We spent a few years planning this brewery, and early in the process we had to decide on the equipment we would acquire. Especially when it came to the brewhouse capacity. And we churned on this one for months.
So what is the brewhouse anyway? It’s where the initial work of converting the grain into a sugary-water mixture occurs. The brewhouse consists of two tanks (larger breweries have up to 4 tanks in their brew house to maximize efficiency) - a mash tun and a boil kettle. Think of them as two pots - one for soaking, and the other for boiling - and both are needed to brew beer (although a clever home-brewer can use the same pot to do both of these things). There is a substantial increase in cost as you increase the size of the brew house tanks, so obviously, we wanted to get this right since a good portion of start-up capital would be tied up in this equipment.
The first draft of our business plan had a 1 barrel brewhouse (31 gallon batch size), but we quickly realized that we would literally kill ourselves brewing all the time if the brewery was even slightly successful. When we considered the 10 barrel system (310 gallons), I determined that the overall utilization of that huge asset ($$$) was going to be really low even in our best case scenario.
For context, Neshaminy Creek Brewing supports a tasting room and distribution around the Greater Philadelphia area with a 15 barrel system! They are brewing around the clock to meet demand (and thus utilizing their assets extremely well!), but that gives an indication of how far a moderately sized brew house can go. Large macro breweries take the same approach - size the equipment such that you are working it as much as possible.
The flip side is over-sizing, and that’s a waste of money to have an expensive tank sitting idle several days a week. (yes, there are long term labor costs associated with smaller systems that we considered, but I’m leaving that out of the blog post for the sake of brevity).
We quickly realized that the question of equipment size is actually the wrong question to be asking at the start. The real question any brewery should be asking is this - who’s your customer and why are they going to buy your product over some other brewery? After all, there are quite a few breweries making fine libations without us in the mix.
Here’s our answer: Autumn Arch endeavors to serve Newark locals, craft beer enthusiasts, and the occasional wayward individual looking for something different. The experimental nature of our brewing will yield a wide variety of beer styles, and for some reason, that’s hard to come by in Newark these days. We want these folks coming to our brewery because of the broad selection of authentic and interesting craft beers served in a relaxed atmosphere where one can literally sit adjacent to the tanks where the beer was made. And if that’s not enough, there’s a ton of parking at the brewery, so it won’t be a pain in the ass to visit (bonus: Midnight Oil Brewing Co. is a short walk from our door).
So what brewhouse enables us to execute this vision?
A sexy 5 barrel brewhouse. Big enough to support the volume in a moderately busy tasting room and a robust sour beer program, but small enough to brew unique beers without worrying about them sitting around for months. When you force us to be brewing around the clock to meet high demand, instead of lamenting about not getting the bigger system, the engineer in me will put on a wry smile and be happy about the 100% equipment utilization.