Infrastructure Details

Nicholas posted a comment in my last post that I thought was a great question, and possibly where this blog could be most valuable to future brewery owners. His question: “Where did you find out about all the requirement equipment, gas lines, water lines, etc. Can you point me to any books, articles, etc.?”

When you are looking for a place to lease/buy, make sure the utilities are there. Gas, 3 phase electric with sufficient amperage, decent water pipe size/pressure, and an easily accessible sewer line should be requirements. Avoid historical buildings because while they are neat and interesting, you may have additional hurdles and increased costs to deal with associated with historical preservation. Also, one of the more important things to watch out for is sufficient ceiling height (at least 14′ high).

When you’ve found a space, your best resource is a good architect and a brewing consultant. Architects should be aware of all building code issues you’ll encounter, and probably know what you need to operate a brewery. A brewing consultant can advise you to size your utilities correctly so your brewery will work efficiently. You’ll save a lot of money if your landlord can give you “as built” plans of your space. Otherwise, the architect will have to survey the space and draw plans from scratch, which can be very expensive. Contractors / subcontractors should also be aware of code requirements.

For a frame of reference, I didn’t hire an architect, and I didn’t use a brewing consultant as much as I should have. I researched many of the things I needed myself by looking at other breweries and talking with other brewery owners about what they did and what they wished they did. My contractor and his subcontractors have been a huge help in my selection on materials. Typically, you don’t want to rely on your contractor and the subs, as this will cause deviations from the plan and you’ll run into “Change Orders”, meaning additional costs and the possibility of the contractor taking advantage of you. Luckily my contractor is an honest guy so I haven’t had any problems with my change orders yet. Anyway, I’ve learned a lot in the process of figuring out things myself, but as you’ll see I’ve made mistakes that I’ll have to live with.

Here’s a list of the utilities you need, and the sizing considerations:

Water– One of the most critical resources is a decent flow of water. A 1″ line at 60-80 PSI would be great for a small brewery. Mine is 3/4″ at 75 PSI, which is decent but the building only has 3/4″ at the connection. It’s pretty pricy to upgrade a water line to a larger size, so try to find a place with a large water line at the outset. My plumbers have run 3/4″ copper pipe to the brewing areas for water connections. Also, something obvious but important– the longer the run of pipe (of the same diameter), the less pressure you’ll have. This applies to natural gas as well.

Gas– Finding a building with a natural gas connection is essential, unless you want to start a brewery out in the middle of nowhere and all that’s available is low pressure propane. The gas company is great about changing out the gas connection to your required size, so if the connection isn’t sufficient, don’t worry too much about it. Just make sure you’re able to increase the gas line size on your end. I went with a 3″ line, which is huge and probably overkill. For the equipment I currently have, I need around 2,000,000 BTU’s. My gas line run is around 80 feet. A 3″ line at 80 feet can deliver around 3,705,000 BTU’s. If I ever want to add a larger kettle or more in-line water heaters, I have an extra 1,705,000 BTU’s with my current gas line. The gas company is only giving me enough pressure at this point for 2,000,000 BTU’s and will upgrade their end once I need more pressure.

Sewer– It’s important to check the depth of the sewer before leasing or buying a place, as this is something that is very expensive to change, if it’s possible at all. I didn’t check the depth of my sewer before signing a lease. Once I found out my sewer line was 17″ below the ground, it was too late. I changed the configuration of where everything was to be placed to accommodate the short run to the sewer. There’s a few ways to mitigate this problem if you come across it. The easiest is to upsize the sewer line you’ll be installing for the floor drains. We went with a 4″ line instead of a 3″ line, which by code can have a lower slope to the main sewer. You can also pour concrete to raise the area to be drained, but this will cut into the ceiling height, which was a problem for me. The third option is using a sump pump for drainage. This can get pricy, and pumps aren’t always reliable. If the pump fails, you’ll be living in your own sewage until it gets fixed. Pneumatic pumps are the best option here as they are more reliable and if the power goes out, your air compressor tank will still have some air left in it. Also, if you’re looking to start a brewery in a rural area, avoid septic systems at all costs. Waste water treatment for a small brewery is cost prohibitive, and without adequate waste treatment, you’ll have to be very careful with what goes down the drain.

Concrete– Most industrial / commercial buildings have 4-6″ of concrete. The city will likely require a structural engineer to draw up plans for how these are going to be anchored, as well as calculations which support their recommendation. I found that my 15 BBL tanks could stay on the existing concrete slab and be anchored to it, but most of the brewhouse tanks as well as my 30 BBL tanks are too heavy and would have to be supported by separately poured footings. I decided to demo all of the concrete in the brewing area and pour a 12″ slab. This allowed me to add floors sloped toward the drain, and the ability to add tanks in the future without pouring any new concrete. I also have 12″ curbs that were poured monolithically (all as one piece), which have greater strength than curbs poured on top of an existing concrete slab that are simply anchored to the floor. I went with 3000 PSI concrete, which is fairly high strength and not that much more expensive than the standard 2500 PSI concrete.

Electricity– The sizing all depends on the size of the operation, but my recommendation is at least 200 amps of 3 phase electricity. I leased the space thinking I had 200 amps of 3 phase, but it turned out I had 175 amps of single phase electricity. I had to add the 200 amp / 3 phase panel, and luckily I’ll be able to keep the existing single phase electricity as well. I wish I had 400 amps of 3 phase, so I’d recommend that to you too. My glycol chiller requires 60 amps of 3 phase power by itself. When I’m in the middle of brewing and many other devices are also running, I’ll be close to pulling all 200 amps at once.

Roof Weight Capacity or Side Yard– You’ll need a place to put your glycol chiller, and most of them emit a lot of heat (unless they are liquid cooled), so outside is the best place for them. Mine is going on the roof, and by the size of the platform my contractor is putting on the roof (3′ x 18′) I’m learning the roof can’t handle too much weight. Make sure your city / landlord allows large machinery on the roof. If you’re in an industrial area, there’s a good chance there won’t be a problem. If I had a locked side yard, I would have put the glycol chiller there, along with a malt silo and whatever I don’t need to store indoors.

Venting– I’ve had to make quite a few roof penetrations to vent all of the equipment I’m putting in. I have three water heaters, all with their own vent. My kettle needs 2 vents– one for steam, one for combustion exhaust. If you choose a building with multiple stories, you will either have a long draw vent or a vent from the side of the building (both of which will probably require exhaust fans). Keep in mind your neighbors might be taking in air from the same area you are venting to, so plan carefully if you aren’t venting straight to the roof. I’m in a single story building, so my vents are relatively short and don’t need fans.

HVAC– This is a big issue I haven’t addressed yet. The Health Department has required that I keep the doors closed at all times, so when I’m brewing on a 100 degree day, I can’t open the place up to get a breeze through. I don’t have enough power (or money) to add a huge air conditioning unit, so we’ll probably be brewing early in the morning to avoid the hottest times of the day. I’ll likely add intake fans to bring in filtered outside air in a few months as summer approaches, but I’m not giving this too much attention until it becomes a problem. I’m thinking of inventing glycol cooled clothing, but I have too much on my plate right now to get into that. If someone wants to run with that idea, feel free to do so! I’ll be your first customer! Maybe I’ll just buy these:

This is all I can think of for the moment. If anyone wants to read it, I could prepare something similar for how I’ve chosen my brewing equipment.

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