Homebrewery Design

Whether you’re an engineer, a chemist, an artist or anything in-between, there are few things more rewarding than designing your ultimate homebrewery. Since a brewery is part factory, part kitchen and part art canvas, designing a brewery requires facets of all of these professions. And that, my friends, is why this hobby is so awesome and inclusive to all walks of life. In this article, I’ll share my experience, as well as that of other brewers, about laying out an effective homebrewery.

As a mechanical engineer, my passion has always been product design and manufacturing. So naturally when I began homebrewing in 1991, I had an insatiable drive to improve my system and tweak my brewing processes. To be flat honest, I really enjoyed brewing, but I absolutely loved brewing hardware and processes. And that ultimately led me to start Blichmann Engineering in 2001.

In all my years of brewing gadgetry and tweaking, it was revamping my ╥brewing factory╙ that led to the most improvements. Not just the wicked cool gear within the brewery, but how it was laid out to produce the least defects (something not going to plan) and doing so in the shortest amount of time. That ultimately put making beer as fun for me as building brewing equipment.

Before you start construction or moving equipment into your brewery space, take some time to ponder alternate arrangements of your brewery setup. Try mentally walking through a brew day once you think you have the best setup figured out.

Just like a factory, a brewery needs efficient uncluttered work areas, convenient work tool locations, and effective movement and storage for less frequently used items and material. The basics for any organization is quite simple — a place for everything and everything in its place. Another rule I try to follow with all things is that less is more. And that is never more critical than in work areas.

Equally important to organization is process flow and planning. Don’t just jump into organizing and rearranging. Plan. You can’t design a factory to produce a product without knowing the process to produce it! Start with a process flow map of everything you do in your brew day such as cleaning pots, fermenters, hoses, milling grain, preparing hops, water supply, wort cooling, etc. Then alongside the process flow boxes, list the tools and equipment needed in those boxes from wrenches, to sinks and pots, and ingredients. Next, sort those boxes by function, grouping them into work cells, and storage areas. All cleaning processes, all wort-making processes, ingredient prep processes, etc., should be grouped together.

Then move to making a scale drawing of your available brewing space so that you can determine how your equipment will fit within the allotted space. Whether your brewery is a stall in your garage, back patio or basement, sketch out all the hard walls and infrastructure that is difficult to move like water, power, furnaces, doors etc. Pencil and graph paper works just as well as CAD software and it allows you to use cut-to-scale Post-it note mockups of your equipment for experimenting with different scenarios. In my homebrewery, I have cleaning, brewing and grain prep work cells as shown in the drawing above. I brew in my basement and share space with my furnace and water heater, etc. My storage areas are grain, equipment, finished beer and fermentation. Since our local water is liquid drywall, an RO tank is where I ╥store╙ my brewing water. Even where you’ll hang your stir paddle is an important detail.

Always try to minimize all movement when you locate your cells and for all work being done within the work cells. You’ll also want everything you need for that work cell located within arm’s reach and always in the same spot. Again, think factory. In my brewery, I located the cleaning work cell directly across from my wort making work cell and located all the cleaning and sanitizing supplies on a shelf above it. The chest freezer is between the cleaning cell and grain milling cell because it becomes my work table for measuring hops and grains. I always grind my grain the evening before brew day, so it isn’t necessary for me to locate it by the brewing equipment. But if you grind while you’re heating brewing water, you may want to locate it closer so that you can tend to both. Bear in mind that, like a kitchen, too small and you’re tripping over everything. Too big and you’re spending too much time walking around. Draw a triangle between the three main pieces of equipment you use the most. This may be your sink, brew kettle, mash tun (or grain station) and make sure the perimeter of that triangle is less than 23 feet (7 m) total. Walkways should be no less than 40 inches (100 cm) for one person brewing, ideally 48 inches (120 cm) for ease of maneuverability for more than one person in the brew area. Much more than 60 inches (150 cm) is really wasted space and will slow you down.

A large stainless steel sink with a sideboard is ideal for cleaning brewing equipment, especially the bulkier vessels, and for letting
vessels and equipment dry. You will never be sorry for allocating adequate space for a good sink.

We all know that brewing is about 80% janitorial. But this seems to be the most overlooked and inconvenient aspect in most homebreweries. My favorite two pieces of equipment in my brewery hands down are not my conicals and brewpots. They are my stainless commercial sink with a large side board for drying equipment and large basins and my industrial mop. Both make cleaning a breeze. A dinky little sink and mop are frustrating to use. Although a nice sink is expensive, my motto is buy once, cry once. Used restaurant supply stores are a great resource for this equipment and also many other brewing equipment needs. You can buy used for about half the price of new and the used equipment is generally thicker and better made. If you have a local store you can save a pile on shipping. Industrial mops can be purchased at any home improvement store for a very reasonable price. If your budget and or available space doesn’t accommodate a large stainless sink, not to fret — plastic laundry sinks are big and economical.

The next aspect about brewing, particularly brewing indoors, is proper ventilation. Not only for safety, but keeping fumes out of the house that for some reason others find offensive. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “Dad, that smells nasty!” Our old house had a scary old cellar that not even my dog would enter. When we moved to a house with a real basement, I decided to bring my brewery indoors. My wife’s criteria was simple: if that stinks up the house, you’re done. Needless to say, I was picking up what she was laying down. Well then, on to ventilation! This is a common question I hear. Ventilation calculations don’t have to be complicated. Some simple rules of thumb will get you very close. If you’re using a gas burner, your ventilation system will need to remove the evaporating water and aroma vapors, and it’ll need to remove the heat and combustion gasses from the burner. A good rule of thumb is dividing your burner’s BTU/hour rating by 30 to get the required cubic foot per minute (CFM) of air movement. Note that if you’re using more than one burner at a time, you’ll need to multiply by that quantity. Rarely is it more than two. This rule of thumb assumes you are installing a hood to collect the vapors. Safety rule #1: Always use a carbon monoxide and combustible gas detector. Safety rule #2: Always make sure you have a window or door open for incoming make-up air. A vacuum near your gas furnace or water heater flue to back draft from the vacuum. This is less of an issue with high efficiency furnaces since they are force drafted. If you’re using an electric pot heater, your needs are about half of that since all you need to worry about is the vapor and aroma component. Take your electric heater power in watts and divide by 17.6 to get your required CFM. When selecting a fan, make sure to get one rated for at least 140 °F (60 °C). is a great source for duct fans and also duct silencers — these fans can make some noise so a silencer is a great idea. Now that your flow requirement in known, you’ll need to select a fan and design your duct work. Note that fan flow drops quickly with restriction from ducting. The data below is a simple guide to help you size the diameter of the duct you’ll need to handle the flow you calculated. Note that elbows create a lot of restriction, so you’ll want to minimize turns and use the most direct route to an outside wall. This data assumes a maximum total length of 100 ft. (30 m) of equivalent straight length. So for a system with four 90 degree elbows, you could have up to 60 ft. (7.2 m)  of straight duct. Below are a few shots of some home ventilation systems — mine, and Al Feeberg’s home setup.

Ventilation is required indoors to remove evaporating water, heat and combustion gasses from the burner, not to mention aromas. Ductwork from Al Feeberg’s brewery shown.
Ventilation duct with a fan (in blue) and a silencer (the widened area to the right of the fan) to reduce noise. Airflow is from right to left (through the silencer, then the fan).

When designing your ventilation, here are some facts to consider:

Each 90 degree elbow = 10 ft. (3 m)  of straight duct. Each 45 degree elbow = 5 ft. (1.5 m)  of straight duct.

A 10” (25 cm) diameter duct will handle 400 CFM.  A 12” (30 cm) diameter duct will handle 700 CFM. A 14” (36 cm) diameter duct will handle 1100 CFM and a 16” (41 cm)╙ diameter duct will handle 1500 CFM.

Another thing I love about my homebrewery is the epoxy garage floor╙ coating on the floor. It is impervious to about everything: beer, StarSan, iodophor, wine, cat hair-balls, you name it. And it is a breeze to mop up. But don’t go with the cheap water based stuff. The real two part solvent based stuff is incredibly hard and durable, but you will want to ensure you have great ventilation when laying it down as it is quite strong smelling. A clear coat afterward is well worth it. Other floors I’ve seen are vinyl, PVC, enamel and ceramic tile. Either way, just make sure it is non-slip, stain resistant and can handle being subjected to occasional contact with hot objects. For walls make sure you install flame retardant and heat resistant material near the burners like ceramic tile. Plastic shower wall sheeting or durable paint are appropriate for other areas subject to splashing.

After my first few batches of stovetop brews, and a couple unfortunate boil-overs, I was kicked out of the kitchen and into the garage. At the time I didn’t have a suitable basement in which to brew, just that nasty cellar that terrified my dog. I even had to carry that stupid 70-lb. (32-kg)  dog into the basement once during a tornado warning. So the garage was the next best option. Unfortunately I’m also an avid tool collector, so space was at a premium, but that didn’t keep me from brewing. And it shouldn’t keep you from implementing many of the suggestions I’ve discussed with indoor brewing. Just remember to keep things mobile and easy to setup. Here are a few great ideas to organize your brew-garage: Tim Runnette, a brew friend of mine, made a cool and simple work bench that doubles as his brew bench. It is made out of stock kitchen cabinets and a Formica top with casters for mobility. All his brew gear is stored inside the cabinets when not in use to keep them close by and keep dust off of them when not in use. The one thing that really drove me nuts was constantly traipsing through the house with soiled pots to clean in the kitchen. So when I saw the system built by Matt Raby (State of Franklin Homebrewers) my immediate reaction was @!#&*$%! — why didn’t I think of that!! (See pictures, below.) Both the sink and the work table fold up and out of the way on the perimeter of the garage. The sink drain is simply a hose routed to the floor drain, or outside, or could easily be a 5-gallon (19-L) bucket. Storage shelves above complete the ensemble. So don’t think for a minute that a garage can’t be an awesome and convenient place to brew. Just be creative and look for elevated storage locations and locate to minimize movement. And don’t forget ventilation! Either keep the doors fully open or install a fan in a wall.

A work bench and sink in Matt Raby’s garage homebrewery provides plenty of room to work and clean brewing equipment . . .
. . . and they fold down and up, respectively, afterwards so they take up less space when not in use.

Storage of brewing equipment, supplies and ingredients are just like everything: it expands to fit the space you allot for it. Remember to keep the items you don’t use during the brew day, or use infrequently, out of the main work space. Adjustable storage shelves are an excellent way to store carboys, kegs, and about every conceivable item. Grain milling, though, is part storage and part work space. So I located the storage and milling functions in the same space. I like to keep my “spice rack” full of a decent selection of specialty grains and there is no better way to keep them fresh and easily visible than small sealed plastic containers lined up on a shelf. The smaller containers can be found at Target or Wal-Mart. For the bigger containers used for base malt, I like pet food storage tubs which can be purchased at PetsMart. They are well sealed with a gasket and have a convenient pour spout. For over-the-top storage, stop by your commercial restaurant supply store for dry goods containers. Cool, but expensive. For labeling, I just use Post-it notes. Note that the grain mill and scales are located in the same work area and the whole work cell is right next to the chest freezer that I use as a work table for measuring the grains.

A consolidated grain storage and milling area.

            Properly designed and equipped work areas are also safe work areas. Minimizing traffic, reducing clutter, providing proper ventilation, installing CO and combustible gas detectors, and using pumps instead of lifting, are common sense and lead to a fun and safe brew day. Oh, and drinking while brewing? Not a good combination unless you’re trying to win a Darwin award instead of a brewing award. OK, at least keep it to a couple.

            Hopefully this article has inspired you to tweak your current brewery, revamp it, or set the creative energy in motion to build that dream brewery you’ve always wanted. Either way, remember that less is more, to plan before building, to visualize this as a brewing factory, and design for safety. And last but certainly not least, when you brew that award-winning beer in that new brewery, don’t forget to send me a bottle!

Issue: November 2012