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Thread: Direct fired vs steam

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Nov 2003
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    Kernville, Ca USA
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    201

    Direct fired vs steam

    I'm in the later stages of a startup brewery. I was set on buying a steam fired system but just recently came across a great deal on the same size system but it is direct fired. I know some of the issues would be the possible carmilization due to the direct flame and also that the steam fired would be alot more effecient. Can anyone maybe give me some feedback on this issue??

    Anything would be appreciated

    Thanks

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2004
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    Mukilteo, WA
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    Direct Fire

    Kylesmi,

    At DK, we've been using direct fire for that past 11 years and have made some pretty yummy beers on it.
    I have heard the carmalization concerns before but I must admit we haven't really noticed any negative effects from it. We make numerous styles, with several being lighter types light Blonde and Golden Ales, and I don't perceive any overly sharp notes in the taste.

    I would reckon that if you were trying tp produce an extremely delicate beer, a light Pilsner let's say, you might pick up something there in a side by side tasting.

    Personally, I love direct fire. No boilers, no boiler rooms, no steam piping, no steam traps, etc., etc. It's on when you want it, and you can use a temperature controller and/or switch to control it. Also, having built two Breweries of my own, the direct fire was a lot easier by far. Then again, I'm not a "bells and whistles" kind of guy. I like things simple for maintenance reasons.

    However, direct fire does have some drawbacks. Integrity of the insulation in the firebox is CRITICAL. I have had to repair breaches in the firebox wall when the insulation has separated from the structure. You could get around this by making a firebox out of brick and morter , if your kettle will allow it. I've seen this done up here in the Northwest.

    Another drawback to direct fire is that you lose all the collateral advantages to the steam plant: You won't have the steam heated hot liquor tank, or any steam-water heat exchangers. It's the peripheral uses for steam that make it so nice to have.

    Further, you have a lot more control over steam............especially if you have multiple steam jackets on your kettle. With direct fire, they're either ON or OFF, with very little room for adjusting heat without affecting the mix ratio of the air to gas, which produces a poor flame.

    So, you can see, it really depends on what your Brewery size is, what you will be producing, your start-up budget, and what you can live with.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Nov 2003
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    Kernville, Ca USA
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    Brian,

    Thanks alot for the information. I appreciate your time. I think that the direct fire would work just fine for me. I will be producing Ales anywhere from IPA's to Porter and Pales not looking at doing any Pilsners. Thanks again!

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Nov 2003
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    99
    Yep, but don't totally disregard what he said about the peripheral uses ... I have found it extremely useful to have steam for the HLT and also steam sterilization of kegs, filters, bottling equipment etc... Check off all of the other possible uses for steam before you strike it off as a possibility itself.

  5. #5
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    Nov 2003
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    Kernville, Ca USA
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    OK, yea that was a big advantage I think was just having a heated HLT. Even for the price I think I would be very disapointed to buy a direct fired system and to find out later that it dosent meet my needs. But I guess I will just have to weight my options here.

    Thanks alot for the feedback

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 2003
    Location
    Palau
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    I'll always go for steam. Check out this discussion. http://www.probrewer.com/vbulletin/s...=give+me+steam

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Dec 2004
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    Mukilteo, WA
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    Originally posted by gitchegumee
    I'll always go for steam. Check out this discussion. http://www.probrewer.com/vbulletin/s...=give+me+steam
    I would contend that there are some assumptions made in that thread that we haven't seen at DK.

    1.) IDF CAN be turned on and off. We do it all the time. Actually, it's as simple as having a switch on the burner control. We also have a temperature controller and heat our water for mash strike, then the burner shuts down automatically.

    2.) Kettle welds and integrity. This is a function of the manufacturer and operation. If the manufacturer is a dubious one or is not experienced, you will have problems (we did). This can (and does) also occur with steam.
    If you operate the burner in a dry kettle, you will destroy the bottom. That's common sense. Otherwise, we have operated our for 11 years...............yes, with some maintenance due to a poor designer and manufacturer............but with little problems.

    Just my $.02

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Feb 2004
    Location
    Dexter, MI USA
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    203
    Yikes!

    Steam vs. gas. Cherry Vs Vanilla Coke! I almost hate to weigh in on this one. It's so touchy feely. The answer is...(and you all know) it really depends. Having worked on both I agree with all the positives attributed to steam. Who can argue with those? It seems great. But in the real world of practical very limited budget small craft brewing, gas is simply often a better way to go. I have worked with more than one small boiler picked to fire a brewery. None have worked well. At all. All are finicky and prone to trouble. And here's the best part, you never know when they will decide to go down. More often than not, its in the middle of a brew.

    If you are setting up a small (7-10-15 bbl) brewery on a budget, gas is a far cheeper way to go, equipment through installation. And far less daily operational headaches. As Brian said, most if not all of the things steam can do gas can easily do. At a lower set up price.

    I don't think anyone will argue, in the long run a great steam plant that powers your whole brewery / building can save money. But a great steam plant / system is expensive. So if you have a million bucks buy that steam system, if not consider direct fire.

    Aloha,
    Ron

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Nov 2003
    Location
    Kernville, Ca USA
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    Hey thanks alot guys!! This has been exactly what I was looking for. Input from both sides of the coin. I think the direct fire would fit my needs, Im starting out a small budget brewery on a 7bbl system nothing fancy. Thanks again!!

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Nov 2003
    Posts
    99
    Sounds like you are making the right decision, based on what you just said. Our steam system and boiler cost us a big % of the cost of our brewery equipment itself...! To save short-term $ with (it sounds like) minimal significant downside, I support your choice to go for gas for your operation.

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