Key questions to ask before buying to save your brewery time and money.
Used or new, the equipment you choose should meet the needs of your brewery.
Choosing malt handling equipment can be a lot like a married couple buying their first car. “New or used?”, “will my family be expanding soon?”, and “how fast will it go?” are some questions they might ask. When planning a brewery, getting proper grain handling equipment that fully meets your needs can either be a bane or boon of your existence.
Before purchasing, ask yourself these three important questions:
1. What’s my batch size and how many brews a day will I plan?
Whether you are making the jump from homebrew to nanobrew or piecemealing a fifteen barrel system on a limited budget, your size ultimately dictates the need for malt handling equipment. “If the goal is to not brew 24/7 then you can have an inefficient grain handling system,” says Jim Mellem, director of brewing operations at The Bruery and tenured past employee of Sierra Nevada. As you grow, you’ll quickly realize a decent malt handling system can squeeze more efficiency into each batch and allow for multiple brews a day.
Mellem continued, “malt storage is a personal and risk management type of decision for a lot of brewers. You want to match your highest projected grain use to the space you allocate. For smaller breweries it's a matter of space. You need to store your grain sacks in a clean, dry, pest free, and low relative humidity location. Not an issue for us on the west coast, but east coaster’s humidity can be a big deal if you keep your grain for too long,” Mellem continued.
Store grain sacks in a clean, dry place, away from pests and high humidity.
2. Will my budget allow me to purchase all the equipment I need at once? If the answer is no, in what order should I buy equipment? And what about future considerations?
Firstly, a grist mill will pay for itself over a short time as buying pre-milled grain is more expensive (4-7 cents extra per pound). Not only that, purchasing pre-milled grain limits suppliers and grain availability, it’s less shelf stable, and you also don’t have control over the grind. Matt Becker, brewer at Packinghouse Brewing in Riverside, advises to “get at least a three-roller mill and the fastest pound per minute you can afford.” Creating a clean, dust-free enclosed mill-room is also a requirement, and be aware some states require explosion-proofing to get up to code. Wet milling is something to consider down the road for upgrades.
Secondly, a grain auger can save on labor and mash-in time. While some may opt to get conveyance before a mill due to space constraints, controlling beer quality and consistency should be concern number one. Although most augers are similar, breweries may move to a malt conveyor system or pneumatic system down the road, especially if brewhouse automation is in play. Avoid mistakes: make sure to get an auger than is faster than your mill speed.
Thirdly, a grist case can improve efficiency for those that brew multiple times per day (on a dry mill). While mashing or boiling wort, a brewer can mill the next batch. “Get a case that is 25-30% larger than your mash tun capacity,” says Becker. The Bruery’s old brewhouse had a grist case that was too small and had to mill as they mashed. “Not ideal,” says Mellem. Their new automated pneumatic system solved this issue.
Finally, consider how to store your grain. Should you have bulk silo storage or supersacks? What about spent grain handling? “I think people would be foolish to have less than a week’s worth of grain on site...you want to match your highest projected grain use to the space you allocate, and how much you trust your maltster to keep you well stocked. For smaller breweries it's a matter of space,” says Mellem. Silos are great for breweries that use a lot of one type of base malt. For Noble Ale Works in Anaheim, CA, their silo is currently used as a billboard. “For base malts, we’re all over the place and it doesn’t make sense to fill it up. We will likely move to supersacks as we expand,” says head brewer Evan Price. Johnny Johur of Artifex Brewing mentioned getting a silo as part of a deal when signing an extended contract with a malt company, but the business complex the brewery is located won’t allow for any outdoor additions. Make sure a silo addition is part of your lease or purchase agreement.
Bulk storage shortens the brewing process and reduces the cost of malt.
3. Should I buy new, used, or lease?
CFO Brian Rauso of Noble Ale Works in Anaheim, CA said they originally piecemealed the malt handling equipment with a mix of new and used, “but if we had to do it again, I’d buy everything new. The money saved on buying used has been lost fixing or re-working everything over the time. Warranty and support from the manufacturer would have been great.” When buying used, be sure to know specifics of what it was used for, how long, and why they are getting rid of it. The used equipment market is extremely fluid, so finding the best pieces may take some diligence, luck, and timing. Leasing new equipment may be another option, especially if you project a quick turnaround on your space requirements. Finally, buying is the most expensive option up front, but can mean less stress, as warranty and manufacturer support leave you with that extra warm and fuzzy feeling to brew, or focus on the other million things required to operate a craft brewery.
However you choose to buy your equipment, make wise investments in both time and money. Do your research, utilize the correct channels, and most importantly, understand the needs of your brewery now and in the future.