Options and Improvements for Brewery & Distillery Tanks

By: Alyssa L. Ochs

Various kinds of tanks and tank systems are used in both breweries and distilleries to create the amazing craft beverages we know and love. Brewing and distilling tanks also require specialized systems to work properly, ensure quality control and serve other purposes. Therefore, it’s important to understand the tank and tank system options available to brewers and distillers, including what’s been updated and what can still be improved.

Types of Brewery & Distillery Tanks

  In a brewery setting, there are often many different tanks in use simultaneously. Mash tun tanks mix grain and water for sugar conversion, lauter tun tanks separate grain and wort, and wort kettle/whirlpool tanks boil wort and add hops. Liquor tanks hold cold and hot brewing water, while fermentation tanks ensure proper removal of yeast once fermentation is complete. Brite beer tanks enable carbonation, yeast brink tanks aid in growing yeast, utility hot water tanks assist with equipment sterilization, and CIP tanks help clean the vessels, hoses and pumps.

  Jef Lewis, CEO and Chairman of Grass Valley, California-based BrewBilt, told Beverage Master Magazine that stainless steel cylindroconical fermentation vessels are the most commonly used tanks in commercial brewing.

  “The cylindroconical shape maximizes volume while minimizing footprint, allows for faster fermentation and facilitates the hygienic collection of yeast from the cone,” Lewis said. “The size of these tanks range from three bbls (93 gallons) for nanobreweries up to 1,000 bbls (31,000 gallons) for very large production breweries. Most breweries are using 10 to 30-bbl tanks. BrewBilt Manufacturing builds cylindroconical tanks from 10 to 120 bbls, all of which are crafted from American 304 stainless steel that has stricter quality standards than imported stainless.”

  Brandon Mayes, the brewing and quality manager for Pittsburgh Brewing Company in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, told Beverage Master Magazine that they use cylindroconical tanks and bright beer tanks.

  “CCTs are used to ferment wort into beer,” Mayes said. “BBTs are used to store finished beer ready for package. We have 15 500-bbl CCTs and four 250-bbl CCTs. There are six BBT’s.”

  Chase Legler, the chief operating officer of Sonder Brewing in Mason, Ohio, said that all of the tank vessels in his brewery are made from 304 stainless steel and built in Wisconsin by either Quality Tank Solutions or Pristine Process Solutions.

  “In the brewhouse, we have three vessels: Mash tun, lauter tun and wort kettle/whirlpool,” Legler said. “In conjunction with the brewhouse, we utilize a hot liquor tank and a cold liquor tank. Within the cellar, we use fermentation tanks, brite beer tanks, yeast brink, utility hot water tanks and CIP tanks.”

  Palmetto Distillery in Anderson, South Carolina, has been doing things a bit differently from other distilleries since it opened in 2011. It has worked hard to keep the distillery authentic, just as you would find a bootlegger using out in the woods. The big differences are that the Palmetto Distillery makes legal moonshine with government labels regulating what is inside the jar, pays taxes and is located directly behind the county courthouse, so it doesn’t have to out-run the law.

  Treg Boggs, President of Palmetto Distillery, told Beverage Master Magazine that his distillery started with a 30-gallon, 100% copper still made by a fifth-generation bootlegger in an undisclosed area of the mountains.

  “As soon as we were legal, we quickly graduated to our 250-gallon copper still built by the same fifth-generation moonshiner,” Boggs said. “We outgrew the 250-gallon immediately within the first year we were in business by the demand from people wanting ‘bootlegger-made but taxes paid’ moonshine!”

  Boggs said that Palmetto Distillery had to find a metal fabricator capable of handling the current 1,000-gallon copper still since that bootlegger was not capable of manufacturing anything that size.

  “Something that we learned from the old distilleries in Scotland over in the UK is if they duplicate, replace or rebuild a still, it has to have every scratch, dent or any type of character so that they can duplicate the same quality spirit,” Boggs said. “We took our time and made sure we copied this same process by creating the one-of-a-kind, 1,000-gallon still. We will not make a bigger still, only duplicate when needed to keep up with demand. We have a backup 1000-gallon still in the warehouse for our busy time of year, which is usually October to January 1. Keeping the size of the still the same is very important, so we do not lose the quality for the quantity while distilling our handcrafted spirits.”

Tank Systems for Beverage Production

  Concerning tank systems, Mayes said, “Each tank is equipped with level sensors, pressure sensors, temperature probes with automation to control the glycol jackets for cooling, spray balls for cleaning, sample ports for collecting analytical and microbiological samples, and safety valves to ensure we operate under the correct tank pressures.”

  Legler from Sonder Brewing said that it is common to have a pressure relief valve along with a vacuum breaker on the tank to protect it from over-pressurizing or creating negative pressure.

  “I would also recommend adding an additional PRV on the vent line when bunging (spunding) the tank for the same reason,” Legler said. “Having complete control over the product temperature is crucial for proper fermentation with regard to flavor consistency and quality. This is achieved by glycol jacketed tanks controlled by software integration, allowing you to have ramping capability whether decreasing temperature with glycol or increasing temperature with heat produced naturally in fermentation. The better the tank is insulated, the more efficient your system becomes.”

  Boggs from Palmetto Distillery said that his distillery uses every bootlegger tip that it has learned from some of the best and infamous outlaws on the planet.

  “For example, some fancy distilleries use clamps to make sure there is not any steam leaking out of the stills, but we used flour and wheat mixed together to make a thick, putty-like paste to put around all of the seals,” Boggs said. “If you see steam, you are losing liquor!”

Maintenance of Tanks & Systems

  However, having high-quality tanks in a brewery or distillery requires more than just buying the right products upfront. Tanks need regular cleaning and upkeep to ensure proper maintenance and avoid premature replacement.

  Mayes from Pittsburgh Brewing Company said brewers should “have a robust quality assurance program that tests and verifies complete and thorough CIP and tank sanitation.”

  “Cleaning the tanks is absolutely paramount and requires appropriate spray balls, pump curve calculations and process piping,” said Legler from Sonder Brewing. “Attention to detail is crucial for pressure and flow rate provided to the spray ball for proper wetting and cleaning. Inspection of the tank after the cleaning cycle, along with ATP swabbing, should be performed. Annually, the spray balls should be inspected for blockage and to ensure proper rotation. All connections on the tanks, such as zwickel, carb stone and racking arm, should be removed and cleaned. Ports should be hand-scrubbed and removed during the CIP process. Manway gaskets should also be removed and cleaned by hand, or better yet, in a clean-out-of-place pot.”

  “We use Brasso to clean the outside of the copper steel to make sure it stays nice and shiny,” said Boggs from Palmetto Distillery. “We use powder brew wash on the inside of the copper steel and our mash tanks.”

  BrewBilt constructs tanks with 304 stainless steel and food-grade welds done as smooth as possible and unable to harbor microbial contaminants.

  “The tanks also feature CIP spray balls for efficient recirculation of cleaning chemicals,” Lewis said. “BrewBilt tanks are ‘shadowless,’ which means that there are no areas of the tank that cannot be effectively cleaned by the spray ball, including the manway.

  All Craftmaster Stainless tanks come pickled and passivated, and this Rancho Cordova, California company provides cleaning instructions for its equipment as simple guidelines. These procedures provide instructions for first-time cleaning, removing brown spots and dark staining, removing krausen deposits, removing manufacturing residues and removing white powdery and calcium-looking deposits.

Tank Improvements & Recommendations

  In recent years, improvements have been made to tanks and tank systems that brewers and distillers may be interested to learn. For example, Lewis from BrewBilt said that real-time, comprehensive fermentation monitoring and analytics are a new development in the commercial brewing world.

  “These systems use a special tank probe that automatically measures dissolved oxygen, pH, gravity, pressure, temperature and conductivity and allow the brewer to remotely monitor all of these important parameters,” Lewis said. “Traditionally, the brewer would pull a sample from every fermentation tank each day to take the desired measurements. These new systems allow the brewer to be more proactive for fermentation control, as well as saving time and labor.”

  However, there are still improvements that need to be made. Lewis said that with the surging demand for craft lagers, many brewers struggle to produce crisp, clear lagers in a reasonable amount of time using the same cylindroconical tanks as ale fermentations.

  “Since lager yeast requires different conditions for a healthy fermentation, including colder temperature and more surface area on the bottom of the tank, the right equipment really does pay off,” said Lewis. “BrewBilt offers professional-grade horizontal lagering tanks that stack to maximize floor space and eliminate weeks of aging time to achieve the desired clarity and flavor profile.”

  Dave Silva, owner and operator of Craftmaster Stainless, Inc., said there have been a lot of changes in fermentation tanks and brite tanks throughout the years. These include advanced technologies involving the quality of material, thicker insulation–specifically zoned glycol jackets–and simple clean-in-place attributes to allow better sanitation during cleaning procedures. 

  “Over the years, Craftmaster Stainless has closely worked with brewers to design the ultimate brite tanks and uni-tanks, along with many more products for our customers. A few unique features of our tanks are industry-leading, three-inch-thick insulated glycol jackets, oversized racking arm handles, huge two-inch yeast outlets for drainage, and dedicated blow-off tubes to prevent clogging your CIP ball during fermentation blow-off. Also, all of our tanks come complete with a 10-year warranty, and all hardware with gaskets and tri-clamps are included.”

  Silva said the biggest complaint he hears from his customers is that they wish more industry suppliers had better customer service like Craftmaster Stainless.

  “Just a simple call-back or even answering the phone to help with customers’ questions goes a long way,” Silva said. “We love our customers and offer a lifetime customer service guarantee. We make it a point to answer our phone calls or call back any missed calls the same day. We pride ourselves on being the industry leader in customer service and believe having this service will lead into the best overall experience for our customers and steer the path to operating the best business in the industry.”

  “There are systems that range from simple to highly complex,” said Mayes from Pittsburg Brewing Company. “No system will function consistently without a robust quality program to assure proper flow rates, chemical dosing and chemical coverage through CIP. Start with well-written procedures, perform procedural audits and frequently verify tank cleaning through your quality program.”

Legler from Sonder Brewing said improvements in sanitary practices have come a long way in the brewing industry.

  “We brewers are fortunate that no known pathogen can grow in a properly produced beer, so innovative improvements driven from the pharmaceutical and food sectors allow us to piggyback on the newest tech,” Legler said. “As far as improvements to be made, it drives me nuts when I see threaded fittings on tanks. These should always be avoided, as they are inherently bug traps. If you do have these, then you should take these apart on every CIP and hand-clean. This practice seems to still be okay with brewery tanks, but hopefully not in the near future.”

  Boggs from Palmetto Distillery said that his team takes the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to tanks and tank systems. Last year, the distillery celebrated its 10th-anniversary and launched more than eight new flavors while still keeping the original favorites. Palmetto Distillery sells its products on its website and welcomes everyone to stop by the distillery in downtown Anderson for a free tour and tasting.

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