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SUBMITTED BY benengler ON Mon, 03/30/2015 - 20:50

Ben Engler - Member Expert, Brewer and Proprietor, Occidental Brewing Co.

When operating a new brewery, one likely employs used or re-purposed or undersized equipment. As the brewery matures and sales grow, steps must be taken to increase production and maintain efficiency. Obvious solutions like adding cellar capacity and labor are easy to understand, but these are only a couple of options among the myriad of choices you will face. Your goals may include brewing more beer, earning greater profits, or (one of my goals this year) spending less time at the brewery. Regardless, it is imperative to evaluate the entire business and the system of operations and internal linkages when deciding how to spend money and which opportunities to pursue.

Our first major expansion at Occidental included adding new and larger fermenters, an additional brite tank, a bigger glycol chiller, a real hot liquor tank (HLT) and a new beer cooler. Clearly, the additional tank space would facilitate brewing more beer, every growing brewery’s goal. It has turned out, though, that one of the most important components to this expansion was an unlikely one, the door to our new cooler. It reminded me of the CAS white paper, What Is Warehousing. In that paper, ‘space’ is touted as a critical resource within any brewery or brewpub. The size of our old cooler’s door simply didn’t have enough space.

Confronting Unforeseen Bottlenecks

Our first, very economically priced (old and cheap) cooler came only with a wide “man door,” through which a pallet would not fit. This meant all beer went in by hand truck and out by hand truck. We understood this would be an issue when we purchased the setup, but did not realize the impact it would eventually have. When you are brewing 20 bbls a month, such inefficiency is less obvious and easier to manage then when monthly production has increased to 200-plus bbls. The man door proved a painful bottleneck. If we were racking beer and there was not a distributor pickup that day, it all went into the cooler, one keg or several cases at a time. Then, when a truck was scheduled, all beer was removed, slowly, and restaged for delivery. There comes a point when even a team of Oompa Loompas would say this is too much. We learned our lesson and made sure the new cold box had a door fit for a real brewery.

The new cooler is only about 600 square feet larger than the original, but the key difference is the 8 ft. sliding door. Pallets are obviously superior to hand trucks for moving beer. Perhaps this is why I get so much pleasure watching my new 64 sq ft door open and close – it is oddly satisfying. Beyond making everyone’s lives easier, this door improved the brewery efficiency a measurable amount. The time we save in a given year because we are not stacking and unstacking kegs and cases currently stands at 300 hours of labor. Instead of taking 1 to 2 hours to stage small orders, it now takes minutes to stage even large quantities for multiple distributors. If you want to make the day of your finance department/person, illustrate to them how a non revenue generating piece of equipment can have an ROI of 3 years!

This type of operational efficiency is based upon the resources your beer business has (or needs to acquire). Resource efficiencies, even such low-hanging fruit as the size of a door, are everywhere in a small brewery. The hot liquor tank (HLT) we installed as part of this expansion is another simple example. Previously our HLT was a weakly insulated vessel with no method of heating. It required filling immediately prior to mash in, since it could not keep the water at temperature over long periods of time. It was also undersized and we were failing to capture as much water from the heat exchanger as we could. As sales grew, double brew days became the norm and we could clearly benefit from a larger tank that was better insulated and had a heating element.

Our new hot liquor tank, just like the cooler, has similarly proved extremely valuable. Reducing the water waste is nice, but the biggest benefit is the time savings. It used to require about an hour to fill the old HLT enough to mash in. I used to have to get to the brewery an hour earlier to heat up the water… Now, the brewday could begin immediately upon arrival, which saved us time. If we brew 160 days a year, that is 4 weeks of labor saved. Realizing these efficiencies is how we can continue to grow without adding a bunch of employees (cost, overhead, liability).

Look Ahead and Do Not Ignore Any Process

It is easy to watch demand outpace supply and begin calculating how many tanks must be purchased to fill all orders. Focusing on the fun stuff, without looking at all the linkages within your production system will bring headaches down the road. My hope is that my series of CAS papers will help other breweries see around corners and learn from our growing pains. Growth must be planned carefully and involves much more than a bigger cellar. Bottlenecks can occur throughout the entire brewing process. If beer is made faster than kegs can be cleaned, or there are not enough hoses to complete multiple tasks simultaneously, or in our case, your door is too small, all the tanks a building can hold won’t lead to more beer. Consider how you interact with all of the equipment throughout your entire process. What is keeping you at the brewery an extra hour each day or making you wake up an hour early? What slows you down? What delays the next task? You can’t buy more hours in a day, but with the right equipment and planning, you won’t need to.

Note from CAS: This public blog is the first installment of a series by Member Expert, Ben Engler. The remaining parts are for members-only. To join our learning community, sign up here.