For serious fans of craft beer, starting a brewery can be the ultimate dream. What better business to start with friends—making something you love for you and other beer enthusiasts?
In fact, a lot of people are passionate about brewing beer. According to the Homebrewers Association, there are an estimated 1.1 million homebrewers in the U.S., producing more than 1.4 million barrels of beer in 2017. At the same time, the number of enthusiasts who are turning their brewing hobbies into breweries continues to grow. The Brewers Association counted 6,266 craft breweries in the U.S. in 2017, a 15.5 percent increase from the year before.
From Hobby to Starting a Brewery
Making the leap from a home brewing operation to starting a full-fledged craft brewery business can be a challenge. Any small business idea takes plenty of planning, money, and perseverance to become successful. But starting a brewery requires large, expensive, specialized equipment, along with the know-how and space to operate it. There are also legal and permitting issues unique to the industry to consider.
Finding Your Equipment
The cost of brewery equipment can vary depending on several things, such as the volume of beer you wish to brew and whether you choose to purchase new or used. For larger operations, you can go to a manufacturer like ABS Commercial brewery equipment and not only get whatever you need, you can get it customized however you want it.
Of course, the size and age of the equipment you buy will often be determined by your startup budget. In general, when starting a brewery, your equipment list will need to include kettles, boilers, fermentation tanks, filters, cooling systems, storage tanks, kegs, bottling or canning equipment, refrigeration, piping, and cleaning tools. Acquiring equipment for restaurants covers some of the same issues.
Equipment List for Starting a Brewery
A brewhouse consists of all the components, or vessels, a craft brewery needs for the initial brewing stage. It typically includes a mash mixer, lauter tun, hot liquor tank, holding kettle, boil kettle, and whirlpool. A two-vessel brewhouse is often made up of combinations of a mash mixer/lauter tun/hot liquor tank and boil kettle/whirlpool, while a larger, more advanced five-vessel system separates these components.
The first step creates wort — the liquid extracted from the mashing of malt and other grains. This is then moved to the kettle, where it’s boiled with hops or other ingredients, producing the flavor, color, and aroma of your beer. At the conclusion of the boil, the wort settles in the whirlpool, where more solid particles are separated out.
Pricing for a Brewhouse
Brewery equipment maker Ss Brewtech has developed brewhouses at different capacities, with prices ranging from just under $50,000 for a 3.5 barrel (bbl) system to $98,500 for a 20 bbl system.
Fermentation and Brite Tanks
The next step in the beer-making process—and next item that should be on your equipment list—takes place in the fermentation tank, with yeast feeding on the wort to produce alcohol and carbonation. This makes it one of the most important pieces of equipment for any person starting a brewery. Consider tanks with a cone-shaped bottom, allowing the yeast to be easily captured and removed for later use. These gleaming stainless-steel vats are also one of the largest and most prominent pieces of brewing equipment, sometimes prominently displayed behind the bar at brewpubs.
After the brewing process is complete, the beer is filtered and pumped into a secondary brite tank. Similar in looks to a fermentation tank, the brite tank allows the beer to further mature, clarify, and carbonate before it is bottled, canned, or kegged. The beer can also be served directly from the brite tank.
Pricing for Fermentation and Brite Tanks
Stout Tanks and Kettles specializes in equipment for small breweries, offering tanks in a range of sizes, both jacketed and non-jacketed. Jacketed containers allow for easy temperature control. Fermenters start at just over $2,000 for a 3 bbl size, while brite tanks run from just under $1,400 to over $5,500.
Kegs and Keg Washers
Whether or not you choose to bottle your beer when starting your brewery, kegs are an essential component for storing, serving, and selling your finished product. A keg can be tapped for use in your own brewpub, or sold to bars or restaurants for counter sales to customers.
Like the rest of your brewery equipment, it’s vital to keep your kegs clean, to prevent spoilage or poor-tasting beer. Depending on the volume of your brewery, an automated keg washer will offer greater cleaning efficiency and lower labor costs, while helping speed up your brewing process.
Pricing for Kegs and Keg Washers
A number of companies supply standard 1/2 barrel kegs, such as Beverage Factory, which sells 15.5 gallon beer kegs for $125. For keg washing systems, Portland Kettle Works offers several automated keg washers that range from just under $10,000 to over $14,000.
Establishing Craft Beer Pricing
In addition to producing good beer, successfully starting a brewery requires setting the right price for your line of brews. Not only does the price have to be fair in customers’ eyes, but it has to take into account the full cost of producing your beer, while also paying down debts and turning a profit. A too-high price can hurt sales; too low and you may struggle to cover expenses.
According to Craft Beer Restaurant (you can go here to read more: https://beerconnoisseur.com/ ) when selling your beer in a restaurant or brewpub, a general formula is to take the wholesale cost of your bottle of beer and multiply by 2.0 or higher (up to 3.0). Thus, a 12-ounce bottle of beer that costs you $2.50 to brew can be sold for $5 to $7 to customers.
For draught beer poured from a keg, costs are typically about 40-45 percent less per ounce than the same beer in a bottle. Use the multiplier of 2.0 or more to figure your price. But because draught beer comes with added overhead costs to store and serve, such as regular cleaning, spillage, and possible spoilage, it’s important to add an additional per-glass charge to cover these extra costs.
Are you a business owner with experience starting a brewery? What other items would you add to this equipment list? Let us know in the comments!