The web of dependent details, with plenty of pictures

So you want to put a brewery indoors. The city wants to know how you want to do this. Fine, and that’s not really a bad thing. You will be either burning natural gas and creating carbon monoxide, or sticking electrical heating elements into water, after all. It seems like a good thing that someone who knows how these things should go together would sign off on your plans. The problem becomes creating a hierarchy of decisions that need to be made, while thinking far enough down the road that you won’t have to do it again anytime soon.

I want to brew in 1 barrel batches. I can get 6 corny kegs out of a barrel, and it makes accounting for things easy, being a nice round number. The problem with 1 barrel (or 1 bbl) systems is that it sits right between fancy home brewer (15 gal/1/2 bbl) and low-end professional territory (3-5 bbl). There aren’t a lot of brew setups in this range. Most people just weld their own stands and wire their own control panels. I have a few specialized skills and I learn fast, but I don’t weld, and I don’t fuss with electricity when it needs to plug into a wall. So what are my options?

First, gas fired boilers,

or electric brewery?

I really love the automatic, precise (and silent) nature of electric brewing. Set your strike temp and push go on the pump. Not babysitting a thermometer sounds like it would make brewing for money infinitely more enjoyable. Plus, no CO to worry about, only steam, so venting wouldn’t be a life or death matter, but it is expensive (to the tune of $8k-$10k) if you aren’t going to make everything yourself. Normally I don’t mind learning a new trade and saving a bunch of cash, but I don’t have that kind of time right now.
So gas it is! And what size can I get away with? While space is an issue, the most important factor is gonna be venting deadly gases. I was thinking that the existing wall vent fan in the space would be strong enough to pull CO fumes through the hood and safely outside, but it turns out it isn’t even close at about 700 CFMs (or Cubic Feet per Minute). I need something along the lines of about 2000 CFMs to do the job. The hood I bought for $125 off of Craigslist has a 16″ hole for ducting, and the fan on the wall is only 10″. Looks like kick ass fans are only about $150-$200, so I can just pull the old fan and widen the hole, allowing for enough airflow to guarantee I can use Blichmann’s high performance 72,000 BTU burners. They are small (not really meant for anything over a 20 gal batch), but efficient, which means less CO. I’m not positive yet, but I think a step up to 200,000 BTU banjo burners (necessary for a 1 bbl batch) would be too much.
I can automate things with electric burner controllers, but that notches the price tag up again. The available options for a brew stand with gas burners is a fairly short list. You have single tier (or hybrid two tier) designs that require pumps to move fluids from pot to pot, and generally cost $2k-$4k for one that someone else welded together for you:

And you have “gravity fed” systems, like the Blichmann Top Tier, which goes for about $600, and requires magical gravity forces to move the goods from tier to tier. For the record, this is the only piece of equipment that Blichmann (Blingmann) makes that will instantly save you money:

My biggest problem is space. The hood has a footprint of 7’x3.5′, which would barely fit a single tier setup, if it was 1/2bbl. If I hang it with enough clearance for proper ductwork overhead, I can’t use the Top Tier unless I bury the top shelf up inside the hood. The answer came in a hybrid of the two that should leave me some flexibility for the future, and the pots below eye level. Using a Top Tier, I can take advantage of it’s modular design to put two tiers at the same height and use a pump for that transfer. Small footprint, and not too tall, kind of like this guy’s setup:

The only problem with the Blichmann Top Tier is that you can’t fit their 55 gal pot on the stand, so you are limited to what you can brew on the next size down (30 gal), which maxes you out around 20 gal of finished product, or 4 corny kegs at a time. Not horrible, but certainly not a cash cow of a setup. The good news is, for an extra $700, you can get this bad boy, allowing automation of your burners and pumps, letting you clean/sanitize, take inventory, or do data entry while you brew, without constantly being paranoid that you are about to boil over or lose your mash temp.

So that’s the plan I’m settling on. I should be able to get a deal straight from Blichmann (they offer a deal to breweries) and hopefully get kettles, burners, stand, pumps, and automation for under $3k and be off to the races with minimal reworking of the existing space.

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