The other day I got an email from Eric in Minnesota, who happens to be in the planning stages of starting a brewery up there. He was asking about the specifics of using used dairy equipment, and what sort of modifications are necessary to make them brewhouse ready. I figured I should probably share that info here as well, in case any other folks find it useful.
Before I get into too many details though I should mention that the used dairy equipment we bought from Alesmith was modified long before we even laid eyes on it. In other words, I’m no expert on this stuff, but I’m making assumptions based on conversations I’ve had with people and pictures I’ve seen of this equipment in its original state (do a Google image search for “used dairy equipment”). If you plan on modifying used dairy tanks for brewing, I would recommend you hire a professional brewing consultant and definitely a reputable stainless welder. So here goes…
Fermenters: The most readily adaptable tanks (without much modification to them) will be the fermenters. The two primary fermenters we have are “Milkeeper Bulk Farm Cooling Tanks” from The Creamery Package Mfg. Co. As far as I can tell, the only modifications were to remove the agitator blades and motor assembly from the top of the tank (previously for stirring the milk as it cooled) and to remove the self-contained refrigerant box on one end of the tank to expose the in & out pipes for the cooling jacket.
The picture on the left is the top of one of our fermenters. The three “screw holes” are where the motor used to be mounted, and only penetrate the outer jacket. The center hole penetrates into the actual tank, and used to have an agitator blade that went down into the tank to stir the milk as it cooled. It looks like someone welded a sanitary connection onto this hole at some point. This connection now holds our sanitary thermometer well (seen in the next pic).
As I mentioned earlier, the other change these tanks went through was to remove the self contained refrigerant control boxes. The general practice in breweries is to control all tanks that need cooling from one cooling source (usually a glycol chiller). It would be much less efficient to cool each of these dairy tanks with it’s own set of electrical controls, pumps, etc. so the refrigerant control system was removed to expose the pipes that run through the tank’s jacket. The glycol cooling system was then connected to these pipes.
In the photo on the left you can still see the exposed pipes where we’ll connect our glycol chiller. This “box” on the end of the tank used to hold lots of wires, pumps, temperature controlers, etc.
Another reason to disassemble these control boxes is because the refrigerant system that came with the tanks would hold the fermenting wort at a temperature that would be too cold. (Since it was designed for keeping milk cold.) All the same stuff applies for our two secondary fermenters – The “Hi-Perform” Bulk Cooling Tanks from the Mueller Company.
Another important note is that these fermenters will require more labor to clean than a conical uni-tank (since you basically have to climb inside and scrub them). Climbing inside a tank that had previously fermenting beer, and large amounts of CO2 can be dangerous and deadly, so you will definitely want a CO2 detection meter for checking the empty tank before you climb in (and probably a portable exhaust fan as well). Both of these items can be found through McMaster-Carr, or other vendors.
Boil Kettle: Our Boil Kettle was originally a steam kettle (either for pasteurizing milk, or for making cheese?) from The Creamery Package Mfg. Co. I think the only modification was to attach an elbow pipe inside the kettle which is used to create a whirlpool after the boil.
In the photo at left the outlet port (on the left side) will be connected to a fixed-speed pump, and then to the inlet port (on the right). You’ll see in the next photo that on the inside of the inlet port, an elbow has been welded to divert the flow of the wort around the kettle, thus creating a whirlpool.
You’ll have to figure out how you want your brewery to be powered (steam, direct-fired, electrical) and that will probably effect your decision about what sort of kettle to purchase. If you decide to go with steam, you’ll have to find a local company that makes steam boilers, and that they can size it properly for your operation. Our kettle is jacketed and steam fired.
As far as the sizing of your brew kettle to your fermenters, there is plently of literature out there (I know Ashton Lewis writes about this in The Homebrewer’s Answer Book), so I won’t talk about that here, but also your brewery consultant can help you out in that regard.
Hot Liquor Tank: Our Hot Liquor Tank is a bulk milk cooling tank from The Dairy Equipment Company. The tank is jacketed, and there is a refrigeration unit attached, but we’re not using that. Instead, there is a big metal radiator unit that sits inside tank, standing upright. The steam pipes are attached from our steam boiler into the radiator, and that’s how the brewing water gets heated up for the mash-tun. I think our heating element was either custom-made or repurposed from another piece of equipment. I’m not really sure where to source something like this, but a stainless fabricator or welder might know. Also, when you’re dealing with steam you difinitely want to have an experienced plumber or contractor help you hook things up. Steam generates pressure, and is obviously hot, so you can create some dangerous situations if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Here’s our heating element, which still has some mineral scale on it and needs some more cleaning. The steam pipes extend out of the top (bigger pipe is hot steam, smaller pipe is return). Also, our HLT had a re-circulation system added to it to keep the heat evenly distributed. In the next picture you can see the basic piping system that circulates the water out of the tank, to a pump and then back to the top of the tank. There is also a valve and hose connection so that the water can be diverted to the mash tun when the proper strike temperature has been reached. Yes, our HLT is still pretty funky-looking, but we’re working on cleaning it up nice and pretty.
Mash Tun: The Mash Tun was an old Mueller model M (I think) bulk milk tank, with the agitator blade and motor removed as well as the refrigeration unit removed. In the next picture you can see where the motor mount used to be, and the hole, which was cut bigger to accommodate the grist-hydrator. The top of this tank was single-walled, so I imagine it was easier to cut through.
The next picture shows the same angle of the Mash Tun, but with the grist hydrator mounted on top. The milled grain gets augured/piped into the top part of the hydrator while the strike liquor gets pupmed in through the PVC hose connection at the front. The whole point of this setup is that you don’t want to get dry grist-balls in your mash, and stirring 1,000+ pounds grain with a couple hundred gallons of water is not very easy to do by hand.
You can see in the following pic how the strike liquor gets distributed on all four sides of the unit. Then in the next pic you can see the spray nozzles on the inside that ensure the grist is evenly coated as it falls through the center of the unit.
I’m not sure, but I think a grist hydrator is probably something you’ll have to have custom built by a brewing systems fabricator or an experienced stainless welder, unless you can find a used one somewhere…
Also, our mash tun is jacketed, but we’re not using the jacket for any heating or cooling. The way we have the tank setup is basically for single infusion mashes only. In lieu of a false-bottom, we use a single pipe with downward-facing slits cut into it, which connects to the main outlet valve of the tank. Yes, it is very much like a giant homebrew setup…but this is how Alesmith originally made all their great beers, so you know it works! The sparge arm is very similar…A long copper pipe that runs the length of the tank, with small holes drilled into it. It is suspended from the top of the tank in a pretty rudimentary way, and water from the HLT is pumped into it during the sparge.
Used dairy equipment can certainly be cheaper than a brand new, custom made brewhouse, but there are still a lot of considerations you want to make before spending your hard earned money on anything. Also, one other thing to be mindful of…Try to get documentation (manuals, specifications, etc) on any used equipment you are buying. You may need to submit it to the Health Department at some point before they will give you approvals to start operations. This is the situation I’m finding myself in now, and some of these equipment manufacturers have since gone out of business. Buying this equipment certainly saved us a ton of money (as opposed to buying new, custom-made equipment), but I’m hoping that we don’t run into too many bureaucratic road blocks that make it more expensive in the long run. I guess you’ll have to stay tuned to find out…and keep your fingers crossed for us. ; )