Brewing beer is like carpentry: it takes skill, years to master, and the right tools, yielding an end product that’s as enjoyable to behold as it is to use. And the good news is that only a few basic pieces are needed to begin your brewing journey. Whether you’re an experienced craft-beer connoisseur or a fledgling brewmaster, here are the components you need to get your operation up-and-running.
Brewing beer is cooking. It’s just that simple. Extracting the carbohydrates from grain material and heating it with hop oils creates a concoction as old as civilization. But stirring a pot big enough to supply libations for the masses takes the savvy of a Chemical Engineer, or dedicated business owner in waders, to pull off.
To begin with, you’ll need mixers; the volume of which depending on the capacity you intend to produce. Tanks should be big enough to handle both grain and liquid volume, made of material inert to the mixing process, and with powerful enough mixing motors to stir the mash. It may not be as complicated as a distillation column, but differing mashes require differing capacities, and calculating that takes some skill.
Unless you intend to pick up these enormous tanks and empty them into subsequent units, you’ll need some kind of fluid transport system. These generally come in two configurations: pump driven and gravity driven. The difference is simple: one uses pumps, the other does not.
The reason for the separate systems is a matter of power and oils. Pumps are sometimes criticized for introducing heat into the process that can break down hop oils. However, having this mechanically driven system allows for more flexible plant configuration. Gravity driven systems not only cut down on power costs, but also maintain the chemical integrity of the mixture. But, unlike their motored counterparts, these eco-friendly systems require a bit of accommodation. Once again, balancing the advantages and disadvantages of each is up to you.
To some, the nuances of beer flavoring are of no concern, chugging American light beer with abandon. But even these individuals will notice if a bacteria bloom sullies a batch. For this reason, lab equipment for testing pH levels and the like is absolutely necessary. Furthermore, the brewing process involves a series of chemical barometers that ultimately affect flavor and quality, so having testing equipment nearby is essential.
Mashing and cooking the wort is only half (arguably, less than half) of the process. Once those tasty sugars are in your liquor, it’s time for the yeast to do its thing. Fermenters are the next step in the process, holding young beer until it matures into something delicious.
Good models will enable three functions. First, they will house liquid without imparting taste. Second, they will possess a bottom-facing valve that allows for retrieval of settled yeast for re-use, since yeast possesses particular characteristics that become a signature component of quality beers. Finally, they will possess temperature controls in order to optimize the process. Yeast is a finicky organism, so keeping it happy is priority number 1.
Once the beer is matured, it’s unlikely to be consumed in a single sitting (unless, of course, you’re debuting at Oktoberfest). For this reason, you’ll need storage tanks or kegs. Large scale storage tanks make sense for businesses with an industrial bottling line, but for most microbreweries, kegging is the way to go. In addition to letting natural carbonation occur in the finished beer, a vastly superior option to artificial CO2 carbonation, these vessels can be distributed to local brewpubs and bars in order to spread the word of your concoction.
But while all of this equipment will help get you started, your knowledge is ultimately what makes it work. In fact, most brewers started very small, building buzz around their creations and honing their skills before a large investment. If you’re interested in throwing your hat in the ring, consider starting off with a kit from More Beer! at only $500. From there, you’re valuable engineering skills can help scale up your handiwork and get you into the game.
The craft beer revolution is in full force, due to the renaissance occurring in the United States, and the relatively limited requirements for entry. In order to construct your brewery, invest in solid, industry capable mixers, fluid transportation systems, fermentation vessels, testing equipment, and kegging machinery. Even if you’re tentative about this kind of investment, you can get started right away with a home kit that’ll teach you the tricks of the trade before scaling up to the commercial level. With your know-how and the right tools, you could be brewing the next Westvleteren 12 before the brewing conglomerates know what hit them.