What took so long?!

It seems like ages ago I started this project and posted that first blog, and it has been! I know it has been quiet but that hasn’t been because nothing has been happening. It is actually quite the opposite, lots of stuff has been going on. Unfortunately, a lot of it was going around in circles but there has been enough bad news this past year so that story is for another time…

The Brewhouse

It will come as no surprise that the key purchase you make when setting up a brewery is the brewhouse itself (including the cellar side, fermentation vessels (FVs), brite tanks etc.). Therefore, as you would expect I have spent a considerable amount of time thinking about what I want and who to go to for it.

I have chosen to work with Bespoke Brewing Solutions to manufacture the brewhouse. I have worked with them before so I know they are able to produce excellent quality equipment, great service and provide exceptional value for money. Over the last 8 months or so I have been working closely with them to design a fully customised brewhouse, all to my specifications and to suit my chosen site. Every time I have spoken to them they have been very helpful and accommodating with my requirements (and I have had some very niche ones), so I am very excited to be working with them to deliver their first 4-vessel brewhouse!

What is a 4-vessel brewhouse you ask? Well first let me cover what options you typically have and why you would or wouldn’t choose them. The brewhouse needs to perform the following steps to make the wort which we then turn into beer. Typically, there are 3 necessary steps in the process with a final optional 4th step. These are:

  1. Mashing (done in a mash tun)
  2. Lautering (done in a lauter tun)
  3. Boiling (done in a kettle)
  4. Clarification (done in a whirlpool or hop back) – Optional

I won’t cover the actual brewing process or what happens in each step because there are many books and websites that can do a far better job explaining this than I can.

2-Vessel Brewhouses

A 2-vessel system is typically a combined mash/lauter tun as the first vessel and a combined kettle/whirlpool as the second. Or if you have a slightly fancier setup a combined mash/kettle/whirlpool and a separate lauter tun but either way, it is as it sounds – 2 vessels.

These systems are very common for small breweries, especially so in little brewpub type setups. If you don’t intend on doing more than one brew per day or you are limited on space and budget, then this is a good choice.

3-Vessel Brewhouses

A 3-vessel system has three common formats. One is a combined mash/lauter tun, separate kettle and sperate whirlpool. One is a combined mash/kettle, separate lauter tun and separate whirlpool. And the last one is sperate mash tun, separate lauter tun and combined kettle/whirlpool.

Once a brewery hits a certain size, it makes sense to brew the target amount of beer by brewing more times per day on a smaller sized 3-vessel system than less times on a larger 2-vessel system. It allows flexibility in the schedule and gives the brewer the ability to adjust any errors in gravity there may be from the first turn (brew) of the day. This also allows the brewery to get either small FVs and brew once to fill or larger FVs and fill them by double or triple brewing into them. Either way it is possible to do all of this in a single day.

4-Vessel Brewhouses

A 4-vessel system as you may have guessed by now, is where all these stages are separate. Separate mash tun, separate lauter tun, separate kettle and sperate whirlpool.

4-vessel breweries are a great choice for modern brewing, especially considering how the use of hot side hopping has changed over recent years with most of it going into the whirlpool as opposed to the kettle. Having separate vessels for each step gives the greatest flexibility on what you can do with it. One example of this for modern hop forward styles is to whirlpool at cooler temperatures than boiling. There are a few ways of doing this but going from the kettle via a shell-and-tube or tube-in-tube heat exchanger to the whirlpool are great options (the latter is what I am going to do). It allows you it bring the temperature down very quickly without the risk of clogging your plate heat exchanger which I have unfortunately done more times that I would like. I’m sure there will be brewers out there reading this who have shared this pain.

There are other variants of these setups with dual kettles etc. but ultimately, they are all trying to achieve one or more of the associated advantages (given below).

What are the pros and cons of each option?

A brewery with fewer hot side brewhouse vessels is cheaper to buy and install (less stainless steel, pumps, pipes etc.) which is obviously an attractive feature. Fewer vessels also mean the smallest physical brewery footprint which allows the brewery to be squeezed into a smaller space (again saving on cost – lower rent, business rates etc.). However, this comes with a couple of compromises. The fewer the vessels the more doubling up of functionality so the tank designs are not optimal as they must be able to do multiple steps in the brewing process. When you get to a certain size output your bottleneck becomes the number of brews per day you can achieve. The fewer the tanks the tighter that bottleneck and the fewer brews per day. Once you hit this maximum limit then it is an expensive upgrade to increase capacity.

On the other hand, a brewery with more hot side vessels is more expensive to buy and install (more stainless, pumps, pipes, etc.) and takes up more space on the brewery floor. The more you add, the more complex it becomes which can then impact the operability of the system. It may become difficult to use or to learn how to use adding even further cost to provide solutions to these difficulties. It also may increase maintenance and other associated costs. So why bother with all this? There are significant positives to outweigh the negatives. The more vessels you have the less compromise there is in the design as you can have tanks designed specifically for the step in the process they carry out which increases efficiency and the overall quality of the beer. You can also cascade the brews through the system. If the maximum step time (including transfer) in any one tank is 120 mins then technically you can start a batch every 120 mins! This means that the more brewhouse vessels you have the more beer you can produce in a single day without adding more or bigger equipment. You can start small and know you have lots of room for growth before having to purchase more expensive equipment.

The Azvex 4-vessel brewhouse

Over the years I have been brewing on the commercial scale I have come to appreciate the true value in well-designed quality equipment and the impact it has not only on the quality of your beer but also on planning ahead into the future and the problems you encounter if you don’t have it. I opted for the 4-vessel option because of the advantages listed above. My goal is to make the best beer I possibly can, so I have gone for the best I can possibly get within my budget. I like to create various types of beer and having dedicated vessels for each step in the brewing process will allow me to create them as efficiently as possible with the greatest flexibility and maximum quality.  Whether I want to make multiple different beers in one day or make a lot of the same beer in one day I will have this capability and the design of brewhouse will enable me to do it in the best way I can.

One of the first stages of designing the system is to get the piping and Instrumentation diagram (P&ID) the way you want it. This is a crucial step as the operability, maintainability, flexibility, and configurability are all directly linked to this. The P&ID determines how each tank is interconnected, where all the valves for directing the flows are and where the instrumentation for measurements e.g. temperature are taken in relation to the plant equipment. Luckily (or unluckily depending on how you see it) I was a Control Systems Engineer before moving into brewing, so I have seen and worked on my fair share of P&IDs! This background in engineering alongside my brewing experience has been extremely valuable as I am familiar with typical operability and maintainability issues and how they can be designed out. I was able to draw out how I wanted the process to work in this P&ID format which gives a baseline for designing the physical layout and informs the routing of the pipework.

The Azvex Brewhouse 3D Model

The Azvex P&ID

You might be thinking, “This sounds overly complicated, can’t you just have a few giant stainless pots with some hose connecting them up together?!”. The answer is yes, you absolutely can! This is exactly what I did in the early days when I started out, so it is all I have ever worked with to date. This will be the first 4-vessel system I have ever used (only 2 vessel systems before this) and the first fully interconnected brewhouse I have used. In the past I have essentially just used brewer’s hoses to make the connections and moved them from tank to tank as and when needed to move the product to the next step. Over time I gradually replaced most of these hose connections with random lengths of stainless and valves. It ultimately worked well for me but ended up a very Heath Robinson type system. This is a completely valid (and common) approach, but it is labour intensive, time consuming and is very prone to human error as I learned the hard way.

I won’t go into specific details on the individual tanks here but there is one more first for me here which I have to share… and wait for it… this will be the first time I have had or worked on a lauter tun that digs itself out! To most of you this will not mean much but any brewer out there who has worked on basic equipment will be able to tell you why this excites me so much. Believe me, once you have spent some real time digging out spent grain you begin to appreciate just how great this is, albeit simple!

What’s the current status?

I have placed the order for my brewhouse, the design is complete and is in manufacture so now it’s a waiting game. However, there is plenty of work to be getting on with in the meantime. I have been working with my chosen flooring supplier to lock in the details and costs. I have chosen and ordered a process heating boiler which has now completed manufacture and I have been working with the installer to make sure it integrates smoothly into the overall system. I will cover both flooring and heating in separate blogs as they are both equally as important as each other and depending on who you ask, also as important as the brewhouse itself!

The Azvex Brewery Layout – Notice just how much space the 4-vessel setup takes up!

Things are picking up pace now so the next update will come much, much quicker than this one did. Although there is still a little way to go, beer is now on the horizon! If you want to be first to hear when it becomes available, signup using the relevant link below.

Stay tuned, stay safe and please be patient!

Adam Henderson – Azvex Brewing Co.

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