From Grain to Glass: 10 Critical Pieces of Brewery Equipment
The number of operating breweries continues to grow in the United States, thanks in large part to the surge of microbreweries and home operations. More people are making their own beer from scratch, turning their hobbies into careers.
No matter how big or small your operation is, every brewery needs these 10 critical pieces of equipment.
Milling the grain is the first step in the brewing process, which occurs inside a malt mill. The mill crushes the grain into smaller pieces, allowing it to mix with the other ingredients. However, you don’t want the particles to be too fine. They should still have some volume so the mash doesn’t stick to the other containers later on.
The amount of grain you need depends on the type of beer you want to produce. Beers with a higher malt content require more grain, while lighter beers don’t need as much. As a general rule, you can expect to use 16 to 24 bushels per barrel once your operation is up and running. That’s a lot of grain, so you need to get a large and reliable malt mill.
The next step in the brewing process happens inside the mash tun, which mixes the smashed grain with water. Mash tuns are temperature controlled to heat the mixture and break down the grain’s starches into fermentable sugars — a conversion technique known as “saccharification”.
Sugar is crucial for brewing because it’s the key ingredient that turns yeast into alcohol. During the fermentation process, the sugar transitions into carbon dioxide and eventually ethanol. Without sugar, there is no beer, wine or liquor.
Next, you need to get a boiler or “boil kettle.” This piece of equipment is where you add all of the other ingredients — syrups, flavor additives and the all-important hops. The boiler mixes the ingredients and heats them at the ideal temperature of 212 degrees Fahrenheit to isomerize the mixture. This process takes between 90 and 120 minutes.
Many breweries opt for two on-demand, modular boilers to avoid overflow. Boilers require frequent cleaning, so you need a backup plan in case your primary boiler isn’t available.
After mixing and boiling the ingredients, you send them into fermentation tanks and add the final ingredient, yeast. Yeast turns the “wort” — the brewer’s term for sugary grain water — into alcohol through a slow process. The average beer takes one or two weeks to completely ferment, but higher-quality alcohol can take more than a year.
Fermentation tanks must remain in a consistent climate to do their job properly. If it gets too cold, the process will slow down. If it gets too warm, the process will speed up, and the ingredients won’t ferment properly. It will take some experimenting to determine the ideal temperature range for your unique recipe.
Once the fermentation is finished, you need to store the beer in brite tanks. Brite tanks look like regular liquid storage tanks, but they can also help the beer carbonate quicker if you put a carbonation stone inside. Faster carbonation allows you to package and sell the beer much sooner, leading to greater long-term profits.
As you transfer your recipe between the above tanks, you’ll need to filter the wort several times to remove solid grain and yeast. Some particles simply refuse to dissolve with the rest of the ingredients, so you need to remove them with filtration devices. There are many types of filtration machines for residential and commercial breweries:
- Plate filters
- Sheet filters
- Bag filters
- Cartridge filters
- Membrane filters
- Canister filters
- Depth filters
When you’re just starting out, the simpler devices like plate and sheet filters will be easiest to use. You can expand to more complex mechanical filters as your operation grows.
Hydrometers are critical for determining beer quality. They measure the amount of sugar in your wort or fermented beer, which in turn allows you to estimate alcohol content and keep the fermentation process on schedule. If the hydrometer is off, you know that you need to adjust the temperature inside the fermentation tank.
Kegs, Bottles and Cans
Now you’ve reached the packaging and distribution part of the brewing process. Your beer recipe is complete, so it’s time to transfer the finished product to kegs, bottles and cans. For start-up operations, bottles and cans are more practical. You can sell your product in six-packs, 12-packs and other smaller packages to keep your distribution costs down.
Sanitation is a non-negotiable part of the brewing process. Keeping your tanks clean is the only way to ensure a consistent product. A cheap and reliable cleaning solution for new operations is caustic soda, which is either sodium or potassium hydroxide depending on the brand. Stock up on this solution before you start brewing so you’re ready to clean when the time comes.
Every successful brewery is full of safety equipment. You’re dealing with huge amounts of hot liquid, so you need some bodily protection and devices to secure equipment. Start by getting these essentials:
- Eye protection
- High-traction footwear
- Sanitation buckets
- Bar towels
- Date labels
- Chemical labels for each ingredient
- Chemical safety data sheets
- First-aid kit
Most injuries inside breweries are easily avoidable slips and falls or exposures to harmful substances. This list of safety equipment will help you minimize the risk of these incidents.
Start Your Brewery the Right Way
Starting a brewery is a great way to make an honest living while exploring your interest in alcoholic beverages. However, you can’t begin a legitimate business with backyard supplies.
Establish your brewery the right way by investing in these pieces of equipment so you can get ahead of other start-ups.