If you’re not in the brewing business, you may think of the word “brewhouse” as an alternative name for a pub specializing in beers, a beer garden, or some other quasi-sacred house of brews. If you’re a brewer, you know this isn’t the case. A brewhouse is the backbone of a beer’s production, as their complex system of tanks, mills, mashing tuns, and kettles are vital to shaping the essence of your beers’ quality and flavor. As such, they’re also critical to defining your brand.

With so much at stake riding on this piece of equipment, it’s important than you know the ins and outs of a proper brewhouse, and how the right one can yield a positive impact on your brewery. It may be the difference that takes your brewery concept from good to great.

What is a Brewhouse?

A brewhouse is an overarching term for all the components that are needed for the brewing process. These components are commonly known as vessels. They come in all shapes and sizes and are not limited to scale. Technically speaking, the humble homebrew kit that comes in an easy-to-carry square box is a brewhouse.

Professional brewhouses are typically built on a case-by-case basis. The size and scale of these systems are largely dependent upon the amount of beer the brewer wishes to produce. Nano, micro, and craft systems are going to gravitate toward smaller brewhouses, while large commercial and full-production will have the need for brewhouses capable of producing mass quantities of suds.

What Brewhouse Size is Right for Me?

There are two basic metrics you’ll need to bear in mind to help you determine the right size of brewhouse for your needs:

  • How large is your facility
  • How much beer you want to make

The first metric is easy enough to determine. It’s just a matter of basic measurement. However, as is the case with any piece of furniture or equipment, you need to make sure you allow yourself sufficient space to comfortably move around. Considering you are going to be getting up close and personal with the unit through necessary cleaning, sanitation checks, and other forms of do-it-yourself maintenance, you’re going to want to allow yourself to take care of these things comfortably.

The second metric is a little trickier to determine since there is a bit of math involved. Beer production is typically measured in beer barrels, which is admittedly a big unit to base your production around. However, you don’t have to wait until a barrel gets filled to project how much beer you’re making. 31 gallons equate to one barrel, so you can make your measurements in gallons and do basic math.  

To give you an idea of the size of a barrel, consider that a standard-sized keg is typically a half-barrel. If you’re a nanobrewery with the intention of making 1,000 barrels in a year, you’re essentially planning to make the equivalent of 2,000 kegs.

Brewhouse Selection

Once you figure out these metrics, you’ll get a good idea of the kind of brewhouse you’ll need. However, you won’t have a concrete determination. Like any consumer product, it’s important that you do your homework to make sure you get the best brewhouse possible.

One of the things to consider is the type of beer you’ll be making. While you can make multiple styles of brews in the same brewhouse, some are designed to handle certain aspects of brewing than others – aspects that can be separated by certain style. For instance, a brewhouse manufactured in Germany may have a greater efficiency for styles more common in Germany, such as lagers. If you’re into making hop-heavy imperial IPAs, this system may not provide the most efficient results.

You’ll also want to ask other brewers about their brewhouses. This isn’t as difficult as it sounds. Brewers are usually more than happy to exercise their beer geek muscles and talk shop on a level that goes beyond what’s on tap at their facility. In some cases, they may even provide you with a tour of their facility so that you can get an in-depth look at the equipment.

After you’ve done this, you’ll also want to take a moment to ponder the long-term goals for your brewery. If you’re planning on taking your production from a nanobrewery to a microbrewery, you may want to consider a flexible approach to purchasing your brewhouse equipment; one that will easily enable you to adjust that growth when the time to make the leap comes.

The Importance of Brewhouse Efficiency

Once your brewhouse has been picked out and installed, it’s important that you learn how to maximize its efficiency. In other words, you’ll want to determine how to make the best beer possible with the least amount of money spent.

Before we go any further, let’s clarify something. This does not mean that you need to look for and utilize cheap ingredients. The term “cheap ingredients” is a phrase that makes craft brewers on down recoil in horror, as they are wont to equate the term with big market, mass-produced beers that seemingly care more about profits than product. Chances are, if you’re brewing your own beer, you’re probably not a fan of the term, either.

Rather, the concept of brewhouse efficiency is to figure out how to get the most out of the ingredients you buy. Good beer ingredients can be pricey. If you’re spending money on them, you want to make sure they aren’t being wasted. That’s why the concept of brewhouse efficiency is so important.

Brewhouse efficiency will produce information regarding the various losses generated by your brewing processes. These losses are culled from various components of the process, including:

  • Mashing
  • Hop trub
  • Transfers
  • Lautering

This information will allow you to track where you need to improve your process so that you can get the most out of your ingredients. It can also help you get closer to the maximum potential yield of whatever recipe of beer you’re using.

You can use these numbers to your advantage. Once you see how efficient your system is, you can then hand-pick various recipes that fit well within the parameters of your brewhouse setup. This may even inspire you to try your hand at a style that you may otherwise not have considered attempting.

If this brewhouse efficiency process sounds like there will be math involved, you are correct – it is at its core a mathematical process. Fortunately, a brewhouse efficiency calculator can make this process considerably more manageable. There are plenty of options online that allow you to plug in the necessary numbers to help you see track your system’s efficiency.

Taking Care of Your Brewhouse

Your brewhouse is an important machine. As such, you need to treat it with the utmost of respect. To do this, it’s important that you don’t slack on maintenance sanitation, or safety.

There will come a time when your brewhouse malfunctions. Don’t fret – it’s a machine, and it’s bound to show signs of wear and tear now and then. Because of this, it’s best that you take a proactive approach to this inevitability, as opposed to waiting for something to happen.

Some of the maintenance aspects relating to this are things you can do on your own, such as making sure the brewhouse’s moving parts are properly lubed and inspected on a routine basis. For some of the heavy-duty stuff, you’ll want to make sure you develop a good relationship with a trusted mechanic or electrician – one that can jump into the project and make the necessary repairs efficiently enough, so your brewing process doesn’t skip a beat.

Keeping your brewhouse clean is also of paramount importance. This is s multi-step process that takes some time, simply because there is a lot of parts to keep clean, from the kettle to mashtun screens and everything in between. If these aren’t kept clean, the integrity your beer’s composition and flavor will be compromised. If you’re trying to gain a foothold in the nanobrewing or microbrewing community, this could be a fatal error.

Finally, don’t undervalue the importance of safety. If you are cleaning the brewhouse, you’re going to be getting your hands dirty, which means you’re going to be putting yourself in precarious positions on occasion. Be sure to tread lightly and deliberately when you’re in these situations. You’ll also want to make sure you’re not taking safety for granted when you’re working outside of the brewhouse, such as wearing proper footwear to prevent slipping and sliding.

Conclusion

A brewhouse is more than a piece of necessary brewing equipment. It’s a bona fide investment for the brewer that’s serious about getting involved in the brewing game. Because of this, it’s a piece of equipment that’s not to be taken lightly.

However, if you treat a brewhouse with respect from the moment you go shopping for one to the times when you’re in its tanks cleaning out the screens in the lauter tun, the machine will reward you handsomely with the beer you want to make. As an extension, the machine will also reward your thirsty customers.

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