Small Brewery Equipment List – Planning Tips

I decided to write on the subject of putting a small brewery equipment list together, in response to receiving several requests a week, for help in this matter.

This post created, knowing each brewery project is different. However, points discussed here, apply to the majority of small brewery projects planned.

There’s seems to be a movement towards opening small breweries at 700-liters and below. With many looking towards breweries at 300-liters and under, to be hyperlocal.

These are people looking to do draft with some form of small packaging, mostly for carryout beer. Having a small taproom produces running capital and keeps greater profits in-house.

Beer sold on premises will produce higher margins than those sold via distribution. It makes sense to sell as much of your product onsite as possible, including “beer to-go”. So, what do you need, when putting a small brewery equipment list together?

The Mill – Small Brewery Equipment List

Now there are two options here. If you live somewhere, it’s easy to source pre-crushed malt, then opting not to purchase a mill is a possibility. In countries where craft brewing is more established, such as the UK or US, you can buy malt pre-crushed easily.

Pre-Crushed Malt

Pre-crushed malt has a shorter shelf life than non-crushed grains. For a brewery at 300-liters or less, pre-crushed can make sense for a few of reasons:

  • Not having a mill, means you’ve more space for other equipment/materials.
  • You don’t have to worry about malt dust when using the mill or allotting a specific space to have a mill.
  • No need to worry about local laws, as some places require explosion proof mill rooms.

As I said before, I’d only recommend pre-milled if it’s readily available. I’d not want pre-milled malt to spend too long in storage. Most brewers using pre-milled malt, only order up to a months’ worth of stock at time.

Pre-Milled Malts - Small Brewery Equipment List

It’s also worth noting you’ll have less choice with pre-milled malt. Furthermore, it’s more expensive per kilogram. But, if you’re on a small system and space is tight, pre-milled is a viable solution.

If you do go pre-milled, keep in touch with your suppliers when it comes to grist analysis and consistency. Ensure, you have the right to refuse the malt, if it’s not up to your standards.

Purchasing A Mill Small Brewery Equipment List

When it comes to local laws; call you mill a “malt crusher” rather than a “malt mill”. Milling malt for flour is more dangerous than the actual “cracking” of malt for brewing.

You still need to make sure you have adequate ventilation and anyone using the mill has the correct PPE (personal protective equipment).

Purchasing a mill gives a brewer more control over the crush and access to a wider variety of malts. Plus, the brewer can order more grain at one time if needed, as it lasts longer (than pre-crushed malt).

Beer Without Borders - Milling
Small Mill Ideal for a Craft Brewery

When I ran a brewhouse in Bermuda, we ordered malt for several months of brewing. As shipping was expensive and lead times long. Going pre-milled wasn’t a good option in this instance.

I’d say any brewery at 500-liters or more should go with a mill. The advantages work to your favor, at this size and above.

One further note: On a smaller system you don’t need a malt delivery system. You can simply dump the malt into the mash tun, one bag at a time. After you’ve put the mash water in the tun.

Just keep the malt close to the mash tun when mashing in.

Small Brewery Equipment List – How Many Brew Vessels?

This is one subject I chat about a lot, with potential clients opening a small brewery. It depends on the plans for the present and future, what the best option will be. Are you planning to start small; then looking to grow?

Or is the plan to have a small hyper local set up, serving the local community just pouring onsite?

If you’re looking to keep it small, and space is tight, then a 2-vessel system makes sense. It means you’ve more room for other things, for example extra tables.

Why a Two-vessel Systems Works…

If a two-vessel system (combined mash/lauter tun and kettle/whirlpool) is properly designed. It can be both efficient and make good beer. The chances are brewery at the smaller end, 300-liters or under will be electrically heated.

When using electric heating at the smaller-scale; it doesn’t make sense to step mash, or have heating for the mash tun. If you’d like to learn more, please, see our in-depth article on electrical heating options.

Small Brewery Equipment List - 150 Liter Two Vessel Pilot System

With modern malts being so well modified, for the most part step mashing isn’t needed. Yes, there are some times, when having the ability to step mash is preferable.

But these days with enzymes and alternative brewing processes you can achieve most of what you want for a beer, without needing to step mash.

A mash/lauter tun with good filter plates, allows for good wort collection to the kettle and brewhouse efficiency. A two-vessel system without mash tun heating, takes up less space and also cheaper to buy.

Three-Vessel Options

At 500-liters and above, a 3-vessel system may be the favorable choice. If there’s enough space plus, a brewer wants mash tun heating to give the ability to step-mash.

At this point I want to say, I’m currently brewing on a 4,000-liter two-vessel system (the big system pictured above), which doesn’t have steam heating, for the mash/lauter tun.

On this system, I’m brewing everything from a German Hefeweizen to Imperial Stouts with good brewhouse efficiency.

Furthermore, brewers who taste the beers like them, commenting all of the beers are to style. I hit my targets on this system, which I set out for all my brews. I sometimes, just have to be more creative in the brewing process.

One trick I use for my Hefeweizen, is to add dextrose in the boil for more banana notes in the final beer. The idea is to increase isoamyl acetate production, leading to more fruity notes associated with the style.

It’s one example where I’ve used alternative brewing processes, to achieve desired results in a beer brewed.

Why 3-Vessel System? Small Brewery Equipment List

A 3-vessel system helps if you plan to grow in the future. It’s quicker and easier to brew double batches in one day with a 3-vessel system. You should also have a larger HLT (hot liquor tank) too.

The HLT ideally, would be at least double the size of the brewhouse. For example, if you’ve a 500-liter system, get a 1,000-liter HLT minimum.

Please note: There exists alternative options to have a 3-vessel system on a 2-tank footprint. These systems though have smaller HLT’s or use the brew kettle for heating water. Not ideal, as they make double brew days tough and LONG!

German Style Three Vessel Brewhouse On A Two Vessel Footprint - Small Brewery Equipment List

So, if you’re planning to scale up, to fill more 1,000-liter FV’s from a 500-liter brewhouse in the future, for example. A brewhouse with three dedicated brewhouse vessels and a larger HLT, makes a brewers life easier.

Furthermore, your brewhouse efficiencies will be better too. Yes, there are greater upfront costs but it’s still cheaper than trying to scale up at a later date. From a system already pushed to the max.

What Type of Heating? Small Brewery Equipment List

At 500-liters system can still have electric heating, but if a brewer wants the ability to step mash; electric steam generators are the preferred option in most instances.

Electric Steam Generator - Small Brewery Equipment List
This is an electric steam generator

When opting for steam, one must check a steam generator is allowed where the brewery building is situated. Some local laws depending on location, might not allow a steam generator or you’ll need to have a low pressure one.

To learn more about steam heating please see our guide here.

Honestly depending on needs, future plans and available space; a two-vessel system for a brew length between 500 and 1,000-liters is adequate. You can still double brew in a day, but it may take 11-hours.

If you want to discuss options available in more detail, then please feel free to reach out me at:

neil@asianbeernetwork.com

One final note: Most systems come with a brewhouse platform as standard (if needed). However, please check with your equipment manufacturer. The brewing platform should be included and listed in any quotation provided.

Small Brewery Equipment List – Checking Brewhouse Vessel Volumes

When you want to check your brewhouse volumes. I mean, know how much liquid is in the mash tun (water volume) or kettle (wort volume). You have three options:

  1. Use a dipstick provided by the equipment supplier
  2. Have sight glasses (usually plastic or glass tubes) with graduated volumes levels visible.
  3. Inline flowmeters
Small Brewery Equipment List - Flowmeter for Pilot Brewery
This is the Chinese made flowmeter we have for a pilot system – works with low flow rates

On small systems, options one or two are typically chosen. I like having both a dipstick and sight glass for my mash/lauter tun. I use the dipstick to measure the water added to the mash tun.

With smaller systems, you generally put all the water in the mash tun first, then add the malt to it. Having a sight glass on the mash/lauter tun, allows a brewer to see how much liquid is in the vessel as you’re collecting the wort to the kettle during the lauter.

My Big System - Sight Glass in Red
On my big system you can see the sight glass and graduated volume level reader, ringed in red

It helps a brewer reduce the chances of running the mash/lauter tun dry thus causing the mash bed to collapse. On the kettle, I like having a sight glass, but happy to use a dipstick too.

Flow meters are expensive and not strictly necessary on small systems. Furthermore, with smaller system, often the collection of wort to the kettle is too slow for a normal flowmeter to work properly.

VFD Controls for Brewhouse Pumps

When controlling the collection speed of the wort to the kettle, it’s nice to have a VFD (variable frequency drive) control for the lauter pump. It can be simple as turning a knob on a manual control panel, to control the speed.

Variable Control Speed Knob for Brewing - Small Brewery Equipment List
An example of a variable control switch which can be used to control a brewhouse pumps speed

Having this function, allows a brewer fine control of the speed of the wort being collected to the kettle. Once a brewer becomes familiar with the system, it allows them to collect the wort with confidence every brew day.

So, a brewer can then do other things (like cellaring tasks), without needing to watch the collection all the time. Furthermore, you want to take your time collecting wort to the brew kettle.

Ideally, you’ll collect the wort over a 90-minutes period, for decent brewhouse efficiencies. This is just a guide, with each brewery being different.

When it comes to collecting wort from the kettle/whirlpool to the fermentation vessel (FV), you need to control the temperature of the wort.

You don’t need to a VFD control here. Instead, a brewer can use manual valves to control the speed of the wort to FV or the cold water/glycol used for cooling. Either option allows the wort to be collected at the target temperature.

Auxiliary Brewhouse Additions – Small Brewery Equipment List

There are a few extras I like to have, for the brewhouse. These are:

Hop strainer

Having a hop strainer after the whirlpool and before the heat exchanger offers extra protection, to ensure no hop materials or other solids make it to the heat exchanger.

You want to keep your heat exchanger clean, as they are a big source of potential infection. Plus, any solids in the heat exchanger, makes it less efficient too.

You want a hop strainer which can be isolated and taken out . So, if it becomes blocked; it can be removed, cleaned and then put it back in place.

Aeration Assembly

A brewer needs to be able to add pure oxygen to the wort as it’s being collected to the FV. Having an aeration assembly after the heat exchanger is ideal.

It’s usually an aeration stone with microscopic-holes in it. Which allows oxygen to be absorbed into the wort, as makes its way to the FV.

Aeration Assembly for a Small Brewery - Small Brewery Equipment List
An example of an brewery aeration assembly unit

Furthermore, if you do use oxygen. I’d recommend getting a flowmeter which is connected to your oxygen bottle. So, the amount of oxygen being used can be measured.

They aren’t expensive, and it’s better than doing by eye, giving a brewer more control. The one pictured below is actually meant for medical use. However, in China, we often use them in brewing too.

Oxygen Flow Meter for Brewing - Small Brewery Equipment List
This really meant for medical use but can be used in brewing

Sample Point

Having a sample point after the heat exchanger is nice for taking wort gravities and pH. Ideally though, a brewer takes a sample at the end of or in the last few minutes of the boil to check gravity and wort pH.

As then the boil can then be extended, if the gravity is too low. Or water added if the gravity is too high.

Heat ExchangerSmall Brewery Equipment List

There are three main options, when it comes to choosing a heat exchanger:

  1. Single stage heat exchanger – Using glycol only.
  2. Two-stage heat exchanger – Using glycol and mains water
  3. One stage heat exchanger using cold water (from mains or CLT [cold water tank])

The choice is down to personal preference. I’ve seen all option used. This subject is quite hard to write about in detail. As the right option is based on individual circumstances.

It’d take a whole article to explain which option is best, for each possible circumstance. So as before, please reach out to me, if you want to discuss this subject or other system needs in more detail.

Steam Condenser – Small Brewery Equipment List

When you boil wort in the kettle, you inevitably make steam. You don’t really want this steam “fogging up” your brewhouse. With a very small system, a brewer is probably OK without a condenser, as the steam produced is manageable.

You do need to keep your kettle manway open during boiling for allowing the steam to escape (if you don’t have a flue, chimney or condenser). To know why and to learn more about the importance of the boil please, read our in-depth article.

Still, I like to have condenser if possible. But, if costs are tight, it’s piece of equipment a brewer might be able to do without.

Small Brewery Steam Condenser - Small Brewery Equipment List
The steam is cooled by water and goes to the drain

On larger system especially, anything over 500-liters. I’d recommended having a steam condenser fitted to the brew kettle. These condensers use mains water to cool the steam down, turning it into water, which then goes to the drain.

Hot-Water and Cold-Water Tanks

This comes down to space, I do like to have a HLT if possible. You can heat up the water in the tank the day before. Or have a timer to heat the water overnight so, it ready for the brew day.

If you’re looking to double brew now, or in the future then having a tank which twice the size of the brewhouse is ideal.

If you’re planning to stick to single brews, housing a smaller HLT is feasible. Ideally, I’d have the HLT, at least the size of the brew length.

So, there’s water for cleaning (kegs and CIP’s) too. With a smaller HLT a brewer will need to top up and heat the HLT during the day.

On Demand Hot Water

These days on smaller systems, brewers are opting for tankless on demand hot water systems. If you’re stuck for space, this option might just work for you.

As I say I do prefer to have an HLT, as I like to have a bank of hot water in my brewhouse. I might be a bit old school, as I know of brewers who swear by the tankless hot water.

Tankless On Demand Hot Water - Small Brewery Equipment List
An example of a tankless hot water system

If space is at a premium, then this option is certainly viable. I never brewed on a system without a hot liquor tank, but can see the advantages for sure.

Cold Liquor Tank and Water Mixing StationSmall Brewery Equipment List

With smaller systems (300-liter and below) having a cold-liquor tank may not make sense. When you’re at 500-liters or higher, a brewer can explore the option of having a cold-water tank, if there’s room for one.

I like to have a cold-water tank, cooled by the glycol system a day or two before brewing. Using cold water from a tank, calls for a one stage heat exchange. Where the hot water made, is collected back into HLT, for furthers brews or cleaning.

In all honesty though, the smaller the brewing system, the less the need for a cold liquor tank.

Reverse Osmosis Machine (RO Machine)

I’ll only cover it quickly here. You’ll need to have the water from your brewery analyzed. For information about brewing water and treatment please, see our in-depth article here.

In certain parts of the world such as China, where I’m brewing. The mains water is of such bad quality, an RO machine is needed. It purifies the water stripping it of ions, particles and dissolved matter.

Mini RO Machines - 200 Gallons per Day - Small Brewery Equipment List
These are made in China, if you want more info on these RO Machines please contact me. Price is USD 1,250

Treated water from the RO machine is like working with a “blank canvas”. You add the salts needed for the beer being brewed, back into the brewing water. The salts needed depends on the style of beer planned.

In many parts of the world an RO machine isn’t required in the brewery. For instance, when I brewed in Yerevan, Armenia the water was almost perfect for lager brewing. We’d just adds salts when brewing ales.

As I said you need to check the water at the planned brewery location, to see if it needs treating in any way.

Water Mixing Station

A water mixing station is used to control the mash and sparge water temperature. If the hot liquor from the HLT is too hot, the water mixing station allows for cold water to be added cooling it down.

So, the desired water temperature needed for the brew can be hit. With a smaller system, it’s not needed. A brewer can heat the water in the HLT to the desired water temperature for mashing in. Then during the mash stand, top up and heat the water so, it’s the correct temp for lautering.

Fermentation Vessels / Unitanks and Cellar Tank – Small Brewery Equipment List

I’ve written in-depth posts about the different cellar tanks available for breweries, in the following articles:

Unitanks Pros and Cons Article – Learn all about unitanks and other cellar tanks available.

Serving Tanks Cold Room or Jackets – Which type of serving tank is right for your planned brewery?

Buying a Commercial Fermenter – Tips on how to get the right FV’s for a planned project.

As the above articles cover all you need to know. I’ll just cover the topic quickly here.

On small systems; unitanks rather than dedicated FV’s are preferable. Allowing a brewer to both ferment and mature the beer, in the same tank.

Spunding and Carbonation

Ideally, unitanks allow a brewer to the spund the beer for natural carbonation. As well as house carbonation stones too.

The addition of carbonation stones is personal preference. The stones are usually placed just above the cone in the unitank. Some brewers opt to have these stones in their unitanks, for the ability to quickly carbonate beer if needed.

Carbonation Stone Brewing
Carbonation Stone for Brewing – Put In Unitanks Just Above The Cone

Unitanks should have double jackets so, they can be cooled by glycol or cold water. Allowing the fermentation temperature, to be regulated and set using the FV control panel.

It’s also best to have a movable racking arm on a unitank. Rather than a fixed raised second outlet. It allows more finished beer to be taken from each brew.

Do You Use Serving Tanks?

On smaller systems, a brewer may want to serve beer directly from the tank. As it means less cleaning plus, saves time not having to keg the beer too.

To learn more about serving tanks please see the article linked. For fast selling beers, pulling the beer directly from the tank to the bar, makes sense.

As an example, here in China where I’m based, wheat beers sell really well. A lot of brewpubs here pour the wheat beer direct from the tank, it was brewed in, to serve at the bar.

When the wheat beer tank is around 25 to 30% full. The brewer will empty the rest of the beer into kegs, clean the tank and brew another batch back into it.

This saves a lot of time and means less kegs have to cleaned and filled. The rest of the beer now in kegs, is then served off the same or another draft line to the bar.

Cold Room – Small Brewery Equipment List

All breweries even small ones will need a cold room. These are for storing and serving kegs from. If you’ve opted for single shell serving tanks then you’ll need a bigger cold room to house these vessels.

Coolbot- Small Brewery Equipment List
In the US, many brewers use a Coolbot for a easy and cheap solution

You can also keep certain raw materials, like hops in the cold room too. Size will depend on needs.

BBT’s (Brite Beer Tanks)

Ideally, it’s nice to have one BBT (brite beer tank) for every four unitanks. BBT’s are handy, if a brewer plans to clear a beer using finings, or even use a small filter like a sheet filter.

Commercial Small Space Brewing - FV on top of BBT
FV on Top of BBT – Idea Floorspace Saver if You Have the Ceiling Height

Mobile Transfer Pump – Small Brewery Equipment List

Every brewery; whatever the size needs a mobile transfer pump. These pumps have many uses around the brewery and it’s best to have VFD control if possible. They can be used for the following:

CIP – Clean in place of tanks and pipework

Transferring – Moving beer from one tank to another

Mixing and dosing adjuncts and finings – After adding finings to a tank, I like to recirc the beer from the bottom of the tank, back through the racking arm for proper mixing.

Emergency uses – If a brewhouse vessel goes down, a transfer pump can be used in an emergency. Just be careful, as sometimes the seals on a transfer pump aren’t rated for long use, with very hot liquids.

A transfer pump is one of the workhorses of any brewery. On a smaller system you only need one. However, keep a spare set of seals in the brewery for it.

Transfer pumps generally runs well without many problems. If there’s an issue it’s usually when the seals go.

Additionally make sure the transfer pump has a cover. This protects the pump from getting wet, and the electrics fried.

Beer-to-Go: Allow Customers to Take Beer Home

As I said before; the most profit from beer comes when it’s sold in-house. You want give people the ability to take beer from the taproom home with them. At the smaller-scale the set-up can be quite simple.

You can pour beer from your taps into an open can, seam/close the can with a seaming machine and then the beer is ready to go. Pictured below is a seaming machine, these are easy to source and use.

Tips for Running a Small Brewery - Cannular

If you go this route, make sure customers are aware the beer is best drunk as soon as possible. So, the beer is fresh and tastes how the beer was conceived to be.

People being able to take beer home means they become like brand ambassadors, sharing beer friends and offering free word-of-mouth advertising.

Please note: Using a machine like the cannular pictured above, takes time. Therefore, if a customer wants to “beer-to-go” they should give prior notice. Allowing time for the cans to be prepared in advance, to avoid the customer having to wait.

Small Brewery Equipment List – Other Small BUT IMPORTANT Stuff

These small but important parts, often get overlooked, when planning a brewery. However, the best equipment manufacturers, will supply much of the list below as standard with any order.

  • Stainless steel T-pieces
  • Tri-clamps for hoses and connecting other stuff
  • Stainless steel right angles
  • Tri-clamp gaskets
  • Sight glass with tri-clamp fittings
  • Pig tails for taking samples from tanks
  • Connections for CO2
  • Butterfly valves

The list of extra parts can get pretty long. Below is a video of some of the parts listed above put together, which allows me to add finings to a beer without having to open a tank.

The Set Up I Use To Add Finings To A Close Tank

These extra pieces simply make a brewer’s life easier. As they can be rigged in different ways, to perform certain tasks, like adding finings to a closed tank.

There’s also a bunch of other stuff you need for a brewery, which isn’t supplied by an equipment manufacturer. Such a saccharometers, thermometers even down to the small items like plastic graduated jugs for measuring out chemicals.

Please note: I would also like to say at this point PPE (personal protective equipment) is possibly the most important equipment in any brewery!

Items such as goggles, gloves for handling chemicals and proper work boots are some of the most important items needed.

Kegging Equipment ­- Small Brewery Equipment List

If you’re running a small brewery, it’s most likely a brewpub. As we discussed before, you want the ability to keg beer, even if you have serving tanks.

As you don’t want to wait till your tanks are totally empty before brewing back into them.

Even if you plan to do a small amount of kegging, I’d advise having some form of keg cleaner. Even if it’s just a DIY solution, you make yourself.

Small Brewery Equipment List - DIY Keg Cleaner
An example of a basic DIY keg cleaner

Manually cleaning kegs is too time consuming. With a small operation, it’s likely a one-person setup or a main brewer and an assistant.

Spending most of the day trying to clean 10 kegs by hand isn’t the best use of time. A small one head cleaner doesn’t have to be expensive.

A small machine will:
  • Ensure kegs are cleaned properly (over manual cleaning)
  • Saves on chemicals
  • A real time saver – As the kegs are cleaning on the machine, a brewer can be doing something else. For instance, small cellaring tasks
  • Ensure kegs a properly purged and filled with CO2 ready for beer (with a proper designed machine).

On a small system, yes, a brewer might use the machine only once a week. But over the keg cleaner’s lifetime, it’ll pay for itself in time, labor and chemicals saved. Plus, it’ll clean the kegs more thoroughly, compared to manual cleaning too.

Fill the Beer by Hand into Kegs – Small Brewery Equipment List

You can fill kegs by hand on small systems. Needing just need a rig coming off the FV via the racking arm or bottom of the BBT. You can then fill via a keg coupler (remove the one-way restrictor) into the keg.

An example of kegging beer by hand - small brewery equipment list
Here’s are example of a brewer kegging beer by hand

Small Brewery Equipment List – Conclusions

This turned into a pretty big article. I hope you picked up some useful tips along the way. As you can see, there’s a lot to think about when putting a small brewery equipment list together.

I’ve tried to cover most of the basics in this article. It gets deeper as you lock all the elements of a proposed brewhouse in. I’ve been making equipment lists for planned breweries for a number of years now.

There are so many factors to consider such as, what beer styles are to be brewed. Plus, do you want certain beers to be clear too?

If you need assistance with your brewery project, then please feel free to reach out. My email is:

neil@asianbeernetwork.com

With my 25-years of brewing experience I help people with:
  • Putting equipment lists together
  • Sourcing equipment needed from reputable suppliers within budget
  • Detailing the brewing process on a new system or improving current SOP’s
  • Formulating recipes
  • Creating forms for breweries, from brew sheets to production schedules

Plus, a whole lot more…simply email me or scan the QR code of your preferred network below, add me and then message me there directly.

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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