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Decisions.. Decisions..  One of the more enjoyable dilemmas that brewers face is choosing a brewhouse setup.   One of the first decisions brewers get to ponder is whether to go with a skid mounted brewhouse, or choose a traditional brewhouse with stand-alone components.  There are so many factors to consider in this decision, and there are so many Pro’s and Con’s to balance.  The good news is that there are NO wrong answers.  The choice is yours. 

As a proven leader in the craft brewers industry, our Brewery Design Consultants will work with you to determine the best setup for your current, and future, brewing needs.  Having worked alongside professional brewers for more than a decade, we offer the following insight that may help you decide which setup is right for you and your brewery:

 

Why choose a Skid Mount for your Brewery?  

The Pro’s:

  1. The obvious:  It looks cool!  The first thing people notice about a skid mounted brewhouse is just how cool it looks.  With a mash tun and a brew kettle each mounted on one side of the central platform, the brewhouse has an eye-catching symmetry.  The hard piping gleams, with its perfect 90° elbows lined up perfectly, and rows and rows of shiny valves placed precisely in order.  With every detail thought out, and every component in its most perfect location, it is no wonder why so many brewers want to have a skid mounted brew house.
  2. Convenience:  The biggest factor many brewers consider is the convenience.  With 2 vessels mounted on the same skid, the brewhouse is one item to buy, ship and install.  A skid mounted brewhouse can simplify your space planning requirements in your brewery because you just need to find a place to park the skid.  No matter where you choose, the Mash Tun and Brew Kettle are always going to be next to each other in the perfect alignment.  With everything already installed on the brewhouse, and put into the perfect location, it is easy to set up a skid mount system.  Except for utility and steam connections, most skid mount systems do not required skilled trades in order to get up and running.
  3. More Fun:   Another reason brewers may choose to use a skid mount for their brewhouse is an obvious one: it is fun!  With every detail planned out for you, the valves are always in the right spot, and it is easy to see what you are doing.  With the pumps already mounted directly to the skid, it can be easier to move wort around.  There is no need to find and move the pump cart and connect up the hoses to proper connection.  Everything is already connected.  You just have to open the right valves.
  4. It is Easier to Relocate:   A skid system can be convenient to relocate.  If you brewery grows, and we hope that it does, you will need to reconfigure your space.  It is easy to move the skid around on its own wheels.  It is also easy to move to another location or another brewery if you find another site.  Either way, our team of Brewery Design Consultants are happy to advise you on your best options.   Brewing Equipment

The Con’s:

  1. Expense:  All the above mentions convenience may come with additional cost.  The cost of the stainless steel skid and all that hard piping (and valves) can add considerable expense to the brewhouse.  Costs include the materials cost for the skid, and all the labor to cut and weld the skid together and to attach the brew kettle and mash tun to the skid.  All of the hard piping also has to be cut, bent and mounted onto the skid.  Each contact point requires a weld and some time to polish.  There is also the cost of shipping the extra weight of the skid and the piping.
  2. Harder to Move in a Tighter Space:  Moving a skid system in a tight space can be a little more difficult.  Skid systems require a bigger door to get them into a building and a bigger forklift to get them off the truck.  Before you buy a skid system make sure you can get it into the building and move it easily into space.
  3. Sanitaion:  One thing that many people fail to consider early is sanitation.  Hard piping can be harder to clean inside the pipes.  It can require a lot of water and chemicals to Clean In Place.  It can take extra time as well.

Why choose a Traditional Brewhouse?

The Pro’s:

  1. Cost:  Cost is often a deciding factor behind choosing a traditional brewhouse.  The individual components are easier to manufacture than a skid mounted system, and without the additional materials in skid and piping, there is just less to buy and ship.  A traditional brewhouse offers all the functionality of a skid mount system with less stainless steel, less labor to manufacture, and less weight to truck to your brewery.
  2. Hoses are Cheaper:  Brewer’s hose costs much less by the foot than stainless steel piping.  With a traditional brewhouse, you can use one length of hose for several steps in the process, getting by with one hose, where a skid system requires a length of pipe for each function.  Many skid systems have 2 or 3 sets of parallel pipes.
  3. Better for Non-Traditional Space:  Traditional brewhouses can be easier to fit into non-traditional spaces.  If your building has odd shapes and spaces, it can be easier to fit a traditional brewhouse than a skid mount.  Many historic buildings have space constrictions like smaller doors, posts and columns in inconvenient locations, and lower ceilings. The size of your brewhouse may be limited to the smallest opening in your building.  You can place the individual components in the most space efficient way possible.   Sometime just a slight movement or realignment can make all the difference in how you use the space.
  4. Control over Configuration:  You can configure your brewing system exactly the way you want it.  If you have strong opinions about the proper angle of your brew kettle versus the mash tun, then a traditional system is for you.  Some brewers like to maximize the ergonomic placement of their equipment, which is much easier when the pieces can all move independently.
  5. More Room to Grow:  Traditional systems also offer more flexibility as you grow or change your process.  It is easier to add components or new steps to your brew process if you have unlimited creativity in the placement of the brewhouse.  Adding a new whirlpool or hop back to your process, or upgrading the plate chiller might be a little simpler if you can reconfigure the placement of all the other components.

Con’s:

  • Hoses:  When it comes to brewer’s hose, some brewers love the flexibility that a few lengths of hose can provide.  They love the ease of cleaning, and the ability to hang hoses to dry.  Others dislike the clutter of hoses on the ground, and prefer to have as many pipes as possible fixed in place.

 

Conclusion:

If money and space are not limits for you, and you want the luxury of a well-designed brewhouse, there is a skid system with your name on it.  If you are on a budget, have limited space, or need the flexibility to change your brewhouse as your brewery grows, you might find yourself in a traditional brewhouse.  The good news is, you can make great beer with both.  If you would like to get a quote for your brewery setup, follow this link to start the conversation. 

Cheers!

 

CURRENT TREND

We are in the midst of a revolution in the brewing industry that is as important as the emergence of craft brewing in the 1980’s, or the repeal of prohibition in the 1930’s.  It is the emergence of the tap-room, and the rise of Nano-brewing.  According to the Brewers Association, the number of new breweries continues to grow rapidly in the U.S.  As of November, there were a total of 5,005 breweries in the U.S., a new record high.  That… is a lot of beer.    While the amount of beer Americans consume has not changed, the WAY Americans consume it, has.  Understanding this cultural sea of change is the key to succeeding economically as a brewer.

 

UNDERSTANDING THE ECONOMICS

The best way to understand the key to financial success is to understand the economics of your beer production.  The way you  choose to sell your beer, matters.

You can sell a half barrel keg to a distributor for $100, or you can sell your beer one pint at a time over the bar for $5.50 a pint, if not more.  That works out to be at least $711 per keg[1].  By selling your beer through distribution, you are giving 85% of the value of your beer to the distributor and the retailer, and keeping only 15% for yourself.

How to make money brewing

Here is another way of looking at it.  By developing a retail sales model, you can pay yourself 6 times more per barrel as a brewer than you could earn in a distribution model.  You can make the same money by making only 15% of the beer. This simple lesson in economics makes the revolution in brewing easy to understand.

 

So what is driving this change?  Beer is changing from a “Product” to an “Experience”.  There is a difference between “buying a 6-pack” and “having a beer” with a friend.  When you buy a six pack, you are purchasing a product that is similar to all the other products on the market.  A six pack of Bud is not all that different from a six pack of Miller or a six pack of Coors.  The choice comes down to price and availability.  How cheap is the beer, and where can I get it?  This is where distributors make their money; by bringing massive amounts of beer to every conceivable outlet… every grocery store, every convenience store, every corner market.

 

Contrast that to the experience of having a pint with a friend.  People want these occasions to be special, social, and unique.  You get together with a friend to make the evening enjoyable, you seek out an interesting place to meet, and you look for some new flavors to enjoy and discuss.  The experience is about community, connecting with the important people in your life.  It is also about the beer.  What makes this beer special?  What makes it different and unique?  Those questions can be answered by the brewer behind the bar.  When the consumer is in the tap room of the brewery, they can see where the beer is made.  They can talk to the people who made it.  Their connection to the beer is that much closer and more interesting.  Their experience of the beer is that much richer.

 

LIMITATIONS:

The old craft beer model of distribution has hit some limits.  There is a limit to the shelf space in a grocery store.  There is a limit to the knowledge of the average convenience store clerk has about craft beer.  The experience of buying craft beer in distribution can only get so interesting.  This is why beer drinkers are seeking out something more in the form of a tap room.  Craft beer is about connections.  Connecting the beer drinker with the beer brewer, so the brewer can explain what they are trying to create with the beer, and the beer drinker can understand what drives the flavors, and how ingredients, and the brewing process and fermentation and temperature all combine to create wonderful flavors.  Craft beer is about connecting the beer drinkers with their friends and neighbors.  Bringing people together in a comfortable environment where conversation is encouraged, where people can be close to the important things in their lives.  Close to work, close to home, close to friends, close to family.  Craft beer is about connecting the flavors of beer with the flavors of food.  The subtleties of flavor in the meat and the spices matching with the sweetness and bitterness of the brew.   These connections are best made in a tap room.

 

This is all reflected by the recent growth of nano brewery tap rooms.  The opportunity is vast and ongoing, because you do not have to battle other breweries for that limited shelf space and limited number of tap handles in the market.  Instead of Joe’s Bar, there’s now Joe’s Brewery and Tap Room.  There can be one in practically every neighborhood, with nearby residents taking great pride in “their” brewery.  They patronize it by drinking a pint or two in the tap room or stopping on the way home to pick up a growler to go.  By focusing on small, neighborhood tap rooms, new brewers are capitalizing on this wide open opportunity and fueling the continued growth of the craft beer market.

brewery equipmentThis change in the way that beer is bought has a corresponding change in the way that beer is brewed.  The brewery has to be scaled to the sales model.  If beer in the taproom is worth 6 times more than beer in distribution, then the brewery has to be about 1/6th the size.  Instead of a 50 barrel system, maybe you brew on a 10 barrel system.    Instead of a 30 barrel system, maybe you brew on a 5 or a 7 barrel system.  At Stout Tanks and Kettles, our customers are buying 2 to 10 bbl systems in much greater numbers than they were even a few years ago.   Our brewery design consultants can talk you through the options available at every size of system.

 

But it’s more than just the size of the batches you brew.  It’s about the quality of the beer you brew.  If craft beer drinkers are going to pay top dollar for their experience of drinking a beer, they want the quality to be top notch as well.  That means your small brewing system has to have all the capabilities of a large system, and more.  You need to be able to do more with your small system than you could with a larger system.  You need to brew more diverse styles, experiment with a variety of flavors.  You need to highlight different ingredients.  Your system has to be more flexible, and better designed than a system that creates thousands of barrels of the same beer every year.

 

We have been designing all of the key functionality of larger brewing systems into smaller breweries longer than anybody else.  We have a wide variety of mash tuns, brew kettles, hot liquor tanks in all sizes.  Our cellar tanks are designed to fit in the small spaces offered in today’s tap rooms.  We can fit your fermenters and brite beer tanks in the tight spots of your brewery’s cellar.

 

No discussion of the economics of brewing is complete without a discussion of capital investments.  Any investment in a brewery still has to earn a return on investment, no matter what the scale of the operation.    If the size of your brewery is limited, your investment in capital also has to be proportional.   Our engineers at Stout Tanks and Kettles have designed every size of our brewhouses to be as cost effective as possible.  Because of our direct industry experience, we understand that that the capital investment in a small brewery system is directly related to the revenue that system produces.  Our brewery design consultants can talk with you about the size of investment you are prepared to make in your small brewery, and how to get the most out of every dollar you spend.  The plan for your brewery should be scaled financially to your sales strategy.

 

Stout Tanks and Kettles is here to help.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Most pours in a taproom are somewhat less than 16 full ounces.