Going Pro – Industrial Equipment & Processing

Going Pro – Industrial Equipment & Processing

For the average homebrewer, a jump to commercial brewing can be appealing, exciting, and scary all at the same time. Tall platforms, loud motors, and hot liquids can be extremely dangerous, but with proper training and education the transition is a breeze. So, what does the aspiring new brewer need to know? Here are a handful of tips and tricks surrounding commercial brewing. 

Equipment is a large part of brewing. Although it can be as simple or as elaborate as desired, there are a few basic principles that always apply.  

• Use only high-quality materials with good chemical and temperature resistance. Chrome plated brass is appealing to the pocket book, however prolonged contact with acids will cause corrosion. Low quality flexible transfer lines can delaminate or split under high temperature. Pressure gauges with brass or copper tubes can corrode and give false readings. 

• Inspect all equipment before use. Equipment can fail at any time, without warning. Routinely check for loose hose clamps, tri-clover fittings, and mounting bolts. Vibrating pump motors can rattle loose many different fasteners, as well as electrical connections. It is always a good idea to function test all equipment prior to beginning a brew. 

• Pay attention to detail! Equipment in the brewery is powerful. It can be high-voltage, high-speed, heavy-weight, or even toxic. Do not operate any equipment without proper training and education. As an operator, you are the last line of safety! 

Material compatibility is important. Avoid aluminum altogether. It reacts with sodium hydroxide (brewery caustic) to create sodium aluminate and hydrogen gas. Potassium hydroxide is no alternative, creating potassium tetrahyroxoaluminate(III) and the same (flammable) hydrogen gas, when in contact with aluminum. Stainless steel is the modern material of choice for brewery equipment; however, this was not always the case.  

Early brew kettles were often made of clay, and heated through unconventional means. Hot stones, most likely granite, would transfer heat to the liquid after spending hours in a fire pit. This brewing process likely emerged in the late stone age, after adaptation from early cooking methods. After emergence of the bronze age, brewers would adapt metallurgy to their craft, creating a new era of brewing equipment. 

Any brewer who has experienced a “boil lag”, a delay between the kettle fill and reaching boiling, can attest to the importance of thermal conductivity in the brewery. Copper has a thermal conductivity about 20 times that of brewery-grade stainless, meaning it will heat much faster and reduce the waiting time between kettle fill and boil. Although beneficial and beautiful, there are a few disadvantages to copper in an industrial setting. Copper is a soft metal, and that means it is easy to manipulate. Hammering by hand or machine will stretch out the metal, forming thin layers that can be used for vessel walls or cladding. Unfortunately, this advantage becomes a disadvantage when unintended impacts take place.  

The reactivity of copper is a blessing and a curse. Free sulphur reacts with copper, pulling unpleasantries out of wort. Removing hydrogen sulphide (raw sewage), or sulphur dioxide (burnt match), is possible through copper treatment. On the down side, copper degrades when in contact with sodium hydroxide and chlorides, so it needs to be replaced from wear more frequently. Be careful, copper toxicity in humans is possible - but usually avoidable. Avoid consuming low pH goods (below 6), that have been prepared or served in copper. Alloying the copper into bronze increases the durability and reduces reactivity, but also impacts the thermal conductivity. Stainless Steel offers great balance, however it too has some disadvantages. Chlorides can pit and ultimately rust stainless quite easily, so cleaning and maintenance is always required. If you are in the market for new equipment, reach out to Deutsche Beverage for more information. 

Processing large quantities of product can be intimidating, but it shouldn’t be. Often, larger breweries are physically easier to operate. Motorized mills, rakes, and pumps flip on with a switch, and Variable Frequency Drives (VFDs) enable precise control. Flow meters measure out water quickly and accurately. Automated systems offer touch screen operation, online troubleshooting, and smartphone control, but even fully manual versions are quite user-functional. 

Basic principles of brewing do not change with scale, so take comfort in this familiarity. Barley is crushed in a mill, usually on-site, and fed into the mash tun via flex auger or chain disc conveyor. Another flip of the switch. A grist hydrator is a common addition, designed to improve hydration of starch and regulate temperature fluctuations during mash in. A few basic hand valves meter this on non-automated systems. Once mashed, mixing from mechanical rakes replaces hand stirring. VFD offers fine speed control and Cadillac options might include lifting rakes. Conversion of starch requires the same time, regardless of batch size, so rest as each recipe requires. For faster results, consider adding supplemental enzymes! 

Lautering represents a balance between mash and kettle, both figuratively and literally. Whether the process takes place in a separate lauter tun, or in a combined mash/lauter vessel, the objective is to collect sweet wort efficiently. Sparge water should be added at a rate matching wort collection. This results in a low differential pressure across the lauter bed, increasing flow-through. Running the bed dry, flowing too fast, or compounding excessive sparge water can all lead to bed compaction and a decrease in permeability. Wide and shallow lauters will aid in efficiency, but try to keep the bed at least 12 inches deep for particulate filtration. 

 

Many lauter vessels feed the kettle via gravity, and a simple hand valve is responsible for flow control. Take care to avoid fully opening the mash outlet as it can slam particulate into the drain pipe, blocking the flow. Instead, slowly crack the valve and look through a sight glass or into the kettle/wort grant to check for a metered rate of flow. Adjust as necessary to achieve a collection time of 60-90 minutes for most brews. 

Commercial brew kettles are much better than an outdoor burner. Steam fired options can be metered by hand valves to control the boil. In the event wort begins to boil up, full shut-off can be achieved instantly. Direct-fire options do not offer as much precision, but ultimately achieve a similar response with the flip of a switch. Optional on these systems, and practically standard on electric versions, a PID or Temperature Controller can be incorporated to hold a precise temperature. This automatically starts and stops heating within a preset band.  

Heat exchangers are almost exclusively of the plate and frame design, with the ability to be disassembled and cleaned when necessary. Counter flowing cold liquor and hot wort creates the appropriate temperature on the way to the fermentation vessel. Controlling the VFD of the wort pump and restricting the outflow of the cold liquor can reach a reasonable balance between water usage and temperature exchange.  

A step up from sight tubes, flow meters are a great way to track volumes of bulk liquids. Often measurements can be switched between volumetric measurements (gallons, liters, etc), providing easy reference for calculations. In addition to a total volume ticker, rate of flow is usually displayed in an easy-to-read format. This is especially useful in matching sparge and kettle run rates. Overall, dialing in water usage will ensure the maximum extraction is achieved. 

 

Fermentation vessels are often conical, with the ability to collect yeast for re-use. There may be one or more “jackets”, dimpled or wrapped shells, that flow cooled glycol liquid around the tanks. These regulate the temperature of the active wort, and ultimately cool the wort to drop yeast and/or carbonate the liquid. Most modern fermenters are pressure rated vessels, but always verify a proper working pressure and vacuum relief valve is installed. Temperature changes alone can create pressure and vacuum changes inside the vessel capable of destruction or injury. 

Advanced equipment such as mash filters, flash pasteurizers, or a centrifuge from Andritz are worries for down the road. Fortunately for introductory brewers Sankey kegs are quite simple. Learning to clean and fill them is often a first task, with plenty of practice to be had. Although monotonous, it should not be construed as insignificant. Spectacular beer can be ruined by an inadequate keg. This is the first and best opportunity to enforce strict quality standards. Upon utter domination of this activity, a green operator may be advanced to more intellectual roles.   

Above all else, continuous education is key. Any person who dedicates time and energy into the brewing field can find a uniquely rewarding position. From laboratory operations to packaging detail, talents from all areas are needed to fuel the next generation of great beer! 

 

 

Meet the Author

J.D. Angell

Meet the Author

J.D. Angell

After several years of providing hazardous materials training and maintenance for the world's largest brewing facility, JD began home brewing countless varieties of craft beer. Some early success and a detour with industrial scientific research engaged his interests in industrial equipment and complex science, while working at a liquid yeast supplier pointed him specifically towards enzymes. Currently heading Bircus Brewing Company in Ludlow, KY, JD blends contemporary flavors with traditional science and innovative techniques. With over a decade of operational brewing and independent contracting experience across 5 time zones, he has amassed a plethora of knowledge to share with fellow brewers. 

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