By: Gerald Dlubala
For breweries and distilleries, the beer and spirits that flow within drive business, but the pumps used to move that product can easily be considered the heart of production. If a pump fails, product flow stops and downtime eats away at production and delivery schedules. Having a quality pump lessens the chances of failure, so reliability and quality are key.
Taking the time and effort to research the best pumps for the money and making a quality investment will make all the difference. “With the risk of sounding glib, you really do get what you pay for,” said Ross Battersby, Sales & Design contact for Carlsen & Associates. “There is usually a bit of a conflict between what the business accountant says is affordable and what the winemaker, distiller or brewmaster really wants and needs. The accountant almost always wins, but there is an inherent danger in selecting a pump on the basis of cost alone. Cheaper pumps may look fine on the outside, but they’re usually outfitted with cheaply made, low-quality blades and impellers, leading to a lot of internal shear that damages the product as it passes through the pump.”
Carlsen & Associates started as a portable pump manufacturer for the wine industry, but now manufactures pumps for breweries, distilleries, meaderies, kombucha, soy sauce manufacturers, honey producers and various cannabis-related businesses. Their many years creating and tweaking pumps for multiple industries makes them uniquely qualified in recommending the right pump for a business’s needs.
“We recommend a double diaphragm air pump with grounding tag for distilleries,” said Battersby. “With distilleries and high proof alcohol, you first and foremost need explosion-proof pumps. Compressed air powered pumps easily deliver the necessary amount of power for distilleries, and they’re perfectly fine for fluids, but if the distiller uses any botanicals, the pumps need to be screened off. You can safely use electrical-based pumps too, but they have to be rated explosion-proof, which sometimes makes them quite costly for what is really needed.”
“With breweries, you’re talking about moving wort and heavier fluids with temperatures up to 210 degrees, so you’ll likely be looking at positive displacement pumps. Ours are Waukesha pumps, using winged rotors resembling ice cream scoops that spin around, scoop the optimal amount of product, and move it along without causing any crush or damage. They have capabilities of pumping as little as 30 gallons per minute up to 130 gallons a minute using one to three-inch lines.”
Brewery systems and structures are more rigid and fixed, so the pumps tend to reflect that and perform better as a fixed system as well. Battersby told Beverage Master Magazine many brewers favor smaller centrifuge pumps that fit into these systems. In contrast, wineries will make better use of portable pumps that are on carts so they can move them around the different areas of the winery where needed.
As far as new technology on the forefront, Battersby said hybrid pumps made by combining air and impeller pumps are currently being manufactured, but he doesn’t feel they will significantly change the industry. The real trend, according to Battersby, is what he calls “right-sizing.”
“You can’t really get away from the tried and true technology,” says Battersby. “Business owners tend to go with whatever will give them the least amount of downtime. Many newer brewers don’t possess the type of physics background that allows them to know the best ways of moving liquids. They tend to think that more horsepower is always better, but that’s not true. It’s better to match your specific needs. So the new trend, as far as we are concerned, is right-sizing. We match the equipment up to whatever it is that you need to move.
We educate brewers and distillers in the physics behind what they are trying to do, and why one piece of equipment is preferred over another, even if it’s not the most powerful. Additionally, we stress that the pumps are only as good as the hoses, clamps and fittings that connect to them. Right-sizing incorporates a quality pump with appropriate matching parts that are easily serviceable and repairable in the least amount of time.”
Matching Pumps To Product
Paul Hail, CEO of Affordable Distillery Equipment, knows what reliability means in the brewing and distilling industry, so only offers quality equipment made to last a lifetime. Although based in the rural hills of the Missouri Ozarks, Affordable Distillery’s pumps are used in nearly 20% of craft spirit distilleries across the U.S. Hail recommends a few options for spirits production.
“If you try to use a centrifugal pump with corn mash, the lifespan of that pump is probably going to be less than a year,” said Hail. “When moving corn mash, you have better options available. A double diaphragm air pump will work, but it will take a lot of air and a minimum of 1 ½ diameter connecting hoses. The pump is cheap, but the big expense—sometimes an additional $2,000-$3,000—comes with the need for a larger air compressor. A flex impeller type of pump is a great, moderately priced choice, but the impeller is a normal wear part, and depending on what type of material it’s manufactured from and the amount and type of use it receives, it could last months or only weeks. The loads it’s put through determines the wear and replacement needs. Your best choice would be a rotary load pump, but they are incredibly expensive so generally not an option for every smaller or startup distillery.”
Hail, like Battersby, mentions the importance of safety when using a pump in the distillery. “You must remember, though, when moving high proof alcohol, you’ll need a grounding terminal on the pump to make it explosion-proof,” said Hail. “It’s not a likely scenario, but there is a minute chance that the rushing of a product while being pumped will manufacture enough static to potentially release a tiny spark. Couple that with high proof alcohol and we all know where that leads.”
As Hail continues to run an industry-leading pump manufacturer, he told Beverage Master Magazine that it’s hard to come up with new ideas when pump technology has barely changed in generations.
“You’ll hear about new things being tried around the industry, but when properly researched, those bright new ideas were usually already attempted by those before us. The reason that they’re not being done today is that they just didn’t work or weren’t economically feasible. Any new technology or methods would likely be groundbreaking if valid, and that’s what we are working on here at Affordable Distilling. Hopefully more about that in the future,” said Hail.
Improving On Current Equipment
Based on their successful history with marine and industrial applications, AmpCo Pump Company in Glendale, Wisconsin, began manufacturing pumps specifically for the brewing, distilling and wine industries (https://www.ampcopumps.com).
One chronic issue with pumps has been a tendency for the seals to leak eventually. Tony Krebs, Marketing Manager for AmpCo Pumps, said they have successfully addressed that issue in one of their most popular pumps, the CB+ Craft Brew Pump, specially designed for hot wort transfer.
“Over time, the material being moved through the pump typically crystalizes, and that buildup will eventually cause traditional seals to leak,” said Krebs. “AmpCo’s CB+ Craft Brew Pump possesses an internal, submersed seal to promote cooling. Because it’s internally seated, any pressure increase caused by heat or flow creates an increased closing force on the seals to minimize any potential buildup. Additionally, the pump has an internal spring that acts as an agitator to reduce the solids buildup, thereby reducing crystallization on the seals. It’s an excellent choice for all sizes of breweries, but it’s an especially great match for the smaller brewpubs because on a cart, mobile and multi-functional. It can be used as a transfer pump in many areas around the facility, but it performs equally well as a clean-in-place pump. It’s not the cheapest pump you’re going to find, but when choosing a pump, it’s extremely important to be able to find certified, readily available parts and quality people to install those parts and repair your equipment. Downtime costs money, and when pumps are down, so is your brewing or distilling process.”
AmpCo also makes pumps for the wine industry, offering their L series centrifugal pumps with the same exceptional quality, efficiency and durability as their counterparts designed for the craft breweries and distilleries.
Krebs told Beverage Master Magazine that AmpCo is always at the forefront of pump technology, and regularly on the leading edge of trends in the craft brewing, spirits and wine industries. Krebs has recently noticed the need and increased demand for their portable hop induction units. This machine simultaneously induces dry hop pellets directly into the beer stream while recirculating the fermenter. It features AmpCo’s SBI Shear Pump and provides the brewmaster everything necessary to dry hop beer efficiently and safely within a single unit.
“You can’t ignore the creative side of distillers, winemakers and brewmasters. They like to continuously mix flavor and ingredient profiles and provide experimental flavor combinations for signature blends, special tastings or customer trials,” says Krebs. “Blending pumps provide a better and more efficient way to get this done.”