A high-level overview of KONIG’s Brad McQuhae brewhouse start up process

The process of commissioning a brewery (either new or used) varies widely. The type of system and complexity determines what will be checked and what procedures are followed. For example, procedures for a simple two-vessel manual brewhouse will be very different than a four-vessel automated system. However, one thing that is common to all is the cleaning and passivation procedures before a brewing system is put into service.

Regardless of whether a system has been checked at the factory before shipping (i.e., the FAT or Factory Acceptance Test), everything must be tested again once it is onsite and installed. The FAT tests what can be tested (vessel, electrical/electronics, piping system, pumps, valves, some devices, etc.). It determines if any significant changes need to be made before disassembly and shipping. It is easier and cheaper to fix or make changes in the factory than in the field.

Typically, the brewery equipment supplier will provide a layout of how the equipment should be positioned onsite. What is often lacking is the order in which the vessels should be placed. Sometimes it is pretty logical, but sometimes not. An example is a four-vessel brewhouse positioned linearly versus that with the vessels placed in a square. I would place the lauter tun first in the linear brewhouse configuration (regardless of where in the line it is located), but in the square configuration, I would place the vessels in the back of the square first (if there is a back). The reason for picking the lauter tun (LT) is because it is usually the heaviest and therefore the most difficult to position. Once it is placed, the other vessels can be positioned using the LT as the anchor. In the square configuration, this may not be possible. In some instances, say where there is a hanging grist hopper, the mash kettle (or, depending on the system, mash tun) may be the anchor vessel. In most cases, the structural challenges of hanging a grist hopper determine the location of the vessels below it. In other words, the grist hopper is not moveable, so we’ll have to adjust the vessels to suit its position.

Once all the equipment is in position, they must be leveled (and anchored – but usually after all the piping connections are made – just in case). Leveling equipment may sound obvious; however, I have seen many systems where the owner is anxious to see their equipment fully assembled and unfortunately overlooked this step. If there is a platform, it will be installed and leveled as well. If the system was pre-piped, pre-placement of the pumps and reassembly of the piping will go together easier with correctly placed and leveled equipment.

Once the system is fully assembled, and all the electrical is connected, it is time to start testing. I usually get the local electrician to power up the panel with the internal breakers opened and check for faults as each breaker is closed. If any trip immediately, there is likely a fault somewhere. I say that, but I have seen breakers trip due to the current in-rush (from transformers, or VFDs) from the initial start-up, which is not so much a fault in the electrical system.

The next step with the electrical is to check motor rotation. Do not assume anything is going to rotate in the proper direction.

Again, this should be done alongside the local electrician. He may not know which way something is supposed to rotate but he will know how to correct it safely.

I have skipped the connecting of water, steam/condensate, malt handling, and glycol systems for brevity purposes. This article is intended to summarize starting up a typical brewing system, not so much as a comprehensive set of instructions for all types of breweries.

Once everything is deemed to be operational electrically, we can prepare for moving water around. The first thing I do is visually inspect inside the vessels for foreign objects (such as nuts, bolts, washers, rags, etc.). The next thing is to disconnect the lines going to the suction side of the pumps (I know, you just finished connecting them!). Then open all drain valves. Now you can start hosing out the loose debris that has accumulated inside the vessel over the previous months. Pay particular attention to the lines going to the pumps. I have run a lot of debris through pumps during start-up, so learn from me.

After thoroughly rinsing and inspecting, we can button up the disconnected lines and close all valves. I like to start from a known position; that is why I ask to close all valves; it helps reduce the number of surprises. Now, we can simulate a brew, or as some say, do a water brew. I would typically do this first one with cold water in case we need to make some changes on the fly – I hate doing that when everything is hot. If this test goes well get a little more serious and simulate with hot water if available.

During this phase, I check to make sure the pumps are running within their designed current load rating. I will cycle them up to the point of cavitation (if possible) and then back down to their lowest rotational speed. All the time listening for any unusual noises and vibrations.

Before we get to cleaning, we will test the vessel heating. With direct-fired systems (both forced draft burner and electric) it is straightforward. Steam, however, requires a bit more involvement from other professionals. Usually, the company (or person) who installs the steam boiler/system will either fire it or will commission a local expert to fire it up and dial it in as required. When firing up the steam system for the first time, I like to open the condensate at the “Y” strainers and let the steam/condensate blow out any debris that may have accumulated during installation. I will usually run this for 10 to 15 minutes. It can be noisy, hot, and humid but at least you likely won’t have to open up a faulty (read leaking) steam trap.

In part two of how to start up your new brewhouse, I will discuss passivation and conducting your first brew.