Getting your craft brewery refrigeration right the first time. The craft beer market is exploding at an exponential rate at the moment. If you’re thinking about transitioning your brewing operation from your garage to a legitimate full-time brewery, refrigeration is going to play a key role in your success. For those of you who have never experienced dealing with refrigeration equipment it CAN be costly to purchase and operate but if approached correctly can operate efficiently for many years to come.
With any brewery large or small there are thousands of moving parts and hundreds of decisions to be made even prior to setting up shop so number one is doing your homework, this will take many, many hours but in the end will save you time, money and stress.
Speaking from experience, I know that the initial cost of starting a brewery (even a small one) can be at least a half a million dollars so obviously keeping costs in check is a huge concern but spend your money wisely.
Hey craft brewer, don’t make these refrigeration mistakes.
- Don’t hire your friend’s cousin who installs air conditioning on his evenings and weekends.
- Don’t try to MacGyver a cooling system out of pieces of anything not meant specifically for this application (especially paper clips!).
- Don’t purchase used equipment unless you have seen this equipment running and have asked a professional to check it out while it was running.
- Hire professionals you can trust to make sure you’re getting the right equipment for your particular needs and situation.
- Purchase new reliable equipment.
How did I come up with these lists? Easy. Through experience.
Brewery story 1: bigger companies aren’t always better
A few years back (previous to the inception of IceMasters), I worked for a big company on the tail end of an expansion project at one of the larger local breweries. While the lead mechanic on the job was skilled with taking engineer drawings and making them a reality, he lacked technical service experience. And his inexperience in real life situations cost the brewery thousands of dollars in lost product due to the system crashing on cold nights. Since starting IceMasters, I’ve seen the advantages of operating with a smaller team. Each member gets more experience in varied situations that expands their skill set. More hands-on experience means IceMasters’ technicians can and will solve problems like this BEFORE they become problems.
The fix for this problem was simple; we ended up installing a different (correct) low ambient pump down line from the condenser on the roof. No more system crashes. And as an added bonus half the refrigerant in the system could be removed.
Brewery story 2: new and reliable refrigeration equipment still needs to be the right equipment for you
A while ago, we were working with a start-up brewery that had purchased what they thought was a good reliable refrigeration system. They immediately started experiencing problems. But they couldn’t understand why.
Sadly, they didn’t do their homework before purchasing. There are a plethora of systems available ranging in everything from style and size to power usage to their ability to operate in cold climates. So how do you know what is good and what is not? Ask questions. Find out all you can from the manufacturer of the equipment. Put a call into a trusted service provider. Check reviews. Call other breweries and ask them what their experience has been with the equipment.
Had they come to us to ask for advice before their purchase, I would have told them I don’t believe the system is engineered all that well. I want my customers to succeed. And even though performing repair after repair to keep an improperly engineered system running makes me money, I’d rather help customers avoid costly service entirely by making sure they’re set up with the equipment they need for success right from the start.
Your craft brewery success depends on having the right equipment and the right support team in place
Remember, refrigeration is one of your biggest initial expenses when setting up your craft brewery. If approached incorrectly, it can effectively make sure your craft brewery stresses you out and costs you nothing but money.
If you are thinking of starting up a craft brewery or you are already operating one, give IceMasters a call. We would be happy to hear from you and answer any questions you may have. Stay cool!