Future Considerations

September 5, 2011

The first two months of working at Ommegang have shown me a ton of things to consider in the theoretical future where I get off my ass and start planning a brewery where I’m no longer working for someone else. From brewhouse design to brewery layout to considerations about volume versus labor input, it’s been eye opening.

So far I’ve used three commercially sized brewhouses: the systems at Custom Brewcrafters, Brewery Ommegang, and the pilot system at Doemens Academy in Munich. The three have varying levels of automation and number of actual vessels.

  • Custom Brewcrafters has a 10BBL system that has a combination boil kettle and whirlpool vessel and a combination mash and lauter vessel. There’s no automation on this brewhouse, so all valves and pumps are operated manually.
  • Brewery Ommegang uses a system to make 50-55 hectolitre batches with a combination boil kettle and whirlpool vessel, a mash mixer, and a dedicated lauter vessel. Most of the pumps are variable speed, and are all controlled by a computerized panel (which also controls the steam valves), though all the liquid valves are still manual.
  • Doemens Academy uses a 6 hectolitre system with a mash vessel, dedicated lauter vessel, boil kettle, and a dedicated whirlpool vessel. On this system everything is automated and computerized except pulling grain out of the lauter tun and pouring grain into the mash tun.

Now, ignoring the system sizes, the Doemens system is the most ideal. Being able to specifically control flow paths, the steam supply, and vessel temperatures allows you free time to get other important things done and gives a great level of control and consistent repeatability.

From the standpoint of vessel layout, the Doemens system is the best because you’d ideally like to have dedicated vessels for mashing, lautering, boiling and whirlpooling. If you’re really trying to maximize your number of brews, you can also put in a wort collection vessel so you can lauter while the previous batch boils in the kettle.

Of the three systems outlined above, the Custom Brewcrafters system gives the least amount of control and has the most limiting brewhouse layout with only two vessels, but it’s so much less irritating to use than the Ommegang system. Neither system is fully automated, but the way the Ommegang system was constructed makes it really tough on the brewers. The vessels there are all elevated, so you can walk or crouch under them, and all of the piping was placed in that space. Of course the spent grain pump under the lauter tun is right in the way of the easiest access point to get to all of the valves, leading us all to speculate just hos drunk someone had to be to design the system like it currently is. At Custom Brewcrafters, the flow valves were all in front of the vessels, making it super easy to run around and alter flows when necessary, and simple to just look over and see exactly what part of the process was going on.

When you get down to it, though, the biggest question in my mind is: what size and how many vessels do you need? At Ommegang, we’ve outgrown the size of our system and are up to brewing 20 batches a week, so 24 hours a day for 4 days (with Friday as a cleaning day). To facilitate this, we have our system piped so we can run the mash into the lauter tun and lauter the wort back into a the mash mixer while the previous batch boils/whirlpools in the kettle. Seeing how much overtime everyone has to put in there just to increase production to get a little closer to meeting demand really drives home the point of properly sizing an initial system. That system has been there since the beginning, so they sized it right for the initial decade+ of the brewery. Just imagine if they had gone the cheap/bootstrap route that so many startups are going in these days and bought a system half the size. They’d have needed to upgrade a few times since… $$$.

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