How Do I Scale Up My Beer Recipes?

I get asked by people regularly, “how do I scale up my beer recipes?” I see the question on forums too. People looking to open brewery in the near future, who’ve been testing recipes on smaller systems.

Often at the homebrew scale or sometimes on larger pilot systems.

How Do I Scale Up My Beer Recipes - One Vessel Pilot Kit (Full)
An example of a small manual pilot system

Brewing on a 20 or 50-liter system is different to brewing on a 1,000-liter system. There are many factors to consider, including hop utilization. Which is often the most concerning subject, for people considering scaling up.

So, I thought it was high time to look at scaling and discuss some the concerns people have. However, before I go any further, I need to stress scaling up isn’t an exact science.

As I always say in many of my articles, one of the keys to good brewing is taking a lot of notes. It’s the same when scaling brews to a bigger system. Brewing is both art and science.

It will take several brews to “dial in” a recipe, as we say. For example, on a new system you can’t be sure what hop utilization will be.

Hop utilization is the fraction of the alpha acid which transforms into isomerized forms PLUS, remains in the final beer. It’s never 100%, but generally higher in bigger systems.

With utilization increased by approximately 15 to 25% on larger systems compared to home-brewing scale. Anyway, let’s get started, beginning with malt.

Malt – How Do I Scale Up My Beer Recipes?

On bigger systems, I like to use full bags of malt where possible. At a push I’ll use exactly half a bag. Most of my malt comes in 25Kg bags (55 lbs.), meaning I like to use increments of 12.5 or 25Kg for my specialist malts.

It makes inventory easier to manage plus, I’ll have fewer open bags around the brewery. So, if you plan to scale up the recipe later on, it makes sense to make the big recipe first and scale down for the trial brews.

Factoring in, using full or half bags in the big brew malt bill.

When planning your malt bill, the factors to consider are extract, color, flavor and sometimes marketing. To learn more about flavor and adding body to a beer, please read my article “Getting More Body in Beer – Tips from The Pros – Asian Beer Network

When it comes to extract, you need to add enough grain to hit your target original gravity and wort volumes. For more information about mashing-in please read out dedicated article on “Mash Thickness Tips“.

Brewhouse Efficiencies – How Do I Scale Up My Beer Recipes?

Brewhouse efficiencies are generally better on bigger systems. A small homebrewing system for example, could have 65% to 75% efficiency. Whilst a bigger commercial system should at least be at 75% efficiency, but ideally higher in the mid-80’s.

This means when brewing the same recipe on a larger system, you’ll need less malt per liter of beer being made. To hit your target original gravity (OG).

For example, let’s say we’re making a 20-liter brew on a small system with 65% efficiency. Using 6Kg of pale ale malt.

If we’re looking to scale the recipe to a system with 75% efficiency; we’d take the 6Kg of malt and multiply it by 0.65 to represent the original 65% efficiency.

We then divide number (we get) by 0.75, to determine the amount of ale malt needed for a system with 75% efficiency.

(6 kilograms x 0.65) / 0.75 = 5.2 kilograms

As you can see; there’s less malt needed when the brewhouse has higher efficiency.

Now it’s nice to know how to scale up recipes by hand. But these days most brewers use software such as the Brewers Friend Recipe Calculator, to work out the raw materials needed.

These types of software make a brewer’s life easier, as you can input the brewhouse efficiency. When doing the first brews on a bigger system, what efficiency do you use when calculating a recipe?

There’s Some Guesswork Involved

Well, there’s a certain amount of guesswork, however a good equipment manufacturer will be able to give you a figure pretty close to the real-world number you’ll experience.

Every system is different depending on set-up. I’m currently looking at 83% efficiency on the brewhouse I’m working on now. Which is an old DME 2-vessel single infusion mash system which can do batches up to 4,500-liters (40 US Beer Barrels).

How Do I Scale Up My Beer Recipes - Fermentation Vessels of the Shanghai Brewhouse
Some of the FV’s and FV Control Panel from My Current Brewery

A decent commercial brewing system should have at least 75% (and hopefully higher) brewhouse efficiency. Brewing has both mash and brewhouse efficiency.

We’re using brewhouse efficiency here, because it relates closer to resources needed to make the final beer.

If you doing the first brews on a larger system, always use a lower efficiency. You can add liquor to the wort to lower the gravity if needed.

Brewing the First Time on A New System – How Do I Scale Up My Beer Recipes?

For example, when I was doing the first brews on the system I inherited at my current brewery. I had some data from the previous brewer to go off.

However, the previous brewer wasn’t using the brewhouse properly, getting efficiencies below 75%. For example, the rakes in the mash/lauter tun weren’t used at all, during wort collection to the kettle.

How Do I Scale Up My Beer Recipes - Lauter Tun and Rakes
Here’s My Lauter Tun During Cleaning

I created my first recipes using a brewhouse efficiency of 75%. Knowing I’d probably have a higher numbers in reality. This gave me scope to either add more sparge water (if last running pH was good) or I could add liquor to the kettle pre or post boil.

I’d also take gravities as I get closer to my target pre-boil volumes. If the numbers are too low, I can collect less wort to the brew kettle and adjust accordingly.

When To Add the Liquor

Ideally adding pre-boil so I could adjust the hop additions. To produce beer in specification. It’s not the ideal scenario, but a realistic one, until a brewer knows their system.

Please note: Adding liquor to the kettle can affect wort pH so, you may need to add some acid to compensate.

We brew 2,500-liter (post boil) batches most often at my current brewery. In those first brews we added up to a maximum of 150-liters liquor, when calculating a recipe at 75% efficiency.

If for any reason, in those first brews you find the gravity is too low. It’s possible to boil the wort for longer to hit your target gravity.

Again, not ideal; if you do increase the boil time, delay adding the bittering additions, till you hit 60-minutes from the end of the boil.

If the beer was conceived as 60-minute boils to begin with, then keep to the original hop addition schedule. Please note: When making lager I usually add my bittering additions at the 60-minute mark, even if I’m doing a 90-minute boil.

Color, Flavor and Marketing the Beer – How Do I Scale Up My Beer Recipes?

Generally, when scaling up a beer, I keep to the same proportions of malt used. So, if a beer used 20% Vienna malt in the small-scale recipe, it’ll use 20% in the scaled-up recipe.

Again, use your favorite brewing software to dial in recipe color. One anomaly, I do sometimes see, is with acidulated malt.

If using acidulated malt to alter the mash pH, instead of lactic or phosphoric acid, sometimes a higher percentage of the acidulated malt is needed in smaller batches.

How Do I Scale Up My Beer Recipes - Sour Grapes Malt from Gladfields
The acidulated malt I use is Sour Grapes from Gladfields

So, the small-scale batch might need 2.5% acidulated malt to give the desired mash pH. Whilst on a bigger system you might need 2 to 2.2% acidulated malt to get the same mash pH. I don’t have an explanation for this, but just wanted to note it here.

In brewing often color and flavor overlap. Brewers put together recipes knowing a specialist malt will give both flavor and add color. For instance, using a caramel malt at 10 to 20% of the total malt bill, will add color but also impact the flavor of the final beer.

On the other hand, if you use a small percentage (less than 2.5%) of de-husked black malt, it’ll add color but have little impact of flavor.

It’s sometimes of interest to add a small percentage of a novel malt, to a brew. It can help the marketing team sell a beer. For example, Swaen produce a Salty Caramel malt, which they recommend for use in Amber and specialist beers. Using this malt, could generate interest in a beer if the marketing is done right.

Sven SBI

I spoke to Sven van Rooijen of SBI Shanghai (Selected Brew Ingredients) about this malt, He said…

“Caramel sea salt chocolate bars and ice-cream gained popularity in Europe. This taste sensation was soon found in other foods, such as pastries, desserts and even protein bars.

The Swaen, known for its high quality and commitment to innovation, were inspired by this trend. So, developed a Salty Caramel Malt. This unique malt is a world first and produced in a limited quantities. “

How Do I Scale Up My Beer Recipes? Mashing In

Before moving on, it’s worth highlighting when brewing on a bigger system, there’s many more elements to consider. For example, processes including mashing in, take more time on a bigger system.

If you’re step mashing, you need to factor ramp up times, when calculating how long each rest phase should be. On most system the temperature will rise 1°C per minute. This needs to be considered when setting out your rest times and temps.

As it often takes longer to mash-in on a bigger system, it can affect enzyme activity. On the big system I currently brew on, I’ve found I need to do a quick vorlauf/recirc 5-minutes after the end of mashing-in, before taking a sample to check pH.

If not, I don’t always get an accurate mash pH reading. With the readings being at a higher pH than actual, without some form of recirculation.

It’s not ideal, but wanted to share, as it shows how processes might be different on a bigger system.

On a small system you might mix the mash by hand (with a paddle), then after a few minutes rest find it easy to take a mash pH reading, which will be accurate.

There are nuances when scaling up to any bigger system, which often takes time to discover and adjust for. Another example I experienced, was having to reprogram the control unit of the rakes, when lautering.

So, they could go slower when collecting wort to the kettle, to still have clean wort. If the rakes were too fast, some grains were carrying over to the brew kettle.

How Do I Scale Up My Beer Recipes? Yeast

When it comes to scaling up, yeast is yeast. If using dry yeast, then follow the directions of your yeast supplier. Although to be honest, I don’t…

I’ve spent a lot of my career brewing outside of the main centers of craft brewing. In countries like Armenia and Bermuda.

It means I’ve brewed with a lot of dry yeast, being easier to source than wet yeast. I’ve done a lot of brewing with dry yeast from Fermentis and Lallemand.

When brewing 2,500-liter single batches on my current system, here’s what I’m using:

Hefeweizen (5.0% ABV) – Using 500g of WB-06

House IPA (5.8% ABV) – Using 1 Kg of US-05

House Double IPA (8.5% ABV) – Using 1.5 Kg of US-05

Blonde (5%) – Using 1Kg of K-97

Getting More Body in Beer - My Pilsner 3
My House Pilsner

I’m still getting good fermentations and hitting my target final gravity, using the above amounts.

When I brew my house pilsner, I make 5,000-liters; brewing 2 x 2,500-liter batches, over two days into a single fermenter. I use 1.5Kg of Fermentis W 34/70, pitched into the first batch, and only oxygenating the wort on the first day.

Apart from the Hefeweizen all these brews are oxygenated, on collection to the FV. I do add some yeast nutrient in the boil too, although I don’t really need to. So, yes you can use less yeast than suppliers recommend.

However, to “cover my ass”, I’m going to say use the recommended pitching rates your yeast supplier recommends. I’m simply sharing my experiences with you.

Brewers with Less Experience

If you’re not an experienced brewer when scaling up, and working on a commercial scale. I’d recommend using dry yeast to begin with. Getting a new brewery operational and dialing in the brewhouse involves controlling many elements.

Not having to worry about yeast handling, makes life much easier. It’s up to the individual, if you really want to use wet yeast and re-pitch, then by all means go for it.

It’s just a recommendation I make after years of experience. Plus, from helping other people get their breweries operational.

Using Wet YeastHow Do I Scale Up My Beer Recipes?

If you opt for using wet yeast, then you’ll want to stick the common pitching rates which are universally agreed upon. Instead of listing them all here, please follow the link to Wyeast Labs I’ve shared, where the subject is covered well.

What I will say is; if you’ve a big enough pilot system, you can save some money by propping up a smaller volume of yeast from the supplier and using this for the bigger system.

For example, we’ve a 150-liter pilot system, which at a push can produce 250-liter of finished wort. We often buy 2-liters of wet yeast from our supplier and brew a small batch of the beer, the day before into a pilot FV.

Wet Yeast Propping

The next day we brew our big 2,500 liters batch, pushing the small brew (with the yeast) we made the day before, into the big batch. It means we purchase less wet yeast. We’d need more yeast if we we’re directly pitching into a 2,500-liter batch.

There are some variables to this method depending on the style and strength of beer we’re brewing. We of course do a yeast count, to ensure we’re good to go.

If you want more information on yeast propagation again, please follow the link to the Wyeast website to learn more. It’s a great starting point for learning about the process.

Yeast Blending in Brewing - Open Squares
Fermentation in Traditional Squares

I feel we’re digressing too much from the main topic. However, here’s one last link to the Wyeast website covering the subject of re-pitching yeast.

When it comes to yeast, it’s all about ensuring the correct pitch rate, the wort has enough nutrients and is oxygenated (most beer benefits from aerated wort).

When doing trials on the smaller-scale, you can use several different yeasts, till you find the one you like. So, it can also be used when the big system is ready.

Whatever, the plans for the yeast, if there is more than one brewer working on the brew deck, make sure everyone is on the same page.

For example, is the yeast viability counted referring to the number of live or dead cells. I’ve heard of brewers using both options.

How Do I Scale Up My Beer Recipes? Hops – The Big One

When it comes to scaling up, hops are the main concern for most brewers. Hops are used to add bitterness, aroma and can also can impart flavor to the beer.

With aroma and taste being heavily linked, when it comes to beer drinkers. To learn more about hops, please read my article entitled “Brewing A Balanced Beer – The Art of Bitterness – Asian Beer Network”.

Bittering Hops

Now let’s be clear when it comes to bittering hops, they rarely impart flavor to the final beer. It goes right out of the stack/condenser with the steam. Some hops though, do impart a “smoother” bitterness,

There are a few hops in particular brewers use when bittering. Such as Nugget, Warrior and Magnum. You want to use a high alpha hop, which is cheaper to purchase, I’ve used Nugget a lot throughout my career.

Brewing Hops on the Vine
Brewing Hops on the Vine

These days however, I use a CO2 hop extract called Flex (alternatives are available). I get smooth bitterness using Flex, it’s consistent and a 2Kg bottle lasts me a while. Plus, its’ easily stored keeping for a long time (for two years).

Also, you generally get better utilization when using extracts too. With pellets offering better utilization than whole leaf hops.

When I run the numbers for brewing in China, using Flex works out at a similar price to using Nugget. I opt for the convenience of Flex as a result. I think Flex works particularly when brewing lagers.

Hop Utilization – How Do I Scale Up My Beer Recipes?

When using a bigger system, the chances are you’ll get a better hop utilization than on a smaller system. If you leap from a 20-liter brew to a 1,000-liter system, utilization will jump quite significantly.

There’s no straight answer for this. The only way to truly understand your new system is to send the first beers brewed, off for analysis. Ideally, the first brews being SMASH (single malt and single hop) beers, with your most used malt and a single hop used.

In actuality, you may end up brewing your most popular beer first, on a new system. Either way getting the beer analyzed, is the only real way to know.

A good equipment manufacturer should be able to give you a reference point to begin with. You have to bear in mind there’s so many variables, meaning each project and system will be different.

I spoke to John Gonzales from Bespoke Brewing Solutions, a company I’ve worked with on a few projects. They’ve worked with clients on different systems, putting real world numbers together, regarding hop utilization in the kettle.

They can use these numbers to reference from, when suppling a new brewhouse to a client. As John said himself…

“Yeah, each system is different. However, after working closely with clients over the years we can use historical data to give hop utilization numbers, we predict will be close to actual results.

However, we do suggest clients have their first beers sent for analysis to get true numbers, when it comes to hop utilization.

As there are so many other factors to consider. Such as, how long brewers leave the wort to rest after the boil or length and temperature of the whirlpool affecting overall IBU’s, which we can’t account for”.

Bespoke Brewing Solutions John and Harry Final

Utilization Conclusions for the Bittering

So, what does this all mean? Well, hop utilization rarely exceeds 30%. However, in larger systems you’ll see higher rates of utilization.

It also depends on the beer brewed and original gravity of the wort. Predicting utilization from hops additions, is almost impossible as this article states. For example, utilization rates drop as wort gravity increases.

You also, have to factor in IBU’s from other kettle additions and whirlpool hops too. Whirlpool hops are also hard to predict, as people use different temperatures and times.

Brewers, generally use information provided by the equipment suppliers, standard utilization rates based on wort gravity from research data and use those numbers to input their best guesstimate, when using brewing calculators.

It’s the closest you’ll get to real-world numbers on bigger systems, using commercial vessels and geometry. Scott Janish, even provides evidence dry hopping affecting bitterness, if the original IBU’s are under 30.

From my own real-life experiences, I usually lower the utilization rates by 4% for brewhouses at 300-liters and below and 2% for brewhouses between the 300 to 800-liter range.

For additions 60 through 30-minutes. It’s far from a prefect system, but has fared me well as my brewing career has developed.

Other factors to be considered in:
  • On the smaller-scale/trial brews, the hops used may be less fresh, than the ones used on a commercial scale. Which affects(lowers) utilization rates.
  • On a smaller-scale if you’re slightly off on your measurements, it can greatly affect overall IBU’s in the final beer. Throwing of sensory analysis.
  • To stress again; tank geometry, boil off rates, whirlpool processes and collection to FV variances, vary wildly when scaling up to a bigger system.

You’ll certainly need to use less hops per liter of beer made when scaling up. Rounding down your hop additions when scaling up is certainly the best practice. Till you figure out true hop utilization on a new brewhouse.

Please note: I want to add a reminder to vacuum pack any partially open bags of hops when brewing. They will keep fresher longer. Also, store these hops cold too.

How Do I Scale Up My Beer Recipes - Vacuum Packing Hops
See another brewer using Magnum plus vacuum packing hops

How Do I Scale Up My Beer Recipes – Differences in Equipment

When brewing smaller batches, the heating source will most likely be electric or direct fire. In bigger breweries, steam is most often used.

When using electric heating it’s harder to have total control over the boil, with color pick-up often being higher than using steam.

How Do I Scale Up My Beer Recipes - Different Heating Options Table
Taken from our article where we discuss the main brewery heating options

These days electrical elements used in brewing are low-density, reducing the chance of excessive caramelization.

Direct fire, can also lead to more caramelization than steam. However, we’re seeing better technology with direct fire systems. Leading to less localized hot spots, scorching, caramelization of the wort and color pick-up.

Still smaller systems, using electric or direct fire, can produce more color and noticeable flavor pick up. When compared to boiling wort on large commercial steam systems.

If you want to recreate the same color and flavor profile of the smaller batch trials, you may need to up your specialist malt numbers, in the malt bill to compensate. When brewing on a larger steam system.

You might find adding some extra Caramel malt to scaled up ale brews, brings similar sensory to that of the original trial brew. If you want to totally replicate the same beer you brewed on the smaller system.

Refining Your Beers on A Bigger System – How Do I Scale Up My Beer Recipes?

When scaling up you’re generally working with better equipment, and have finer control. My advice is you’re not really scaling up the recipe brewed on the smaller system. Especially when coming from a system of 100-liters or smaller.

Those trials or smaller brews should be seen more as experiments, to understand flavor combinations of malt, hops and yeast. On a bigger system you’ve a chance to refine the beers brewed, as you dial in the system and understand it better.

The basic recipe will be similar but will evolve over time, as you make notes and tweaks along the way. One piece of advice I usually give is make one change at a time.

If you make two or more changes, it’s hard to determine which variation altered a certain sensory.

For example, in 2020, I helped Humdinger Brewery in Kunming, China as they expanded from their 500-liter brewpub; adding a 2,000-liter production brewery to their operations.

How Do I Scale Up My Beer Recipes - Humdinger Production Brewery
The 2,000-liter Humdinger Production Brewery During Installation

They wanted to keep one of their biggest selling beers a Hefeweizen, as close as possible to one brewed in the brewpub. Which makes sense as customers had grown accustomed to how this beer tasted.

What actually happened was the brewing team discovered on the bigger steam heated system, they had much finer control compared to their old 500-liter electric system.

It allowed them, with my guidance to slowly tweak the recipe. Making a more refined version of the original wheat beer.

Example of Tweaks

One of the tweaks made; was to no longer adjust the pH of the mash. On the smaller system they used to add lactic acid to bring mash pH to 5.35, which for many styles is good practice.

However, they were using WB-06 (a Diastaticus yeast) and their finished beer was often a “little sour”. When brewing the Hefeweizen without pH adjustment, there wasn’t any sourness noted, with drinkers preferring the new iteration.

Humdinger also had finer control over the mash rests now, having a dedicated mash mixer. It allowed them to adjust mash rest times and temperatures more easily and with greater control. Which they did over several brews taking notes and tweaking the process.

We also built a brand-new lager recipe which they were extremely pleased with. As you can see from the message the owner of Humdinger sent me recently.

How Do I Scale Up My Beer Recipes - Lager Comment
Comments from the owner of Humdinger Brewery about their lager

Humdinger found themselves changing whirlpool times and processes, playing around with fermentation profiles as the bigger system gave them more control. As they had jackets in the cone AND sides of FV’s to finely control fermentation temperatures.

Essentially on the big system they found themselves evolving as brewers, as they adapted to the new system and the beer improved as a result.

Humdinger recently got invited to be one of the participating breweries at 8 x 8 in China. Which is a big deal in the local craft beer scene.

How Do I Scale Up My Beer Recipes – Conclusions

I think it’s time to begin wrapping up this article on “how do I scale up my beer recipes”. I’d like to keep the word count under 4,000. We’ve covered a lot in this post.

As we’ve discussed scaling up isn’t an exact science. As the variables in brewing are endless from the equipment to the person doing the brewing.

However, here are some of the main takeaways:
  • The bigger the system the better the hop utilization, within reason.
  • Try and use half or full bags of malt on bigger system, if possible.
  • Process changes need to be considered to. As vessel geometry and heating source need to be accounted and adapted for.
  • You’ll generally use less malt on lager systems, as brewhouse efficiencies increase
  • If step-mashing you need to factor in ramp up times to the mash profile created
  • On bigger systems, when you discover you have finer control, you’ll see recipes adapting as you evolve as a brewer and understand the system better.

I hope this article proved useful with some actionable content you can use. If you’re planning to scale up recipes in the near future.

I have to confess I’m a brewing consultant. So, if you need help with recipe development, please feel free to reach out.

Do You Need Help with A Brewery Project?

I can assist in a number of ways:

  • Help put an equipment list together
  • Connecting people with reputable equipment suppliers from my 25-years in the brewing industry
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  • Formulating recipes
  • Creating forms for breweries from brew sheets to predictive production schedules

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I can also help in other ways when it comes to brewing assistance.

So, if you’ve any kind of enquiry email me, or scan the QR code of your preferred network below. Add me and then message me there directly.

Thanks for reading, have a great day 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
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