After a few successful batches of homebrew, it’s not uncommon to start thinking, “Hey, my beer isn’t half bad, maybe I can do this professionally.”
That thought goes through many home brewer’s minds, but what is it really like to brew on a pro system? Are there any similarities? What about differences?
Well, today’s video is all about how home brewing compares to brewing on a professional level.
I’m Trent Musho and this is The Bru Sho. Let’s talk home brewing versus pro brewing.
A few weeks ago, I headed down to Oceanside, California to hang out with my friends at the brand new South O Brewing. Both co-founders, Trevor and Joel, as well as head brewer, Maurey, yes that’s Maurey, were all once home brewers and now gone pro.
South O is a wonderful community spot for locals to hang out with delicious beers that encompass an Australian flair. My hopes were to gain some insight into how a pro brewery compares to a home brewery.
Not only that, but they also allowed me to try my hand at brewing on a pro system. It was an awesome day to say the least.
So, let’s jump into some of the big differences. The first being size, and that refers to everything from boil kettles to fermenters to the sheer amount of ingredients used. Obviously, at the pro level, you’re brewing a lot more beer.
For example, South O is a 10-barrel brew house, and each barrel equals 31 gallons. That’s 310 gallons right there. On top of that, they have 620-barrel fermenters, meaning they can have up to 3,720 gallons of beer fermenting at one time.
Meanwhile, I brew a five-gallon batch every three to four weeks, but they’re continuously brewing just to keep up demand. That means a lot of grain, a lot of hops, and a lot of yeast. But really, when looking at the recipe sheet and talking to Maurey, outside of the total amount of ingredients used, there aren’t many differences in the brewing process itself.
As recipe development goes, you’d be surprised how well a five-gallon recipe will scale up as a commercial brewer. You get better costs for buying huge bags of grain and bulk stuff, where home brewers are paying retail prices, we’re paying wholesale.
But as far as anything I make as a commercial brewer, I feel like I can make just as good as a home brewer.
Efficiency: at the end of the day, a commercial brewery is a business, so they have to be sure they’re getting the most out of each batch of beer. Efficiency refers to the percentage of potential sugars extracted from the mash, so the goal for them is to get to 90% efficiency or higher.
But on the home-brew scale, we’re less concerned with efficiency. Sure, some home brewers are constantly striving to reach those numbers, but on average, we’re hitting around 75% efficiency, which really doesn’t matter for us.
We can always add in a few handfuls more of grain to make up the difference, but on the pro scale, those handfuls are much larger, and the pricing can add up quickly. That’s why you see a lot of automation and highly dialed in equipment on the pro brewing site. They need to be as precise and efficient as possible to keep costs down.
Moving wort and beer: another noticeable difference is how wort and beer is moved around. At home, I’m personally either doing a lift and pour or a quick transfer via gravity or an occasional pump. But at the pro level, since the amount of beer you’re making is so much more, everything is done via pipes and pumps.
Just take a look at this intricate pipe and valve situation going on at South O. Thankfully, it’s all labeled, but in order to move water and wort around, these valves have to be turned a certain way, and most of the pipes are rigid. I would hate to see a brewery with loose tubing all over the place.
Which reminds me, organization is key on the pro level. Everything has its place and is neatly put away. You don’t want to waste any time trying to find the right part. More home breweries, mine included, could take note from this.
Keeping it cool: one big advantage pro-brewers have is the ability to chill the fermenters down to optimum fermentation temperature. This is typically done using a glycol system that runs the cool liquid through the walls of the fermenter. Doing this reduces all flavors produced by hot fermentations and can allow them to easily make lagers.
Of course, in recent years, home-brewers have been doing similar setups with expensive glycol systems or even budget-friendly cooling coils. For years, home-brewers have been finding clever ways to keep their fermentations cool, but pro-brewers have it dialed in and always ready, so they can make delicious beer any day.
On a pro setup, you can really dial it in, whether that’s temperature control, grain that’s being milled, there’s a lot more automation depending on the system in commercial brewing, whereas home brewing it depends on the setup.
Whether you’re using plastic fermenters, glass fermenters, you have a cooling system, whether that’s used by water or glycol, there’s so many different little factors here and there.
Multiple batches: often, pro-brewers also blend multiple batches of beer in order to fill up their fermenters. It really depends on the size of the mash ton and boil kettles, but what happens is you’ll have multiple brewers making the same beer consecutively until they reach the amount needed.
So, really, the brewers have to be on the same page about the recipe and have their skills honed in to nail the recipe every time. Not something you often see on the home brewing scale.
Repetition and consistency: on a similar note, is the repetition and consistency of recipes on the pro scale. They’re often brewing the same beers over and over again because they’re the ones that sell.
When you find the recipe that strikes a chord with your customers, and they keep coming back for it, then you have to have plenty on tap. I personally brew a different beer just about every time I brew.
Of course, I have my signature recipes, and I’ll whip them out when I miss them, but I’m always on the hunt for something new and creative to make. But the pro-brewers have to keep churning out their winning recipes to keep the people happy.
Experimenting: this brings me to the one big advantage home-brewers have over pro-brewers: the ability to experiment and try new things. If we throw in some random ingredient, and it fails miserably, the worst case is you have to dump a five-gallon batch and move on, a small sacrifice of about 30 or so.
But on the large pro scale, they can’t afford to make mistakes or take huge risks. Dumping a whole batch of beer can cost hundreds, if not more. Many breweries have pilot batches for this very reason, to brew on a smaller scale and experiment on recipes.
Then, once they have proven a beer, they can scale it up to the big system. Not only can they not experiment as freely as home-brewers, but they’re also limited on the ingredients they can use. Anytime you start adding grape or apple juice or any other type of alcohol like whiskey or tequila, there’s all kinds of laws and regulations that won’t allow pros to do the same.
Many times, this can be dependent on local laws, but typically, a brewery is set up to make one thing: beer. Of course, if they want to add whiskey flavor into their beer, they can just get whiskey barrels to age it.
But on the home-brew scale, we can just toss in an ounce or so to get that character instantly. Being a home-brewer, you have a lot more to play with. You’re not as constrained by price, cost, and availability of goods. And if there’s something you want to make because you think you’ll enjoy it, you can just go for it, no matter how much it costs.
But the commercial side, you’ve got to think about what someone’s willing to pay for a pint and what you can put into this beer. And as a commercial brewer, I always try and use the best quality ingredients and everything, but sometimes I have to forgo making a certain beer because it’s just not cost-effective.
Newbies: the last thing I’ll mention is that while you may have dreams of going pro, if you’re starting from scratch or have no previous work experience, they don’t plan to start brewing immediately.
Often, beginner brewers get the grunt work, meaning everyone’s favorite task: cleaning. So, prepare to get your hands dirty cleaning kegs and mash tuns. But if you stick it out and prove you can do the hard work, eventually, you can get to brew on the big system.
So, what do you think? Still ready to go pro? Let me know down below if you have plans to one day brew commercially or if you already do. Let me know what I forgot. I’m sure there’s some other details that make pro brewing different from home-brewing. I had an absolute blast brewing on a pro system like the one at South O.
It really gave me appreciation for all the hard work that goes into brewing commercially. I was definitely sore the next day. A huge thank you to Trevor, Joel, and Maury for letting me crash the brewery for a day.
If you’re ever in Oceanside or the San Diego area, you have to come check out the brewery and taste what they have on tap. Trevor’s bringing a lot of his Australian background to some of the brews, and Maury is brewing up some serious magic. These beers are so good.
Thanks for watching, and happy brewing!
Lead marketer, brewer, dad, and husband. Pretty much an all-round awesome guy.