Behind the Hops: What is a Brewhouse and How Does It Operate?

brewhouses behind the hops

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You may wonder “What is a brewhouse and how is it different from a brewery? The terms have become interchangeable recently, with so many craft beer makers (breweries) opening up pubs and restaurants that feature their brews.

The term brewhouse can also be used for home brewing operations. When you make your beer, you kitchen basement or any room in your house or apartment becomes a brewhouse.

More About The Types of Brewhouses

What is a brewhouse? You’ve probably enjoyed a meal and a few beers at a restaurant/pub with word brewhouse in the name. A brewhouse that serves beer and food may be associated with a brewery that makes signature brews. These types of brewhouses may be in the same building as a brewery, or close to the brewery.

Some brewhouses are generic bar/restaurants that use “brewhouse” in the business name because they sell different brands of craft beer. Generic brewhouses don’t produce a craft beer line; they just sell other companies’ beers.

A brewhouse is another name for a brewery. A brewery may make beer without offering an attached pub or restaurant, or it may offer food, beer, and even a store on-premises. Some brewery/brewhouses also feature live music, tours, trivia contests and other events.

Efficient Brewing

Regulating brewing systems increases efficiency and determines how much grain you’ll need for a particular recipe. Better brewing methods mean tastier beer for both pro and home brewers.

Brewhouse efficiency measures the fermented material that converts into sugar in your wort. This measurement includes losses for brewing setup and practices. It takes into account mashing, hop trub, lautering, and transfers. Boiling will create small losses. Brewhouse efficiency measures losses that happen before yeast is pitched and fermentation begins.

The efficiency at “loss points” are measured to give you an idea of how well a specific brewing practice works. Take a gravity reading during the mash to determine mash efficiency or while you sparge to measure runoff efficiency. You can also take a ready to the boil to determine pre-boil efficiency. Compare these readings to your beer recipe’s maximum expected yield and total brewing efficiency.  

Brewhouse efficiency readings let you know how much you lose at each point in the brewing process and what step accounts for the highest losses. You will learn where to alter methods to be more competent. Calculate brewhouse efficiency a few times, and you’ll arrive at the best method for brewing a batch.

Brewhouse efficiency is an average you get from brewing differently written recipes. Once you determine brewhouse efficiency, you can devise your recipes and adjust the grain bill and brewing process to fit your needs.

Use a brewhouse efficiency calculator online. It will determine the efficiency of beer mash extraction in points per pound per gallon (ppg) and a percentage. It will help grain beer brewers calculate the efficiency of sugar extraction from the grain during the mash.

Enter the wort volume (amount collected in gallons), gravity measurement, and grain bill (the type of grain used and how much you used, in pounds) and hit enter or update (depending on the calculator you use) to arrive at the final figure.

The Four Types of Brewing Efficiency

Your house of brews (or anyone’s) needs four types of efficiency to work well. An online calculator can determine all of them, but you’ll need to supply the corresponding gravity and volume.

Conversion Efficiency- The percentage of sugars extracted from the grains inside the mash tun. Gravity is measured before the boil, and volume is determined by the amount of mash water used, nor including dead space in mash tun or grain absorption.

Pre-Boil Efficiency – The percentage of sugars in the kettle. Gravity is measured before the boil, and the volume is determined by how much wort you put in the kettle.

Ending Kettle Efficiency – This gives you the percentage of sugars available when boiling has finished and before you drain the kettle. The gravity (OG) is measured after cooling and before pitching the yeast. The volume, or ending kettle volume, is measured when the mixture is cool and before draining.

Brew House Efficiency – Shows all losses incurred by the fermentor. This number includes hops absorption, which is reduced by ~1% for extra hoppy beers. Gravity is measured when the mixture is cool and before pitching yeast. The volume is determined by how much wort you put into the fermentor.

What Happens in a Large-Scale Brewhouse?

A professional brewery or brewhouse employs the same general procedure as a home brewer, but with larger and more expensive equipment. Outfitting a large brewery starts with buying or renting a building with enough space for large fermentors, brew kettles and mash tuns. Brewhouse equipment includes:

  • A large, round brew kettle
  • Mash Tun
  • Lauter Tun

Originally made from copper in the early days of brewing, tuns and brew kettles are now made of stainless steel. Steam from these vented vessels is carried out of the brewhouse by stacks, making the immediate area smell like malty beer.

Once the kettle and tuns create the first, unfermented mixture, beer is pumped and cooled in a large fermentor tank. A fermentor is airtight for sanitary reasons and lets the carbon dioxide pressure inside escape, but that’s about it. Some brewers in Belgium and the UK let their beer ferment in open vessels. (Belgian Lambic brewhouses allow spontaneous fermentation by airborne yeast.)

Brewers must take care to keep equipment sanitized and spotless since beer is transferred from one tank to another throughout the brewing process. Hoses and pumps are used to transfer the brew and keep it pure. Be careful if you take a brewery tour, as there may be hoses scattered throughout the facility.

After the beer goes through the fermentor tank, most breweries put it in an aging tank and then a finishing tank before it is bottled and delivered to the public.  

Aging tanks are sometimes called secondary fermentation tanks because the primary fermentation took place in the previous tank. Some breweries may call a finishing tank a conditioning tank. Brewpubs may refer to finishing tanks as holding, serving or bright beer tanks since the beer is clarified by the time it is transferred to the final tank.

What You Need to Start a Brewhouse/Brewery

What is a brewhouse and how do you start one? Procuring a brewhouse (the kind that makes beer) is a major undertaking, even if you don’t plan on producing an excessive amount of brew.

Here’s a list of essential equipment for aspiring pro brewers:

  • Kettles
  • Kegs
  • Boilers
  • Bottling and Canning Lines
  • Storage Tanks
  • Cooling Systems
  • Conveyors
  • Piping and Tubing
  • Refrigeration Equipment
  • Fermentation Tanks
  • Labeling Machines
  • Filters
  • Cleaning Equipment
  • Tap Handles
  • Waste Treatment Equipment  

Purchasing small or medium-sized equipment, especially if it’s used, can save you money. However, if your brewhouse is a big success right away, it will be costly to modify equipment. It may help to be somewhat optimistic (but not overzealous) when buying equipment for a new brewery.

You’ll also need to rent or buy a building to house your brewery. Renters need to have the first month’s rent and a security deposit. You may need to make some changes to the building to get it ready for brewing. (Check with prospective landlords to make sure you can make changes to the building you want to want to rent.)

You’ll need to alter the building’s plumbing, the electrical set-up and make sure ceilings are high enough to accommodate the vats and other equipment. Finding a building with enough space for your equipment is a primary concern, so look around and don’t sign a lease before doing your homework.

Other Things to Consider When Opening a Brewhouse

Breweries need a strong composite floor to withstand temperature, shock, and spills. The right flooring will prevent the cement underneath from eroding due to acid from spilled beer during the brewing process.

Apply for a brewing permit from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. IT usually takes four months for the permit to go through. A federal brewing permit isn’t approved unless you have all equipment installed and in excellent working order. You’ll need to get a brewer’s bond from the federal government as well.

You’ll need a state liquor license and possibly other licenses or permits to serve beer at your brewhouse. It may take 45 to 60 days to secure a liquor license, depending on how soon a state inspector checks your brewery. Apply for a retailer license if you are going to sell apparel, home brewing kits or other merchandise.

Decide whether you want your company to be a corporation or an LLC, and file the appropriate papers. Obtain property, casualty, and liability insurance to protect your interests. (You’ll need insurance before a bank lends money to your business.)     

There were 5,300 brewhouses/breweries in the U.S. as of 2016, and the trend is sure to contain for the foreseeable future. Craft and microbreweries account for most of the upswing, overtaking the popularity of Anheuser- Busch and other old-school breweries.

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