The idea for writing an article on tips for running a small brewery came after a conversation with a potential client, looking to open a brewery in a remote location.
Being in a remote location, complicates a project for many reasons but a main consideration is raw material buying. The project is planned as a 200-liter brewery, producing three different beers to begin with. The client is looking at a skid-mounted brewery like the one below.
The ideal scenario is to use malt and hops, which can be used for more than one beer. As it’ll help with material ordering and stock handling, because there’ll be less varieties carried.
After the conversation with my client, I realized some of the points discussed, could be applied to smaller, nano-sized breweries, especially when they’re just starting out.
When opening a new brewery there are many factors to consider. So, I thought a quick article sharing some of the tips to running a small brewery I’ve learnt over the years, could benefit some of my readership.
Please note: Many of these tips are for smaller new (or planned) breweries, but some can be applied to bigger craft breweries, already operational for some time.
Whatever You Do, Do It Well – Tips for Running a Small Brewery
This may seem obvious, but I wanted to stress, set some realistic goals. If you start out wanting 15 beers on tap to become a destination for craft…it’s tough to deliver.
If you’ve a lot of experience in brewing, this may be achievable. However, as I said there’s much to consider, when starting a new brewery.
I know of one place here in China, they opened a small brewpub. Whilst waiting for the brewery to be commissioned and installed, they did a bunch of small batch brewing, to trial recipes.
They wanted to fill their 15 taps and use a lot of adjuncts in the brews to make some interesting beers. When they opened, they had a lot of issues with head retention and beers they weren’t really happy with.
The response to their beers on opening was underwhelming. It’s hard to come back from a rough opening. Good news with these guys was, they went on to become an award-winning brewery within the year…so, there was a happy ending.
However, on reflection they now believe if they’d started with some more basic approachable beers, it would have led to a more successful opening.
Less Can Be More
I advise clients to start with fewer core beers and get them locked in. When you’re happy and can brew them consistently, spread your “brewing wings”. Branching out into more experimental styles.
It’s better to offer less doing them well, than doing more beers without being totally happy with many of them. Yes, you can still produce some specials and seasonal at the beginning to keep regulars and “craftheads’ happy.
Furthermore, while building your customer base, offering fewer beers on tap helps keep the beers you serve fresher. As you’ll be cycling through batches faster.
On a small system, some of your regular beers will need to be brewed often to keep them on tap. You’ll find certain beers almost need to be brewed every weekly. More on this later.
If you’ve something interesting on tap, keep it exclusive where possible. Give your regulars a heads up when something new is on, letting them have the first taste.
You’ll see more returning customers, if you are known for knocking out solid beers. It’s a reputation you can build from, becoming more experimental, when you know your system and customer base plus, even extend the number of taps.
Which neatly leads to our next point…
Tips for Running a Small Brewery – Raw Material Considerations
When running a smaller, and doing less beers. Work on your recipes so, you use some of the same malt and hops in different beers you brew. At the smaller end of brewhouse size (300 to 500-liters), a 25Kg bag of specialist malt, can last a long time.
You’ll go through a bag of hops quicker, if you use them in a few of the beers you produce. For example, using the same hop for the bittering additions of most of your beers. Even better, use a bittering hop extract, like Flex from Bath Haas.
If using hop leaf or pellets; choose a high alpha hop which doesn’t cost too much. Using a high alpha acid hop means you’ll use less hops in the brew. So, less beer losses.
Some of the popular bittering hops in the brewing industry are; Magnum and Warrior, as they offer high alpha acid, but smooth bitterness. Plus, they are reasonably priced.
I like using a CO2 extract bittering product for most of the beers I brew. My go to is Flex but there are other options out there. It comes in 2Kg sizes and lasts for two years when stored correctly.
So, even on a small system, you’ll have the time to use it all up. Why do I like using a CO2 extract bittering hop product?
- It’s consistent and provides smooth bitterness
- Means I reduce the hop matter in the kettle so, easier to clean up and less beer losses
- Usable for two years and easy to store.
I’ve recommended Flex to several brewers and they’ve all liked using it. With many making the switch away from bittering hops in their brewery, entirely.
Please note: I’m aware, for certain beer styles, brewers like to use low alpha, noble hops for bittering to be true to style.
For more info on the art of bitterness please see our article “Brewing a Balanced Beer – The Art of Bitterness”.
Malt – Tips for Running a Small Brewery
As we said earlier; if you can use the same malts in few different beers you brew, it’ll help with stock inventory and simplify your life.
Of course, it depends on the beers you plan to brew, as they’ll influence the malts you use. For example, Light Munich can be a great all-round malt, in many beer styles as a body-builder.
Currently I’m using Light Munich in my stout (10.5% of the grain bill), house IPA (12.2%), Double IPA (4.7%) and my Smoked Lager (27.4%). It can be used in many styles of beer as seen in Weyermann’s malt catalogue suggestions below:
Your typical base malts are, ale, pilsner and wheat. These malts make up the majority of your malt order. You want to choose the right specialty malts where conceivable to make them as useful as possible.
There’s one particular adjunct, I use a lot in my brewing…oats. They can be used in the grain bill of many beer styles.
I use oats in my Belgian Wit, NEIPA’s, Stout (different styles of stouts too) and to make various ales. When I want to add a creamy texture, fuller body and silky mouthfeel.
If you want to learn more about brewing with oats; then check out Scott Janish’s article Brewing with Oats and this Grainfather article too. It’s an underappreciated adjunct in my opinion.
Also worth noting, on a smaller-scale, when using flaked oats. They’re easy to source, as you can use instant oats purchased from a supermarket. Which can be preferable to buying a big bag from a maltster, that lasts forever!
Supermarket bought oats, are cheap and have already undergone starch gelatisation so, can be easily added directly to the mash.
Tips for Running a Small Brewery – Let Customers Take the Experience Home
The specials on tap helping bring people in, should also be available to take home too. Offering growlers or cans to go, allows people to take you beers away to share with friends and family.
People sharing their tasting experience with others, means they almost become your ambassadors; spreading free word-of-mouth advertising for you.
In its simplest form, you can pour beer from the tap into an open can, seam/close the can using a seamer machine (like the one pictured below) and the beer is ready to go.
Just, make sure your patrons are aware the beer is best drunk as soon as possible, for freshness and for the beer to taste as it was conceived to be.
Also, beer purchased on site represent the best profit margin for small-scale breweries. So, providing “cans to go” helps increase the running capital of the brewery. A machine like the cannular pictured above, will soon pay for itself.
One thing to note: Using such a machine takes time. So, it’s best to make customers aware if they want take-away beer, to give notice of their order. Then it can be prepared in advance, to avoid waiting times.
Create Some Documents
A few simple documents can make running a brewery easier. We talk about brewery planning an organization in more detail here. Even the smallest of breweries can benefit from keeping track of their brews and beer stock, thus allowing them to plan for the future.
I created a file, to keep track of beer inventory. Furthermore, on this file I plug in weekly sales volume for each beer brewed.
As it’s an Excel file; populated with some simple formulas, it tells me how many weeks stock of each beer I have in the brewery. Be it in tank, keg or other pack type.
This lets me know when I need to brew the next batch of a particular beer. Knowing which beers, I need to brew in the next month or so, helps me with raw material ordering.
Raw Material Ordering
I then use another file for raw material ordering, pictured above. The file lists all the malt, hops, adjuncts and other ingredients used in the brewery.
All beers brewed have their own column, and we input how much of each raw material we use in every beer. Each raw material has its own row.
So, we use pale ale malt in our IPA, Double IPA, Stout and wheat beer. The file adds up all the pale ale malt needed for the brewing planned, through the formulas we’ve created on the Excel file.
We also have a column of what’s in stock. A raw material inventory is taken before we plan to do some ordering. The Excel file subtracts what we’ve in stock from what is need. So, we know how much of each raw material we need to order.
It may seem like a lot of work for a small brewery, but creating the Excel sheet (other software is available) once, will save time in the future and lessen the chance of human error.
If you’d like a version of my file for your own need. I offer service where I create an exclusive file just for your brewery and needs. Just email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Recording Data – Tips for Running a Small Brewery
In many of my articles, I stress the importance of recording data. Every brewery needs to keep records. The more you input, the more data you have to refer to when tweaking and improving recipes.
If there’s an issue somewhere in the brewing process and a beer doesn’t turn out as you planned. Then referring back to your notes; helps diagnose where the issue may have arisen.
Every brewery should have a brew sheet with plenty of space to make notes. It should have space to write down all the important data points. For example:
- Mash water volume & amount of malt used => Your liquor to grist ratio
- The pH of the mash
- Mash temperatures and times
- First running’s gravity
- Kettle collection volume, gravity and pH
- Post boil volume, gravity and pH
- Collection temperature to the FV
I’ve only listed a few key metrics, there are many others, such as your yeast information. For example, which generation of yeast are you using. As I said before; this article is mostly geared towards those just starting out or planning a brewery.
I really want to drive home the point the best way to learn, improve and understand your brewing equipment, is to make a lot of notes.
I’ve been brewing for over 25-years and probably take more notes now, than I’ve ever done during my career. It’s a life-long commitment.
Tips for Running a Small Brewery – Preventative Maintenance
This is a BIG one for me and one I’ve constantly had trouble with in my brewing career.
Every year in April/May (Northern Hemisphere), before summer starts and the weather really warm up. I like to have an engineer check the compressors for the glycol system and cold room.
It usually leads to the engineer doing some cleaning and topping up of the compressors with Freon gas. More often than not, brewery owners I’ve worked for say it’s OK. If there is an issue, we can get it fixed.
However, I’ve been brewing for 25-years so, I like to think, I know a thing or two such as…
- Summers are generally the busiest times of year, where you’re making the most beer
- Summers are hot and your machines need to work harder to keep everything cold
- HVAC / Air-con engineers are busiest in the summer
So, do you know what usually happens? The brewery cooling usually goes down at some point in the summer (if it’s not been maintained).
As it is so hot, all the beer which you want to keep cold warms up quickly due to high ambient temperatures. The engineers are busy, because everyone is using their aircon, and a lot of them break.
It leads to two scenarios:
- You have to pay a premium to get the engineer to come
- You have to wait and hope your beer doesn’t suffer
If the engineer had come in May, and serviced the machine. It reduces the chance of the compressors breaking in the height of summer.
It’s the same for most of the equipment in your brewery. Take time to check it, when you’ve some down time. For example, at least once a year (I prefer every 6-months) break down the heat exchanger, visually inspect plus clean it manually.
Some brewing equipment needs regular greasing, from the mill to the gear on your sheet filter. On packaging lines, there are often grease point for the conveyor belts.
If you’ve a boiler, ideally once a month you should back flush the coils. When the equipment is installed, make sure you speak with the engineer covering how to carry out the best preventative maintenance. Make notes on all the engineer says.
Plus, make sure the water treatment to prevent corrosion is topped up for the boiler too. To learn more about brewery heating, start with part one of heating series.
Preventative maintenance has many benefits:
- Keeps brewery down time to a minimum
- Allows a brewery to run efficiently
- Saves money, as you have to carry out less critical repairs
- Increase the life span of your equipment
- Promotes health and safety
- Makes your team happier, because stuff works as its supposed too
I know it seems obvious, but often it’s been hard for me in the past to get others to agree or understand this concept. Although usually after a bad experience the first summer, owners have agreed with me the next May to call in an engineer to check the compressors.
Tips for Running a Small Brewery – Conclusions
Thanks for taking the time to read our post on tips for running a small brewery. It’s knowledge I’ve picked up in a 25-year brewing career, which I wanted to pass on.
I’ve learnt some things the hard way and well hopefully sharing information here will prevent you from experiencing some of the difficulties I’ve had in the past.
One of the biggest take-aways I can give you is to take notes. Be it on a brew sheet or when you’re discussing preventative maintenance with an engineer.
If you need more guidance with a brewing project, then please feel free to reach out to me at:
I’ve been brewing for over 25-years in various parts of the world on many different systems. I’ve done my fair share of brewhouse installs and can provide assistance in many areas:
- Putting brewery equipment lists together for a project
- Aid in the sourcing of brewing equipment for you needs and budget
- Recipe formulation
- Improving brewhouse processes
And much more. As I say, send me an email or scan the QR code of your preferred network below, add me and message me directly.
I look forward to hearing about your project, but for now have a great day and happy brewing.
Related articles for suggested follow-up reading:
Hyper-local Brewing – Small-Scale Brewing Can Be Profitable: Hyper Local Brewing – Small Can Be Profitable – Asian Beer Network
Small-Space Brewing – How to Fit a Brewery In Tight Space: Commercial Small Space Brewing – Asian Beer Network
What Gets Missed When Buying a Brewery – Lesson I’ve Learnt: What Gets Missed Buying a Brewery? – Asian Beer Network
Skid-Mounted Breweries – The Pros and Cons: Small Affordable Skid-Mounted Brewhouse – Asian Beer Network