Home Brewing vs. Commercial Brewing Part 2



Welcome back for ‘Part 2’ of our Home Brewing vs. Commercial Brewing blog! Last week, we talked about the ingredients and how they’re similar, but managed a differently. This week, we get into the techniques we use for commercial brewing at the Church Street Brewing Company, which can vary significantly as compared to home brewing – this is an area that is rich in differences!

Here are some key examples of techniques, and the things commercial brewers must be mindful of when brewing on larger systems.

  • Wort Flow (the sugary extract you get from malt and water): There are literally hundreds of gallons of wort to be moved, so you’d better be moving it to the right place, and not the drain! The pipe works of our brew house is a little bit more complicated than what you’d typically find, due in part to all the extra piping that makes our decoction mashing process doable. That makes for about 20 unique valves that send water or wort from one place to another. [Storytime:  A brewer we know well accidently sent 200 gallons of wort down the drain by inadvertently pressing a button on a computer screen. That’s why it’s always ‘heads-up’ when you’re in the brew house. In home brewing, there are usually just 1 or 2 valves, and most of the process is ‘visible’ in that the fermenter/lines/hoses are transparent, making the process a bit easier.

 

  • Chemicals: This one is night and day. Commercial brewers generally use a LOT stronger chemicals when cleaning and sanitizing than homebrewers, who for the most part don’t really have access to the same degree of products, and with good reason. Sanitizing and cleaning is a very important and time-consuming aspect of commercial brewing. Commercial brewers utilize a CIP (clean in place) system for most of their vessel cleaning. A CIP system usually comes in the form of a spray ball inside the vessel, near the ceiling, that allows chemicals to cascade down the walls of the tank, stripping off all sorts of grime in the process. Chemicals such as caustic soda, phosphoric and nitric acid work wonders and require higher temperatures in the 150-160 Fahrenheit range for full effectiveness.  For sanitization, we use peracetic acid, which is unbearable to be around at any volume when it’s not diluted. For homebrewers, who mostly clean their equipment by hand, these levels of chemicals is not necessary. Most of these chemicals are likely to corrode non-stainless steel or silicone based equipment as well! While most home brewing chemicals aren’t anywhere near as harsh, goggles and rubber/latex gloves are still recommended for any direct exposure—none of these chemicals are good for the skin or eyes.

 

  • Consistency: Crafting great beer is equal parts art and science, but in an industry where consistency is king, we have to leave our experimentation to our own homebrew system.  One of my favorite parts of home brewing is splitting a batch of something into two different tanks and doing wildly different things with them in terms of yeast, dry-hop, or other additives.  Unfortunately, when you’re a brew house of our size, that sort of experimentation is mostly reserved for firkins and barrel-aging, which allows for a lot of freedom, but not as much as you have before fermentation even begins. Homebrewers will always be on the cutting edge of experimentation due to the low risk of failure and due to the limitations of some commercial brew house. It’s very easy to lift the lid off your fermentation bucket and add whatever you want—it’s a little harder in a 30-barrel fermenter with limited access.  It can also compromise the beer to add certain ingredients at certain stages in the process, which can significantly reduce a beer’s shelf life if the plan is to put it in a bomber or a six-pack.

 

  • Efficiencies: Larger systems in commercial brewing are more efficient when it comes to extracting what you want out of an ingredient. For example, you’ll get more IBU’s/sugars/etc. from larger systems, which saves you money as a brewer. Home brewers would have to use more grain and longer mash times to replicate the commercial craft efficiencies. Here at the Church Street Brewing Company, we’ve calculated efficiencies as high as 92% for some of our beers, while home brewers typically range in the low 70s.

 

  • Temperatures: At the Church Street Brewing Company, every vessel is set up to receive either steam, or glycol.  Think of glycol as a kind of ‘anti-freeze’.  It’s used on the “cold side” of the brewery to regulate the temperature of our fermenters, keeping the heat produced by fermentation under control. Many home brewers rely on ambient room temperature to keep their beer at stable temperatures, which works well for five gallons, but less so for much larger batches. On the “hot side” of the brew house, our boiler produces steam at 12 PSI, which heats our water, as well as our boil kettle and mash-tun. Steam is much gentler than the direct flame treatment that most home brewers are accustomed to, and results in less complex sugars and caramelization. It also provides a reliable way to control temperature for the mashing process.

 

I hope you enjoyed our blog on differences between home brewing and commercial brewing. Please share with your friends who are curious, or provide us with your comments. If you have any questions, please ask!  We’ll either answer you in the comments, or bank them for the Q & A post in the future! Next week, we’ll tackle the question of how we make the beer ‘survive’ once it leaves the Church Street Brewing Company. Prost!

Joe & Lisa (Church Street Brewing Company founders)

3 thoughts on “Home Brewing vs. Commercial Brewing Part 2

  • Thanks for posting this series. I love learning about the vast differences and common similarities between commercial and homebrewing.

    One question: When you guys do expiremental batches, do you do runs via a homebrew setup first or do you have smaller tanks dedicated to expiremental batches? I know lots of microbreweries tend to have smaller scale equipment reserved for this purpose, so I would definitely love to hear your take on it!

    • Hi Bryan, thanks for the reply. Currently our small batch system is just a mish-mash of all of our brewers’ (and Joe’s) various homebrewing equipment. It’s nothing fancy, but it gets the job done. We have a couple of stainless steel kettles that we use as a mash-tun and boil kettle, and, like many homebrewers, we typically ferment in buckets or carboys. There’s a few choice spots in the building that we use as fermentation zones based on temperature, and when the beer is done we find a safe spot for it in our walk-in cooler to let it cold condition before we transfer it to a keg.

      One of our big wishlist items in the near future is a 2-3 bbl pilot system that we use to make experimental brews, test new recipes, and create exclusive releases for our taproom. But in the meantime, our little 5-10 gallon system has served us well and has given us some great small batch brews that have ended up turning into full production-scale releases such as Holy Cow Milk Stout, Mosaic Ministry, Head in the Clouds Zwickel, as well as our upcoming Altbier and Wee Heavy! It’s also allowed us to release some taproom exclusive beers such as our ESB, Black Pope, and Queen’s Cage Braggot.

      If you have any other questions, don’t hesitate, maybe they’ll even turn into a dedicated blog post at some point.

      Thanks, and Prost!

  • Thanks for the detailed reply! I like how you guys still stick to a lot of the homebrewing basics and equipment for your small batches, although you’re producing beers at a pro level.

    I guess you could say I follow a similar path, doing small 1 gallon experimental batches and scaling those that are well received by my peers.

    If I am ever out that way, I’ll have to swing in, grab a pint, and shoot the breeze with you all.

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