Sunday 5 June 2016

So you wanna open a brewery? Part III

The first two instalments of this series of posts covered investment, products, branding, premises and the various permissions and registrations required to set up a brewery in the UK. This third and penultimate post will cover the build out with the final post of the series covering pricing, sales and administration along with a few things I've learned along the way so far.

The long gap between those first posts and this one are perhaps an indication of how busy we've been for the past three or so months. Having finally got the keys to the unit on 18th February, we set a target of having the first brew fermenting on or around April 20th (it was actually the 27th, so not a bad result). The unit we have is tiny at approximately 10x6 metres and at the point we took occupancy was a pretty much a blank canvas, so we had lots to do. In terms of the 'big ticket' items, the list looked something like this:

  • Deep clean (unit had been empty for quite some time) and painting of exposed surfaces 
  • Removal of old domestic electrical runs (unit used to be a set of small offices - the false ceilings and partition walls were thankfully removed before we got the keys)
  • Fitting of hygienic wall cladding in wet area
  • Plumbing in of water connections and filtration system for filling CLT, HLT for top-up and connection for hose/pressure wash
  • Installation of electrical system throughout unit and connection to kettle and HLT
  • Installation of additional lighting
  • Cutting and laying drainage channel and connection to foul waste egress point
  • Installation of hygienic resin flooring
  • Installation of pallet shelving and wooden shelving as required
  • Installation of work area to include stainless sink and tables
  • Cutting of hole for steam egress and installation of and connection to chimney

Having spent a lot of time visiting other breweries and discussing the various pros and cons of their set ups across most or all of these items, it became clear that while there may be some 'best practices' such as having drainage points close to brewing vessels and using IP65+ rated electrical connections as high up as possible, the design and layout is ultimately dependent on the unit you'll be building into and how the vessels will be laid out within that. One of the best tips we received was to make life-sized paper templates of the brewing vessels and lay those out on the floor, moving them around until the layout worked best within the space. While I had done this electronically before we got the keys, being able to visualise up close was invaluable and ultimately led to the layout being changed. The vessel location really does govern everything else, so spend time getting that exactly right.

Once the vessel location was decided, the drainage and floor layout came into focus. We got quotes for different options from a specialist brewery flooring firm but in the end it worked out a lot cheaper (less than half the price) to using a local builder/drainage firm to cut and install the channel we wanted, then a specialist resin flooring company to lay the resin. Once those items were completed, we were in a position to move the vessels out of storage and start on the electrical work. The photo below shows the unit just after the resin flooring was laid. Note the two drainage points running in different directions.

Resin flooring laid up to two drainage channels, one in the centre of the 'wet area' and the other to the edge of the packaging area. The channel runs down to the front of the unit and connects to the foul waste egress point by going under the wall into the WC. You can also see the HLT and cleaning point connections to the right. 

With the flooring down, it was the turn of the electrical contractor. The paper templates were laid down again and connection points drawn in marker pen on the film that was covering the wall cladding. We had a separate breaker box installed that could be accessed easily between the HLT and mash tun. Two days later, work was complete bar wiring up the elements.

We installed the pallet shelving whilst the electricians were working. Next was moving the vessels into place, which was a fun day logistically. This involved using a local transport firm to drive the kit from where it was stored to the brewery. It was loaded and unloaded using a forklift (with me looking on nervously) then moved into place based on the design we'd set out with the paper templates. I had lots of help from friends that day, including Siren kindly lending us their forklift! The photo below shows the vessels in place.

The following week we set about completing the brew house installation and running in the final water connections. This shot was taken on a Friday evening and I think it was about 10am Monday morning when we decided the layout wasn't quite right, with hindsight. The reason being that connecting up to the heat exchanger (in the very far left corner, left of the kettle you can just about see) would've required a lot more copper and plumbing and from where it was located, tricky plumbing at that. So, we decided to swap the location of the CLT and FVs so the CLT was adjacent to the heat exchanger. We were lucky in that at 5BBL, FVs are light enough to be carried, dragged and persuaded into location and the pallet truck was able to get under the heavier CLT. The photo below shows the brewery at the end of that phase. 

The final week of the build out saw us installing the work area, cutting the chimney hole, installing and connecting up the chiller and temperature controls, frantically ordering chemicals and ingredients and generally fretting about the upcoming first brew and various couplers and connectors we were still missing. The photo below shows the completed installation.

On reflection, the installation went fairly smoothly. If I could pass on any tips, I think the key things are probably these:
  • Visit lots of breweries and observe. The question to ask is: "If you could start from scratch with the design and layout, what would you do differently?" - I guarantee you any brewer will merrily talk for hours on this topic!
  • Start with the vessel layout as everything really is dependent on that
  • From there, plan how the rest of the space will be used and mark that out on the floor
  • Don't be afraid to change things around if they're not right as you progress with the build. Once everything is in place, it's nigh on impossible to change it and will involve down time.

Part IV, the final piece in this series, should be up later this week. If you have any questions or comments, please do post them below!