It’s all about the BBL’s, Bro

As Indie’s brewmaster, my role in the start up was focused on our beer recipes and the construction of our brew house. Breweries are defined by what size brew house they have, as it is the main factor that determines how much beer they can produce. In the U.S., beer volume is measured in barrels (bbl). One U.S. barrel is 31 gallons. Large craft (think Sierra Nevada) and macro breweries (Budweiser) operate brew systems that can produce several hundred barrels per batch, while nano breweries have systems that can produce as little as a few gallons. And with our system, we can produce 10 barrels at a time (and are considered a microbrewery). Though, the size of the brew system is only half the equation, because a brewery also need space to ferment what the brew system produces. Fermenters range in size from being able to hold a single batch up to several batches.

When it came time to source our equipment, we had to consider how much beer we could produce given the square footage of our space. We also wanted a system that offered us flexibility to grow. We decided on a two vessel 10 bbl direct fired system that was American designed and manufactured in China. Having the equipment produced abroad can save a brewer a lot of money, but it comes with the potential risk of poor craftsmanship. That is why it was important for us to use an American-based company that provided excellent customer service and was diligent in overseeing the quality production of the equipment. In the process, we also learned that it is important to build a trusting relationship with the manufacturer because our interaction with them went far beyond the original purchase. A brew system is complex and requires on-going maintenance, troubleshooting, and add-on parts that may be difficult to source for systems produced overseas. We did a ton of research and worked with Minnetonka Brewing and Equipment Company and would recommend them to other breweries.

As I mentioned, the second component of the brewery and its production capacity is the fermenters. The fermenters are located in what is referred to as the cellar of the brewery. The main factors we considered when choosing fermenters and layout of our cellar were capacity for meeting demand of our core beers and flexibility for the future—we wanted to be able to grow capacity and add fermenters without needing to rearrange the configuration of the tanks. The footprint of the fermenters was also important to us. Because the footprint of a 10 bbl fermenter is close to that of a 20 bbl or even a 30 bbl fermenter, if we would have filled our cellar with 10 bbl fermenters it would have been a very inefficient use of valuable square footage. We opted to start with two 20 bbl fermenters and one 10 bbl fermenter, with the hopes of soon ordering additional 20 and 30 bbl tanks.

Getting to design and order all the components of the brew system and cellar was pretty awesome—definitely a highlight of the start-up process for me.