Pumps in Craft Beverage Processing

Breweries and distilleries use pumps on the hot and cold sides of the beverage production process, but there is a lot that goes into selecting the right pumps for each job. When choosing new pumps, brewers and distillers must consider the intended purpose, hygiene standards for compliance, energy efficiency, cost, and other factors.

By applying the feedback of industry experts who work with pumps every day, beverage producers can recognize common issues that arise with pump use, how to avoid those issues, and how to choose the best pumps for their operations.

 Pump 101 for Brewers and Distillers

There are quite a few reasons why brewers and distillers use pumps, including the elimination of unwanted, viscous, and abrasive raw materials that appear when fermenting or distilling grain and fruit. Pumps can also boost the energy efficiency of the entire craft beverage process.

In breweries, pumps are used to transfer hot water into the top tier, recirculate mash, and circulate wort through counterflow chillers and in and out of fermenters. Brewers use pumps to transfer beer between kettles, recirculate ice water during chilling, and to transfer wort. Distilleries frequently use positive displacement pumps for thick mashes and explosion-proof and alcohol-rated pumps for high-proof distillate during processing. The main types of pumps that are relevant to the craft beverage industry are centrifugal pumps, diaphragm pumps, peristaltic pumps, and mechanical variable lobe pumps.

Best Pumps for Breweries

Fristam Pumps USA is a leading manufacturer of sanitary stainless-steel pumps based Middleton, Wisconsin. Craig Zeni, the sales manager for Fristam’s Southeast Region, told Beverage Master Magazine that pump recommendations depend on what application the pump will be performing. For transferring a product, he recommends a centrifugal pump with a single mechanical seal. “Beer is not a viscous product, so the centrifugal pump will easily and effectively transfer the product,” he said.

Zeni recommends centrifugal pumps with a double mechanical seal for difficult applications, like hot wort transfer and whirlpools. “Both applications have a high amount of sugar and solids, which can cause seals to wear out quickly,” Zeni said. “Seal failure can lead to downtime, product loss, biological and bacterial cross-contamination, waste stream disposal costs, parts costs, and potential equipment damage. Having a double seal pump will decrease the chance of seal failure and lead to less maintenance.”

Meanwhile, he recommends positive displacement or liquid ring pumps for yeast propagation because these pumps have high viscosity capacity and can shear the product. For hop dosing and dry hopping, Zeni recommends the Fristam Powder Mixer. “Our Powder Mixer allows for hop induction with or without shear, giving you a choice between whole or shredded pellets,” he said. “The system is also portable, making it versatile and efficient.”

Kennesaw, Georgia-based FLUX Pumps Corporation is an innovator of drum and container pump technology. Glenn Mulligan, FLUX’s Midwest regional sales manager, told Beverage Master Magazine that FLUX drum and container pumps are well-suited for both large and small breweries and distilleries.

“The pumps are lightweight and portable for ease of operation in many areas of the plant,” Mulligan said. “Whether pumping concentrates, additives, sanitizing products or ingredients like honey, FLUX has a solution. Food-grade pump options and motors suitable for use in classified atmospheres (such as explosion proof) pose no problems for the equipment.”

Scott Zetterstrom is president of M.E. Solutions LLC, a consulting company that provides engineering support and services to the craft beverage industry. The industrial equipment distributor Cummins-Wagner Co. supplies Zetterstrom with pumps for his clients and had some advice to offer about choosing pumps for a brewery.

“As you know, it’s all about the application,” Zetterstrom said. “When you think of a brewery and pumps you think of moving beer or wort. But that is only a small fraction of the uses for pumps in a brewery. And, even in that defined scope, some considerations affect the type of pump used. Generally, for moving product in a brewery a frequency controlled centrifugal pump is the best solution. Of course, the devil is in the details.”

Best Pumps for Distilleries

Since the primary application for pumps in distilleries is product transfer, the best pumps for distillers often differ from the best pumps for breweries.

Zetterstrom pointed out that micro-distilleries differ from micro-breweries in two distinct ways and that these factors can affect the choice of pump for moving product. “Micro-distilleries generally move smaller volumes, and the product can be flammable,” he said. “Both of these factors make diaphragm pumps a good choice for small distilleries. However, as I mentioned for breweries, moving product is just a small fraction of the uses for pumps in a distillery.”

Fristam’s Zeni told Beverage Master, “To transfer the product throughout its various stages of production, we would recommend using a centrifugal pump. Centrifugal pumps are best suited for transferring product that is not viscous, such as alcohol and water. These pumps have high efficiency, but low maintenance.”

Balcones Distilling in Waco, Texas uses three different types of pumps, each for a different method of spirits production. Balcones’ production manager, Thomas Mote, told Beverage Master Magazine, “For our malt whisky products, we utilize a standard impeller pump on a VFD that allows us to move lautered wash (distiller’s beer) from the mash tun through a plate heat exchanger and out to our fermentation area. For all American styles of whisky, such as rye whisky, corn whisky, or bourbon, we utilize a positive displacement pump that moves a thick grain mixture (roughly 3 pounds of grain per gallon of water) into a shell and tube heat exchanger before being sent out to fermentation. Lastly, we use an electric drum pump to move honey or molasses for use in products such as rum or a wacky spirit we produce called Rumble.”

 Avoiding Issues with Pumps

As with all brewery and distillery equipment, there is always the risk of something going wrong or a component breaking down. Harsh applications like hot wort and whirlpool require constant maintenance for single seal pumps. These processes put a significant strain on seals and make them wear out very quickly.

“To avoid this issue, be sure to get a quality pump with a double seal,” said Zeni. “A good choice of pump would be Fristam’s FP, because of its unique internal seal. This internal seal uses the cooling and lubrication of the product to provide a longer seal life. Even under extreme conditions, its seal life is often measured in years.”

Zetterstrom of M.E. Solutions agreed that seal failure is the single most substantial failure issue, especially for centrifugal pumps. Which is why seal life and accessibility are important considerations when choosing a pump, and why the proper choice can eliminate many problems.

“A fixed pump that only sees hot wort could benefit from an external water seal to extend the seal life,” Zetterstrom said. “But this would not necessarily be a good solution for a portable pump that only moves cold beer. Supplying cooling water to the seal adds complexity and cost and reduces portability. A better solution may be a more accessible sanitary internal seal for this application.”

He added, “For diaphragm pumps, the check valve seals are the major problem area. These fail due to suspended solids in the pumping fluid.”

In the past, Balcones Distilling used impeller pumps for all of its different products and would occasionally run into issues with moving thick corn mashes. They eliminated that issue when they moved to the positive displacement pump for grain-in fermentations.

“Other than that, the number one ‘problem’ we run into is pump cavitation when someone doesn’t purge a line or closes an air eliminator,” said Mote of Balcones Distilling. “We installed air eliminators on the outlet side of most of our pumps in the plant, but every now and again, when a pump isn’t moving liquid, the culprit is normally that an eliminator valve got closed for some reason.”

Mulligan of FLUX Pumps said FLUX pump models are specifically designed for use in the food and beverage industries. “Built of materials that conform to FDA and 3A requirements, these pumps can be quickly taken apart, cleaned, and put back together for minimum downtime. This makes FLUX pumps perfect for use in pumping different liquids while preventing cross-contamination.”

He went on to explain how there’s a common misconception that drum pumps are “throw away” equipment. “While this may hold true for the lesser quality brands, FLUX is committed to providing the best pump on the market with the lowest overall cost of ownership,” Mulligan said. “Every part for all of our pumps and motors is sold as an individual component, which can result in repairs costing as little as just a few dollars. FLUX has customers that have been using pumps for over 20 years – some by just completing only the bare minimum for maintenance.”

Overall, good pump maintenance tips include conducting daily inspections for sounds, bearing temperature changes, and leaks in seal chambers. Make a regular habit of checking seals, listening for strange noises, monitoring temperatures, and checking oil levels. Also, pump capacity, pressure, and power should all be reviewed by a professional as part of an annual inspection to ensure efficiency and longevity.

 How to Pick the Right Pumps

There are many things to keep in mind when shopping for new pumps, including pump size, flow rate, total head, net positive suction, pump power, and maintenance requirements.

Mote of Balcones Distilling emphasized how vital pipe diameter is when choosing a pump. “We use everything from 1-inch to 10-inch piping depending on application, and a pump’s ability to move exponentially more liquid when the piping is properly sized is amazing. One of our transfer pumps is a fairly unassuming impeller size, but it utilizes 3-inch hoses and hard-piping for us to comfortably empty a 6400-gallon fermentor into our two wash stills in about 40 minutes, even though the fermentors are about 250 feet from the stills,” he said.

Zeni of Fristam Pumps USA advises craft beverage producers to contact someone who is knowledgeable about the process and application rather than just ordering a pump from a catalog. “Many times, customers will have unnecessary amounts of maintenance, because they tried to select a pump themselves before consulting our team,” Zeni said. “After we recommend a better pump choice, many times customers will go years without performing maintenance on their pumps. Choose a quality pump that is worthy of the valuable products you produce. Your time and efforts are valuable too and should be spent brewing beer and expanding your business, not repairing equipment.”

M.E. Solutions’ Zetterstrom also emphasized the importance of doing research and talking to your pump supplier before choosing a new pump. “Call around and talk to others that have the same application to see what works for them. Or just call me,” he said.

Mulligan of FLUX Pumps Corporation says that choosing the best pump should be an easy choice with all of the drum pumps on the market today, but that those pumps come with varying degrees of customer satisfaction. “Selecting equipment from a manufacturer that is long-lasting, with the ability to repaired when necessary, will result in a pump life that can be counted in decades,” he said. “Quality equipment results in less downtime and more production, ultimately adding to the bottom line.”