View Full Version : Community-Based Nano Brewery Equipment and Process Questions

10-21-2015, 01:16 PM
Hello ProBrewers!

I wanted to leverage the power and intel of this awesome forum to help solve some (fun) problems we are working on for a community-based commercial nano brewery.

Very soon I, along with several other experienced, award-winning home brewers, will be brewing commercially at a new local nano brewery (as a spin-off from an existing bottle shop) in Charlotte, NC. A bit different than your normal brewery setup, we'll all be keeping our day jobs and volunteering our free time in the evenings and on weekends to brew batches of beer and see them through to packaging. The project will be volunteer-based and limited to a select few people to keep things tight and organized. While this is very exciting for all of us, we also know we face some challenges with this setup. I wanted to present a list of challenges and possible solutions that have been discussed so far and see if anyone on ProBrewer foresees additional challenges, or (even better) has some good/better solutions. Here goes!

Also, if you respond back to the thread with feedback, please indicate which item # you are referring to. That would be helpful to keep the discussion organized.

1) Meeting Demand Our beers will be served on tap at the bottle shop which already has 10 solid commercial beers on tap at all times. Ideally, wed like to keep 1-2 additional taps flowing with in-house beers. Our system is 1BBL and were looking to keep things interesting and fun by doing lots of experimental beers and split batches. Currently, there will be three of us brewing, hoping to hold at least 2 brew sessions a month. We may have to adjust as we go based on personal schedules, or even consider adding additional brewers, but we want to keep the brewers list small for better control.

2) Fermenters We have purchased multiple plastic Speidel fermenters (1 BBL and smaller in size) to use for primary and secondary fermentation. We plan to label the fermenters (clean and wild) so brewers can keep equipment and cleaning regimes separate. Eventually, we may get some conicals and add temp control, but thats not currently in the budget (see Temperature Control below for more information) so we are making the best of what we have. We are planning to get moving dollies to place the fermenters on so we can roll them around the shop and easily move them from place to place during the fermentation/racking process.

3) Sanitation With sharing the task of brewing/cleaning across several people, this is probably the item we are most concerned about. While the three of us all have high standards and are meticulous when it comes to cleaning and sanitizing, there is still margin for error or accidents here that we have to assume. I know this will be something we have to work through, but we are planning to label equipment and stay organized to prevent contamination, accidental infections, use of wrong equipment, etc.

4) Temperature Control In the beginning we will not have much in the way of temperature control for fermentation. The brewing will take place on site at the bottle shop and fermentation will be done either in the ambient room-temp of the bottle shop (ranging 70-80F) or in a dedicated small office with a separate A/C unit. Either way, the temp control for fermentation will be limited to ambient temperatures. While wed love to do a brew number of clean beers, were going to lean more towards wild ales and warm-fermenting strains such as Belgian/saisons due to our situation. Our palettes lean that way anyway, so its not a huge issue, but we also love many clean styles such as IPAs, stouts, barley wines, etc and would like to find a way to make quality clean beers as well. We may be able to use the cooler office to ferment those styles of beer but will have to feel that out as we get rolling.

5) Lack of Cold Crashing Given that we will not have temperature control in the beginning, we will not have a means of cold crashing or clearing beers before carbonation and kegging. This may prolong the fermentation/settling timeline for some beers, or we may have to cold crash in the keg and pour off the sediment for serving. I typically steer clear of adding unnecessary chemicals to beer, but this might be a situation where Polyclar could be used.

6) Racking & Kegging This is a really tricky one that we dont yet have a solution for. In most cases we will have 1BBL of worth that will need to be moved from fermenter to fermenter and fermenter to keg. We will be using the March pumps (which require priming) on the brew house to automate this where possible but given that the fermenters will not be very far off the ground, getting a good prime and flow in the pumps is going to be difficult. I thought of possible creating a wench-based lift hooked to a strong rafter in the shop that has a platform for raising the fermenters up during racking. This would allow us to transfer to fermenters or kegs either using manual flow or using a sanitized pump. Another option is to use CO2 to push the wort/beer from vessel to vessel.

7) Carbonation Weve talked about this one a lot and are not sure if we are going to force-carbonate, or try to inject CO2 inline on the way to the keg for a quicker turnaround carbonation. Were leaning towards force carbonation with high PSI for a few days per keg. We are going to be using Sanke kegs (and most of us are more familiar with Cornelius kegs). The main issue with force carbonating in the keg is that it will add another 1-2 days to the timeline for the beer being ready, and we wont have complete control of the final PSI (which we can probably work around). The inline method would allow us to have beer ready faster and offer more consistency, but also adds to initial equipment costs.

8) Incentivizing Brewers While we all love brewing and drinking beer, Id be remiss if I left this one off. Volunteers/brewers will be taking time away from their families and other responsibilities to brew beer for the bottle shop. The shop owner has agreed that brewers should be incentivized and rewarded for their time and efforts to keep the program active and beer flowing. All ingredients and equipment needs will be covered 100% by the shop but time provided by brewers will be volunteer-based and unpaid. Possible incentives that we have come up with so far include; ongoing 10% employee discount on purchases at the shop if you are an active brewer, a specified amount of store credit per batch to be used towards draft/bottle purchases at the shop; a 5-gallon keg of beer from the batch; and public notoriety that you made the beer. Are there other things that can be on this list that we are not considering?

Additionally, we determined that in order to reap the rewards, the brewer first must complete brewing and packaging of the beer including all clean up, etc for the next brewer/batch. In the case of a spoiled beer or beer that just didnt turn out well, the shop owner would make a decision of how to handle it on a per-situation basis but in most cases you wouldn't be rewarded since it didn't turn out. If the problem was out of the control of the brewer, maybe a partial reward could be offered for their time.

10-21-2015, 04:46 PM
I can't answer everything you're asking. And I don't know your situation but here are a few bits of information I can pass on.

Based on 2 brews a month at 1 bbl batches, I highly doubt you'll be able to keep 2 beers on tap. Its possible, I don't know your situation or how much beer is sold at the bottle shop, but I'd guess that it won't be enough.

When it comes to cleaning and sanitation - I'd sit down with your current partners and set up SOP's for cleaning and sani of EVERY piece of equipment that is shared. Create them in writing and make sure everyone follows them. Otherwise you may have one hell of a mess. And no recourse against someone who may not be doing the best job cleaning - Plus if they don't clean its going to be the next brews beer that suffers.

Without being able to cold crash you're probably going to loose a significant amount of each batch to yeast and trub. Other than finding a way to add cooling though you won't be able to do much there.

Finally - without cold crashing the beer first there's no way you can carbonate inline. You won't be able to do any real carbonating of your beer until its cold - the pressures you need to carbonate beer thats not cold are just too high to deal with.

10-27-2015, 07:55 PM
There has to be some kind of refrigeration for the kegs being served. If there is a way to expand that and do your cold crashing in there, it's your best bet. Or, depending on the space you have available, consider building a small room with crazy insulation and adding an air conditioner with a Cool-Bot to maintain crashing and carbing temps. In our current nano we have a fermenter room (AC without Cool-Bot) a cold room for crashing and carbonating (AC with Cool-Bot) and a keg storage room with tap wall (AC with Cool-Bot). All fermenters and brites on rollers to allow moving from space to space.

10-27-2015, 08:53 PM
When we had plastic fermenters we rigged up stainless coils that mounted in the lids of the fermenters and would chill the beer. we could chill them just like stainless jacketed conicals when we paired the coils up to a glycol chiller. I would recommend that route as it is actually pretty cheap.

Sanitation- with plastic ferms, your going to want to do a heat cycle before your sani-cycle, in order to heat the fermenters up to kill any nasties living inside the porous plastic. A heat cycle is as simple as using some of your 190 degree chill water while your batch is chilling.

10-28-2015, 12:09 PM
4) Temperature Control In the beginning we will not have much in the way of temperature control for fermentation.

Canary in the coal mine. Understand that if you don't have fermentation temp control already worked out, there's no way you can make decent beer. You seem OK with that and just ready to brew "Belgians", but remember you only get 1 chance to make a 1st impression.

If the brewery is a spin-off from a bottle shop, they should have a walk-in right? Do you have access to that? If so, you can ferment in the cold room and then add heat to the batch to keep it temp stable. How do you do it home brewing? Chest freezer or something? You need to replicate that in the brewery. You should figure out how to make clean, quality beer at your facility before you get rolling, Belgians or otherwise.

10-30-2015, 03:07 PM
6, Racking & Kegging
I would not use march pumps for moving fermented beer. It is too harsh on the liquid and will oxidize and you will have gross stale beer.
morebeer.com has a diaphram pump with an inline filter (for hops and bigger chunks, not yeast)
I would also not bother moving beer from primary to secondary. Just let it age on the yeast. More movement=more chances for oxidation and infection.
As mentioned, you have to have cold beer before you can carbonate it unless you are naturally carbonating.

Do not ferment beer, even Belgians, at ambient if the ambient is 70-80. We ferment at ambient in the mid 60s and for our cleaner ales we still have to use our rigged glycol system to keep beer below 78*. Personally, I like a slightly cleaner Belgian and fermenting 80 and above is going to produce a lot of phenols; if the shop is 80 expect your fermentation to be at least 5 degrees warmer.

You make no mention about yeast handling, what kind of yeast, etc. DO NOT overlook this! I operate a nanobrewery scaled up from my home brewery and yeast handling was much different on both scales. Do not overlook oxygenating the wort prior to pitching. Happy yeast is the most important factor.
If you're using a plate chiller, clean it throoughly every batch.
Expect to have some stinker batches. It sucks but at least you're not the one buying the ingredients. We had a learning curve to overcome when we opened but have refined our process to the point of very good consistency.