Growing the In-House Beer Program

More than 11,500 people attended or exhibited at the annual Craft Brewers Conference & BrewExpo America, where the latest in brewing equipment and best practices were highlighted.
More than 11,500 people attended or exhibited at the annual Craft Brewers Conference & BrewExpo America, where the latest in brewing equipment and best practices were highlighted. © Jason E. Kaplan

Tips on compact brewing systems and best practices for beer dinners.

As craft breweries reached double-digit share of volume in the marketplace for the first time last year, equipment options and training resources have continued to improve. That’s good news for restaurant operators seeking to add brewing capacity or expand beer offerings. The practicality of growing a craft beer program must, of course, be tempered by what’s actually possible within a restaurant operation when space, time, and cost limitations are taken into account.

The annual Craft Brewers Conference & BrewExpo America was held in Portland, Oregon, and it was my fourth year attending as media. Highlights included space-saving brewing systems, advanced faucets to help decrease cleaning needs and reduce waste, and educational sessions regarding pairing dinners and server training.

Compact Brewing Systems

For restaurants looking into small, onsite beer production, two compact brewing-system manufacturers stood out: The first, Brewmation Incorporated in Fishkill, New York, specializes in small-scale electric and steam-based brewing systems, with capacities ranging from half a barrel (the size of a typical large keg) up to 10 barrels (electric) and 20 barrels (steam).

The Brewmation offerings are turnkey and have a touchscreen interface, with a high level of automation, especially for a small system. “You don’t need extensive machine knowledge to go through and operate it,” says president Kevin Weaver (no relation to FSR beer editor Ken Weaver). “It also offers a high level of consistency.”

The electric systems in particular are relevant to space-constrained operations. “What’s nice about the electric is it’s very easy to install. You don’t have to worry about things like the gas permitting, emissions, even the steam side of things,” Weaver explains. The electric systems are also modular and can be arranged in essentially any order, affording more flexibility for smaller spaces.

For instance, The Mill House in Greenwood, South Carolina, is a brick-oven bistro that added a three-barrel system last fall that uses Brewmation controls. Mill House brewmaster Sidney Huskey says, “We like the setup: the controls and ease of use.”

The bistro currently offers house-brewed beers alongside beer from other producers. “Ever since we added these [house] beers on tap, they’ve been the No. 1 selling beers every week,” Huskey notes. Mill House specifically set aside space that allowed the operation to grow beyond its current setup; it is in the process of purchasing two more fermenters and may begin distributing locally.

The second brewing system worthy of note from the conference comes from BREWHA Equipment Co. of Vancouver, British Columbia, which manufactures electric brewing systems of an even smaller size range. The company’s patent-pending BIAC packages are available in three sizes: small (for 3- to 5-gallon batches), medium (up to 15 gallons), and large (47 gallons, or 1.5 barrels). The latter setup is most relevant to restaurants.

The key selling point of the BIAC system is that it combines what would normally be four separate vessels—a hot liquor tank, a mash tun, boil kettle, and fermenter—into what fits together as one single vessel. “You’re able to fit it in a quarter of the space of a traditional system,” explains designer Nathan Janz.

While space-limited home brewers had been the key demographic for the business, the introduction of the large BIAC option late last year has resulted in more restaurant clients. “Maybe [a restaurant is] not wanting to go full-fledged brewery or brewpub,” Janz notes of his clientele, “but it may want to be able to sell its own beer.”


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