starter we’ve made to the big batch in FV.
We make sure the cell count is appropriate. Typically, a 1-liter wet pitch goes into 150-liter starter. It’s then later pushed into a 1,500-liter main size batch. Typically, the big beer batch has an original gravity below 15° Plato.
Other Yeast Tips
Also look at yeast strains, you can use too. For example, a lot of breweries are using Kveik strains more. Kveik and high-pressure lager strains can complete fermentations quicker and/or at higher temperatures.
This will lead to energy savings and money saved. I know of several breweries who have switched from using US-05 to using Kveik Lutra. Furthermore, Kviek strains are hardy.
So, easier to keep and reuse. The more you can reuse yeast, the greater the savings to be had. It maybe time to speak with your yeast supplier and assess the situation.
Commercial Brewing Cost Saving Tips – Processing
When I talk about processing, I’m talking SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures). These are the procedures put in place as rules to follow when brewing, cellaring and packaging a beer.
When it comes to processing and finding those marginal gains to save money, Justin sums it up really well. So, over to Mr. Fox…
“It’s important to not lose sight of the indirect costs, which can rapidly increase when things go wrong. For example, extract efficiency has a direct correlation with how much malt you need to buy to make the beer, and driving this up will obviously reduce costs.
The watchout is, chasing a high extract can bring with it issues which will very quickly negate any realized cost savings.
Consider the tangible benefit of driving extract efficiency in the lauter tun, going from 85% to 90% will save you less than a kilogram of base malt per HL.
Lautering times can quickly blow out, when adjusting mills to crush finer, extended labour costs countering the malt savings.
Increasing sparge water volumes and temperatures will increase efficiency, but will also increase the amount of malt tannins in your wort.
Every cost saving is a compromise in some shape or form
So, always think of what you are giving up in order to save money.
The best target for cost saving is to eliminate (or at least reduce) any instances of producing beer that is not up to scratch, which will either damage the brand, or worse, need to be dumped.
It’s these events that are often never seen in the budget and cause the real headaches to the bottom line. “
This partially falls back to our last article on “How to Make a Good Commercial Beer”. Where we talk about how “beer quality is important” and long with value too.
Recommended Beer Processing Articles – Commercial Brewing Cost Saving Tips
I’ve written several articles on this site, looking into the different parts of the brewing process. Sharing tips on being more efficient. So, instead of writing it all out here, I’ll link to them for further reading:
Brewing Boiling Tips – Kettle Reactions – Looking at the science of the boil, offering tips along the way.
Mash Thickness Tips – We do a deep dive into the mash, explain what’s going on and how your actions effect the finished beer including efficiencies.
The Brewing Process Step-by-Step with Pictures – More of a top-down view of the brewing process, with some nuggets about beer processing thrown in.
Stages of Beer Fermentation – We look what happens to beer in the cellar, offering tips along the way.
Spunding During Fermentation – One of my most popular articles, explains how to capture the CO2 created in the fermentation process, to naturally carbonate your beer. Leading to CO2 usage savings.
These articles go into some detail, about different processes to produce beer. They are sprinkled with tips on how to potentially save money in the brewery too.
Commercial Brewing Cost Saving Tips – Conclusions
Thanks for reading; I hope you’ve been able to pick-up some actionable content along the way. It was a fun article to write and thanks again to Justin and Sven for contributing.
Again, for Sven’s cost savings tips please see this addendum post we made. As the price of raw materials rise, due to a number of outside factors. I felt this article on commercial brewing cost savings tips, was at timely one to write.
As brewers we should always keep a close eye on the raw materials market, as well as for new companies entering the space.
For example, I recently got approached by the company called Amédée and hope to try their products soon. Thanks to Stephane for sending us some samples. I’ll be writing about them at a later date, when I’ve had the chance to trial them
Likewise, we should always be looking to improve/tweak our processes to see if we can save money without loss in beer quality. Certain techniques like “DIP hopping”, could actually improve sensory and save money too.
Anyway, thanks for reading and as ever, if you’ve any feedback or follow-up questions please feel free to email me at:
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Need Help with Your Brewing Project?
I’ve been brewing for over 25-years in different parts of the world. I’ve overseen several installs and brewed on a number of systems. I worked in brewpubs and production breweries.
I now use the experience and knowledge I’ve gained to help other people, as a brewing consultant. If you’d like to chat about a project; to see if I might be able to offer assistance, then feel free to get in touch.
I can help in a number of ways:
- Assess your brewing needs over a FREE initial consultation call
- Assist with putting an equipment list together
- Work with you to communicate with brewing equipment suppliers, to get quotes
- Help evaluate quotes and choose the right supplier for your budget and needs
- Be in communication during the fabrication process
- If needed; visit the supplier factory to sign off on equipment before shipment
Plus, a whole lot more. I can also help with brewery processing to improve in-house SOPs. For example, I recently helped a client add spunding capabilities to their existing set-up.
For now, thanks for reading everyone, have a great day and happy brewing.