Starting A Brewery Questions

I want to share with you the starting a brewery questions I asked my clients when I first chat with them. The answers to these 9 questions give me the framework I need to understand their project.

Understanding these questions and being able to answer them is a good first step in your quest to open a brewery. So, I thought why not share, and if you need help answering them, please feel free to reach out.

My email is: neil@asianbeernetwork.com

Starting A Brewery Questions

If you can’t answer all the questions, it’s fine. In this instance; on the first call with a client, I’d ask questions around the subject to help provide an answer. Also, please note most people don’t have a location when they first contact me.

I will always include the question because, if you do have a location, it obviously helps the project. Anyway, let’s get to it, and start with question one.

Question #1 – What Type A Brewery Do You Plan to Be?

There a several types of breweries, from brewpub to farm brewery. Please read my article on the different brewery types here, to go into more detail about the subject. Understanding the type of brewery, you want to be, locks in few things, for example:

Production Brewery – Location is less important than a brewpub. Layout of equipment becomes critical for work flows to save money and labour costs. Depending on where your brewery is located, you might want more automation (higher startup costs) as it’ll pay itself back in saved labour over time.

Nano Brewery – Hyper local brewing (300L system or less) is a growing trend in craft beer and one I discuss in my article here. When it comes to hyper local, space is usually the main concern. We talk about ceiling heights and whether we can stack tanks to save space. Which allows you have more customers at your location.

Asian Brewing Consultant Stacked Fermentation Tanks
Stacked Tanks to Save Space

Larger Brewpub – I get clients wanting brewpubs in the 10 to 20 hectoliter (HL) range. In this range, the client might consider packaging in to cans as well. Expansion and growth should be considered in a fixed location where space can become an issue.

The point is, knowing what type of brewery you plan to be, locks in what your priorities are for the brewhouse and build out.

Starting A Brewery Questions #2 – How Big is Your Brewhouse?

It does tie into question one, well all these questions are interwoven of course. However, size of brewhouse will tells us a few things. A rule of thumb is for every 1HL of brewhouse you need 10 meters square of space for the brewhouse.

It’s not set in stone, but a good starting point. If you’re nano brewery under 300 liters, then electric heating is probably the ideal option for your brewhouse. I cover brewery heating in more detail below.

You don’t have to lock in an exact size now, but a guesstimate of size is needed. Also be aware, when going bigger in size the price increase isn’t logarithmic. For example, a 1,000-liter brewery isn’t twice the price a 500-liter brewery.

The work needed to fabricate the brewhouse is similar, you’re instead paying for the extra materials. If the budget allows, it’s worth going bigger at the start; as it can save on labour and financial commitments in the long run.

Please see our brewery design tips article where we cover planning for expansion.

Starting A Brewery Questions #3 – How Many Tanks?

There are several types of tanks you can have in a brewery. In our article about the pro’s and con’s of unitanks, We discuss other tanks types too. Tanks take up space and also need a cooling system to regulate their temperatures.

Understanding the number of tanks you need, will allow us to know how much space is needed for the brewing area. As well as size of compressor and glycol tank needed as well.

Tank sizing is a key area for discussion too. It’s worth having double size tanks (twice the size of your brewhouse) to brew your biggest seller in to.

Beers Taps at Fat Fat Beer Horse Xiamen - Starting A Brewery Questions
Beers Taps at Fat Fat Beer Horse Xiamen

#4 – The Number of Brewhouse Vessels Required

The main brewhouse vessels are:

Mash mixer – Where your mix hot liquor, malt and any adjuncts to get the brew started.

Lauter tun – Where the wort (sugar liquid) is separated from the solids of the mash and sent to the brew kettle.

Brew kettle – Where the wort is boiled and the hops added.

Whirlpool – Where precipitate solids (from the boil) and hop particles are separated from the hot wort and left behind. As the liquid goes via the heat exchanger to the fermentation vessel.

There are many configurations a brewer can have in their brewhouse. However, here are the most common options:

2-vessels system – A combined mash/lauter tun and combined kettle/whirlpool. Generally used for smaller systems, where space is a premium or you’re on a smaller budget.

3-vessels system – You have two options here, combined mash/lauter with separate kettle and whirlpool or separate mash and lauter and combined kettle/whirlpool. They both have their advantages and disadvantages. I’m happy to discuss them if you’d like to get in contact.

4-vessel system – This is where you generally have a separate mash, lauter, kettle and whirlpool. They can be a square formation or linear.

The advantage of a four-vessel system is you can perform multiple steps at the same time. This increases the number of turns (brews) you can do in one day. So, better for a production brewery.

Starting A Brewery Questions #5 – Which Beer Styles Will You Brew?

There are two main beer styles; ale and lager. Lagers need longer in tank than ales. We call this tank residency. In brewing most breweries, they brew 50 weeks per year, this accounts for public holidays.

If you make a lot of lager which spends at least 4 weeks in tank, you can brew 12.5 times per year into these tanks:

50 weeks / 4 weeks per brew = 12.5 brew per annum

If you make a lot of ales, they might have a 2-week turn around time. Meaning you can brew 25 times a year into a tank.

50 weeks / 2 weeks per brew = 25 brew per annum

You can brew more beer per annum from the same number of tanks, if you make mostly ales. It’s not always this easy but it shows the point I’m making. The beer styles you brew influences your brewery setup.

Brewing Process Step-By-Step - Brewhouse
Flow chart of brew day I did for a client regarding a setup he was suggesting

Question #6 – Do You Have a Location?

As I said in the introduction most people don’t have a location when they first get in touch with me. This is fine, however if you do have a location, it really helps. It can be given to your chosen equipment supplier so; they can start working on equipment layout.

This will allow you to discuss utility outlets with your contractor with the help of the manufacturer. As we said in question one, if you have a small system and tanks, you might be able to stack your FV’s. Knowing the height of the building, allows us to know if stacking vessels is viable.

For more information about brewery building requirements, please click the link for the our 8 tips.

Starting A Brewery Questions #7 – What’s Your Preferred Heating Option?

I’ve done a whole series of articles on this subject. The first article in my heating series is on electric heating, which you can read here. If you’re at 500-liters or under for your brewhouse, it makes sense to go electric.

Electric takes up less space than steam or direct fire in your brewery. Is the easiest and cheapest to set up. Electric however, is usually the most expensive to run. On larger systems, steam is the preferred option of brewers, as it gives them more control and even heating.

However, in some location steam isn’t allowed on health and safety grounds. If you plan to brew in a remote location, then direct fire may be the best option, as you can work off propane gas.

Starting A Brewery Questions - Which Heating Option?
You can use propane for heating your brew kettle

#8 – Predicted Sales and Growth

This is a tricky one to answer. However, having an idea of beer volume sales predicted for year one, helps when planning the brewery. Sales figures and the size of the brewhouse, determines the number of brews per month needed.

In a brewery, brewing is only one part of the job. A brewer spends 85% of their time cleaning plus, cellaring is as important (if not more) than the brew days. If you have a small system and are one person, or a brewer and assistant, you cannot brew every day.

Starting A Brewery Questions #9 – Auxiliary Equipment

I’ll ask you what auxiliary equipment you need. The most common piece of auxiliary equipment a client needs, is a keg washer. On a small system, I always suggest a keg washer only, and to fill kegs by hand. It’s generally quicker, easier and makes you more flexible.

Double Head Keg Washer I Sourced in China for a Client

Other equipment required maybe a small-scale canning line for takeout beers. These can be lower tech solutions on a smaller scale. However, low-cost solutions compromise on shelf-life, which is reduced and needs to be conveyed to the customer.

In larger production breweries, packaging is a major part of the business. The equipment sourced needs to be thoroughly vetted. The main concern is the DO (dissolved oxygen) number.

When packaging, there’ll always be some oxygen pick-up. You want to keep this number low to increase shelf life (ideally below 25ppb). It pays to invest in good packaging lines as well as lab equipment to check your numbers.

Starting A Brewery Questions – Conclusions

And that’s all folks, these are the main questions I ask when speaking with a new client. With the answers to these questions, I’ve can get a good handle on the project and start to plan the next steps.

My first action is to type up notes into a document, regarding the conversation we had then sharing it with the client.

They’ll agree on all points covered are correct and/or potentially add their own notes. When locked in and agreed upon, we then move to the next step. Which is contacting recommended suppliers.

We now have a follow-up article. Where other discussion points are explored so we can get closer to making brewery projects dreams a reality.

To read Starting a Brewery Follow-Up Questions please click the link.

Need Help With Your Brewery Planning?

If you’re planning to open a brewery and need help answering the above questions, then please feel free to reach out.

I offer 30-minute FREE consultation, where you can introduce me to your proposed project.

The more of the above questions you can answer the better. However, after multiple installs, and 25+ years brewing on various systems. I’ve got a handle of brewhouse requirements for most situations. So, can talk you through the various options.

If you’d like to chat then please contact via email at:

neil@asianbeernetwork.com

Or scan the QR code below to add me to your preferred network and message me there. I look forward to hearing about your project.

Have a great day.

Cheers

Neil

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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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