Process of Customizing a Brewery Project

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Today we’ll look at the process of customizing a brewery project. In my time as a brewing consultant, I’ve seen the needs and scope of brewing projects evolve.

When I first started helping clients put equipment lists together, based on the scope outlined by them, it was much easier. A lot of the requirements were “off-the-shelf” solutions.

Meaning a simple set-up; usually a 2 or 3-vessel system, with enough cellar tanks to produce the beer volumes, was all which was needed.

In the last few years, the process of customizing a brewery project has developed. With breweries often working in niches, which require specialized equipment and requirements.

Brewing a raw ale tips - Mash hopping
Breweries are using non-traditional methods like mash hopping

As a consultant, I’ve enjoyed the challenge. With the feedback from clients, after walking them through these projects, being positive and them appreciative.

When I take on a brewing project, I take it personally, striving to ensure the client has the best outcome. I’m there to answer any questions which come up…

However, feedback suggests clients feel I provide the most value, being the link between the equipment manufacturer and them.

Taking clients initial ideas/scope, then working the project to ensure the equipment we source, properly fulfills the needs of the brewery. So, how does the process of customizing a brewery project come together?

Process of Customizing a Brewery Project – Initial Scope

The Process of Customizing a Brewery Project – Initial Scope

When any client approaches me asking for help with a brewing project, I first send them this Word document with 13-questions.

Here are some of the questions in the document:

  • How big is your planned brewhouse?
  • What type of beers will you be making?
  • Do you already have a location?
  • Are you planning to use a lot of automation for the brewhouse?
  • What are your predicted sales for year one, two and three?

All the questions above plus, the other ones I ask in the Word document, gives me a greater understanding of the project as a whole.

Once the client has answered these questions, we’ll have some more back and forth to clarify certain points. Then soon after will have the first call.

I like to wait on the first call, clarifying things first. So, the initial discussion is productive plus, doesn’t waste a potential client’s or my time too.

Why do I ask these specific 13-questions, you may ask. Well, it’s all part of the process…let me explain.

Installing a Brewery Tips - Fermenters
Photo taken of fermenters being installed on a project I did in Yunnan, China

It All Begins with Sizing the Brewhouse

This is quite self-explanatory, however there are a few wrinkles. You see, smaller craft breweries can benefit from being dynamic. So, able to react quickly in the market.

As well as having the ability to offer fresh beer, and new brews on tap regularly. This is generally what a local drinking scene wants.

In modern craft brewing sizing your brewhouse, has never been so important. As the market gets more competitive, every single day.

Ensuring a brewery can keep up with demand, offer new brews and keep the beer poured/packaged fresh, is a balancing act.

There’ll be one or two brews which will sell at volume. These beers always need to be in stock.

Whilst some of the more unique brews, will sell more slowly. So, a brewery doesn’t want to produce these beers at volume. As they will not be fresh, after some time.

Having a smaller brewhouse which can make multiple batches per day, is often the best solution for a brewhouse which plans on being flexible as well as dynamic.

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Process of Customizing a Brewery Project – Should I Get a Pilot System?

This leads to a discussion about the two main options, either…

  • Having a main brewhouse and a pilot system
  • Or having one main brewery and different sized cellar tanks

What’s the best option for a particular project differs but having various size cellar tanks is becoming the norm in craft brewing.

As a brewing consultant, I’m happy to have discussion on this with you.

I had a recent project involving a client in The Philippines. They were looking to upgrade from what was essentially a homebrew set-up.

The small batch brewing they were doing, showed people had a thirst for beer, at their island location. They were looking to upgrade to a small commercial system. Their plan was to focus on four core beers, to begin with.

After speaking with them extensively, I convinced them to have one unitank three times the size of their brewhouse.

The Process of Customizing a Brewery Project - Pricing of Chinese Unitanks
3 x 350-liter tanks are $8,760, whilst 1 x 1,000-liter tank is $4,390 – One big vessel is cheaper

They planned to distribute beers to other hotel/bars on the island. They’d have one beer which would sell in much larger volumes than the others.

The Advantages of Having Larger Cellar Vessels

It made sense to get one larger unitank and brew into it three times over two days. With several advantages to this option:

  1. Less work brewing three times into one tank, than to three separate ones – for example only need to prep one vessel for wort filling.
  2. There would be less beer loss, when using one cellar vessel.
  3. Can use less yeast to pitch the brew, as brewing over two days to fill the tank.
  4. One larger vessel is cheaper than three smaller unitanks – the smaller, one batch tanks were US$ 2,920, whilst the one larger three batch tank was US$ 4,390.
  5. One larger tank takes up less room in a shipping container than three smaller tanks. Allowing us to fit more cellar tank space into one 40ft shipping container.

These were the main advantages; with this suggestion representing a good cost saving upfront for the client and would also reduce the running costs of the brewery in the future too.

This is one simple example how my input helped save a client money. By working the scope of the project with clients, I can help in many ways to save money, and make the whole process smoother.

I’ve been brewing for over 25-years and on many different systems. I know my way around a brewery. So, use my knowledge to streamline the brewing process for all new brewery projects.

The Process of Customizing a Brewery Project - Quote from Neil Playfoot
When deciding on brewery customization, some of the main considerations are:

Sizing the hot liquor tank (HLT) – Is the brewery going to produce multiple brews per day. Additionally, what else will the HLT be used for?

What’s the main water like? – Do you need an RO machine for the project? If so, what capacity does the RO machine need to be?

Dimensions of the mash tun – Depends on the type of beer to be brewed, and processes involved. More on this later.

Is a CLT and/or two-stage heat exchanger needed? – This depends on the particular project.

Automation requirements – Depends on the scale and scope of the project. As well as the overall budget too. It determines best use of automation to get “bang-for-your-buck”.

The number of options which need to be considered on a project, a numerous.

More than I could ever write here. However, hopefully these examples give some sense of the critical thinking needed.

As a brewing consultant, I can walk people through all these types of decisions. Ensuring they get the equipment they need to fulfill the scope of the project.

Process of Customizing a Brewery Project – Deciding Which Beers to Brew

It’s important to ask what styles of beer, a brewery plans to make. As it’ll affect the process for making the beer, as well as design and requirements needed for the brewhouse.

If a brewery was planning to make mostly lagers, while another brewery opted to produce mainly hazy IPAs, then the equipment needed would be different.

This would require differences in both the design of the brewhouse, as well as make-up of the cellar tanks too.

Let me show you some of the differences to consider:

Mostly Traditional Lagers

  • Colder wort collection temperatures, than ales – CLT and heat exchanger concerns
  • Generally, brewing to around 5%, with less use of other grains (oats and wheat, for example) – A standard mash/lauter tun design will most likely suffice
  • Less hops in the brew kettle, than many other styles.
  • Potentially more scope for higher gravity brewing, with liquoring back – If so, need to consider equipment required for such a process.
  • Longer maturation times for lager, than ales – The use of horizontal tanks in the cellar, could be advisable
  • Beer clarity – Lagers are generally served/packaged clear, without any haze. In this case more brite tanks and separation technology, will likely be needed.
Lager - Brewing A Balanced Beer

Mostly Hazy IPAs

  • Warmer wort collection temperatures – A two-stage heat exchanger may be fine
  • Will use more wheat, oats and potentially other grains – Need to consider lauter needs, when using higher percentages of other adjuncts in mash
  • What will the average ABV percentage of the beer be? Does the brewhouse, need to have an oversized mash tun?
  • Potentially higher hop loads in the brewhouse – Affecting brewhouse design, leading to adaptions in the brew kettle/whirlpool, for example. Alternatively, having a heat exchanger between the brew kettle and separate whirlpool.
  • Greater hop loads going into the fermenter, leading to extra equipment in the cellar like a hop cannon or changing design of the fermenters.

Highlighting the above concerns when brewing either a lager or hazy IPAs. Shows how the process of customizing a brewery project is clearly affected by the style of beers to be brewed.

Communication – Process of Customizing a Brewery Project

When putting a brewing project together, communication with the chosen manufacturer is key. As I said before, this is where people find my services especially valuable.

Often, I’m working with a client and manufacturer with different mother tongues. Brewing involves a lot of technical details. It’s easy for a critical, but small point to “get lost in translation”.

Communication is key to ensuring any brewery project is successful. In my years being a brewing consultant, I’ve developed my understanding of how to take the client needs, and ensure the manufacturers clearly understands them.

Brewing has taught me patience; you can’t rush the brewing process. Furthermore, brewing is mostly following steps and procedures.

I apply this patient, methodical and deliberate approach to any brewing project I consult on. Understanding there several people involved and a lot of moving elements.

The Process of Customizing a Brewery Project – Real-World Example

Here’s an example of customization I’ve been working on recently with one particular supplier. When it comes to putting a brewery project together, you need to know the local laws.

I’m in the middle of a brewery project for Japan. Japan’s local laws for beer production are very strict. I think a lot of the regulations have been taken directly from sake production.

Throughout every part of the brewery process, you need to record all liquid volumes. For instance, volume in the kettle, volume transferred to the fermentation vessel (FV) and have a way to check volumes in FV to a small margin.

It means we need to have a volume sigh tube on all FV’s. With a way to measure the volume in the tube.

The easiest way is to add a graduated ruler on the outside which can be used to record the volume in the vessel, as in the image below.

The Process of Customizing a Brewery Project - Graduated Sight Tube for Measuring Volume in Fermenters
In Japan you need to be able measure volume in FV’s

The above picture is for 5mm increments, which is actually not useable for Japanese local regulations. We need to have the increment for every 2mm for this project!

As part of the project, we went back and forth on this to find a solution which would work. The be implemented in the fabrication process. So, there would be no issues when the equipment.

Hop Baskets

For the same project, the client is also looking at using hop baskets in the kettle and FV’s. As he is planning to make mostly hazy IPA’s.

The client has some his reasons for using hop baskets, from research he has done. It’s been interesting going back and forth on this project.

We’re looking to use hooks inside the vessels to hang these baskets from. Still, working this solution, but below is a reference image of the type of basket we’ve been discussing.

The Process of Customizing a Brewery Project - Hop Baskets to Put the Brew Kettle and Fermenters
Hop Basket to Put in the Brew Kettle and FV’s

My Experience on Brewing Projects has Taught Me Certain Lessons

My 25-years as a brewer has taught me patience, and to follow a process to make sure the outcome is as planned.

When it comes to being a brewing consulting, I’ve added another helpful tool to my arsenal.

A tool which helps me be understood by all parties involved on a project, as well keep everyone on the same page.

That’s the use of diagrams…

On a project, I’ll often spend some time to produce diagrams. Diagrams like those in the image below. These diagrams allow me to get my message across clearly.

So, a point of design or a process is understood by both client and manufacturer. Then any change or tweak can be agreed upon, and the project moved forward.

The Process of Customizing a Brewery Project - Diagram Examples
Some examples of diagrams I’ve put together to get my point across

If there’s an issue after I’ve shared the diagram, it’s easy for either the client or the manufacturers to point out where an issue lies.

They simply need to make a mark on the diagram shared. From there we can all work the issues and find solutions together. Client, manufacturer and me.

Layout and Design – Process of Customizing a Brewery Project

Usually once the equipment list and general design are locked in. If the client is happy with the pricing, and ready to move forward, then…

A simple layout drawing will be done, by the manufacturer. If a more complete drawing is needed, say pipework with 3D imaging.

Then a manufacturer may ask for a small fee up font for the work involved. This payment will count towards any payment for the project later.

The client by this point, should have shared a drawing of the building with everyone. This will allow the manufacturer to place the agreed equipment, within layout plan of the building.

So, the equipment layout and general hard piping design, can be agreed by all.

Please note: Manufacturers prefer DWG files for a building drawing. Other files, like an EXB file can be accepted, depending on the manufacturer. A DWG file makes it easier for all parties to share and edit layout plans.

Making A Brewery in A Shipping Container - Brewhouse Layout
This was the original brewhouse design for container brewery for a project in Sweden

It’s a Process

There’s usually some back-and-forth over placement of the equipment. As everyone works to ensure the layout is efficient. Making the brew crews life easier, when the brewery is operational.

When it comes to design and brewery layout, clients often tell me this where they find my input invaluable too.

Having worked on numerous systems of various sizes around the world, I can make suggestion about equipment placement for more productive workflows.

Again, client, manufacturer and I work together, to ensure everyone is happy with the layout and design.

Placement of Utility Points

One of the main reasons to agree on layout before fabrication, is for placement of utility points.

The client needs to know where electrical outlets should be placed, as well as other items like tap placement, for washdown hoses.

Furthermore, one of the most important aspects of brewery planning is positioning and design of drains.

Seriously, correctly planned drain placement, and if possible, having sloped floors, will make a brewer’s life easier, saving a brewery many manhours over time.

For more information on building preparation, when installing a brewery, please read our in-depth article here.

Once everything has been agreed regarding layout, a client can begin to prepare the building, putting the utility points and drainage where needed.

Furthermore, much of the pipework can be prefabricated, allowing for smoother and quicker installation onsite.

Brewery Building Requirements - Planning Stage

Fabrication – Process of Customizing a Brewery Project

There’s usually a deposit to be paid to the manufacturer to begin fabricating the equipment. Once a deposit is made, the drawings for the equipment are produced and shared with the client.

The client will then make sure they are happy with the drawings. This is the last point; changes can realistically be made, before equipment begins fabrication.

It’s another point of the process, where my experience can help. For instance, I was recently working on a project for SE Asia.

When the design of the kettle came out, I saw the wort outlet from the kettle was too high. Please follow the link to read a more in-depth article I wrote about this issue, and how we resolved it.

Changes Can Be Made Just Before Fabrication

It meant potentially a lot of “good useable” wort could have been left in the brew kettle. Going over the drawings carefully, allowed me to suggest lowering the outlet pipe.

As the client wasn’t planning to make heavily hopped beers, he agreed to this change and it was updated in the drawings, before being sent to the fabricators.

During the fabrication, the client will prepare the building. Whilst the manufacturer will fabricate the equipment and keep the client updated on the process.

As a brewery consultant, again I’m the “bridge” between client and manufacturer ensuring things happen smoothly, and everyone is on the same page.

The Process of Customizing a Brewery Project - Helping Make a Project Successful

Fabrication and Equipment Checks – Process of Customizing a Brewery Project

Sometimes a client will ask me to go an inspect the equipment before it’s shipped out. Other times, they would like more than one visit. As they want me to report back during the equipment fabrication phase.

China is now tough to enter (because of Covid), making it almost impossible for overseas clients to inspect equipment for themselves. I offer a service where I visit the manufacturers factory on a client’s behalf, and send reports back.

I can take pictures, video and also have a live video chat. I’ll speak with the client before any visit. So, it’s clear what are the most important checks, needing to take place.

For example, making sure the customization of the brewing equipment, is fabricated as agreed, and to the same specifications as the drawings.

If I can sign off on the equipment, then the remaining balance can be paid, and the equipment packed up and sent.

Installation and Commissioning – Process of Customizing a Brewery Project

When it comes to installing the equipment, the same issues of travelling out of and then back into China exists, for the brewing equipment manufacturers.

Many equipment manufacturers can’t or won’t send the engineers to install their equipment overseas. They will either have local partners they use, to help with the install.

Or they can work with the client to find someone locally, who can help do the install onsite. Whilst the manufacturer will be remotely available to assist with the installation of the equipment too.

As Covid has been going on for three years now, most of the equipment manufacturers have figured out ways/procedures allowing for installations to go smoothly, and brewhouses to become operational.

A lot of the pipework will be pre-cut and numbered in China by the manufacturer. See the picture below for refence.

The Process of Customizing a Brewery Project - Numbering Brewery Piping for Easy Installation
Manufacturers will number pipes so; they are easier to install onsite

So, putting the equipment together onsite will be easier, especially with remote assistance from the manufacturer themselves.

So, the brewhouse and other equipment can be put in place as agreed previously. Meaning all the customization of the project has been seen through from inception to working brewery.

Some Manufacturers are Willing to Send a Team of Engineers Overseas

There are a few equipment manufacturers in China, who are willing to send their engineers overseas.

One of my preferred manufacturers recently sent a team to oversee a brewery installation in Belgium. Plus, the same manufacturer is now working on a project to send a team to Japan, for a client of mine.

I’m happy to make introduction to this manufacturer, for anyone who is interested.

The Process of Customizing a Brewery Project – Conclusions

Thanks for reading our article on the process of customizing a brewery. As you can see there a lot of considerations.

It all starts with having proper plan, and understanding the scope of the project. From there everything else can be developed and worked on.

Some of the key decisions are:
  • Sizing your brewhouses correctly
  • Estimating beer sales year one, two and three
  • Agreeing on number and size of cellar tanks
  • Locking in beer styles which will be brewed

If you need help with your project then please feel free to reach out. As I say I’ve been brewing for a number of years on many systems.

Furthermore, I’ve done a number of installs and currently working on projects for Sweden, Japan, Australia and The Philippines.

I’m happy to discuss your project, and you can email me at:

neil@asianbeernetwork.com

Alternatively, you can message me directly on your preferred network. Simple scan the relevant QR code below, add me and send me message.

I look forward to hearing about your brewery project.

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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