Homebrewing and craft brewing are more popular than ever. While the big brands still dominate the market, there are over 8,000 craft breweries in the United States alone. More people are discovering the joys of brewing their own beer at home too.
But starting your own microbrewery or home brewery requires significant investment in equipment. New stainless steel tanks, fermenters, filters and other gear can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Many small scale starter breweries and homebrewers want to minimize initial capital costs.
This guide covers all the cheap brewery equipment options to help startups and hobby brewers. We look at how to assemble an affordable brewhouse on a budget.
Overview of Cheap Brewery Equipment
Cheap brewing equipment allows you to dip your toe into commercial beer production or homebrewing without breaking the bank. Here are the key things to know:
- Used equipment is plentiful from breweries expanding or closing down. Stainless steel holds up over decades.
- Imported equipment from China costs a fraction compared to U.S. or German manufacturers. Quality varies.
- Plastic fermenters avoid corrosion and are 1/10th the price of stainless steel. Great for homebrewing.
- Many equipment substitutes exist. e.g. keggles for kettles, propane burners vs steam systems.
- Going manual instead of automated reduces costs but increases labor.
- Buying kits is cheaper than piecing individual parts. Economies of scale.
- Focus on essential brewhouse gear first. Expand later. Start small.
Cheap brewing setups require more hands-on work but get the job done on a budget. Let’s look at equipping a full brewhouse step-by-step:
Guide to Key Brewery Equipment on a Budget
Here are the core vessels and systems needed for brewing with budget options for each:
|Equipment Type||Cheap Options|
|Mash Tun||Cooler mash tun, plastic bucket, rectangular food-grade plastic storage container|
|Brew Kettle||Converted kegs (“keggles”), stainless steel restaurant equipment|
|Fermentation Tanks||Plastic buckets, modified kegs, plastic conical fermenters|
|Temperature Control||Johnson A419 temperature controllers, inkbird controllers, brew belts, heat pads, cooling coil in keg|
|Boil Kettle||Converted kegs, Bayou Classic propane burners or King Kooker turkey fryer|
|Chiller||Immersion chiller, plate chiller from China, no-chill by racking to covered kettle|
|Bottling or Kegging||Used commercial bottler/kegger, budget bench cappers, kegging system kit|
|Cleaning and Sanitation||Restaurant grade CIP spray balls, peracetic acid sanitizer|
This minimal brewhouse setup allows 1-3 BBL commercial production or 5-10 gallon homebrew batches. Let’s explore the options in more detail.
Types of Cheap Brewing Tanks
Fermentation and aging of beer requires temperature controlled stainless steel or plastic tanks. Here are some thrifty alternatives to expensive conical fermenters:
|Tank Type||Price Range||Volume Range||Pros||Cons|
|Used Stainless Steel||$300-$1000||7-30 BBL||Lasts forever, jacketed available||May have damage or leaks|
|Plastic Conicals||$100-$300||3-15 gallons||Improved shape, compact||Scratches over time|
|Modified Kegs||$50-$150||5-15 gallons||Stackable, readily available||Round shape limits yeast collection|
|Plastic Buckets||$10-$50||3-6 gallons||Very cheap, widely available||High risk of infection, poor seals|
Cheap Boil Kettles and Burners
The boil kettle is where wort is boiled with hops for aroma and bitterness. You need a strong heat source and kettle that won’t scorch.
|Equipment||Price Range||Volume Range||Heating Method||Pros||Cons|
|Converted Keg||$100-$200||10-15 gallons||Propane or Electric||Multi-purpose vessel||Time consuming to modify|
|Bayou/King Kooker||$100-$200||10-55 gallons||Propane||High BTU for fast boiling||Outdoor use only|
|Electric Brewery Pot||$100-$300||5-15 gallons||Electric||Precise temperature control||Slow heating, high energy use|
Propane offers the most bang for your buck for heating kettles and mash tuns. But it requires outdoor use. Electric gives more temperature precision at the cost of slow heating and high energy use.
Cheap Options for Cooling Wort
Once boiling is complete, the hot wort must be rapidly cooled to pitch yeast. Here are some thrifty cooling solutions:
|Cooling Method||Price Range||Pros||Cons|
|Immersion Chiller||$50-$150||Fast cooling in kettle||Risk of contamination, water use|
|No-Chill||$0 extra||Free, convenient||Slow cooling, less hop aroma|
|Plate Chiller||$100-$300||Efficient, closed transfer||Must be kept clean|
The immersion chiller is a common budget-friendly option. But avoiding cooling equipment entirely by racking to a covered kettle to cool overnight (“no-chill”) gets the job done with no added costs.
Affordable Fermentation Temperature Control
Consistent fermentation temps are critical for quality beer. Here are cheap ways to control:
|Brew belt||$20||Localized heating||Only heats, no cooling|
|Temperature controller||$50||Precise temp control||Requires fridge or chamber|
|Space heater||$30||Heating for chamber||Imprecise temperature|
Controlling temps doesn’t have to be expensive. A $20 brew belt combined with a space heater in a small chamber will do the trick on a tight budget.
Low Cost Options for Bottling and Kegging
You need equipment to package your beer for serving. Here are some value-oriented options:
|Bench capper||$20||Inexpensive, manual||Slow, labor intensive|
|Used bottling line||$500-$5000||Fast automation||Takes up space, repairs|
|Kegging system||$200-$500||Skip bottling, forced carbonation||Keg/tap costs, equipment needs|
For small scale use, a simple bench capper avoids the need for an expensive bottling line. Going with kegs instead eliminates bottling but has its own equipment costs.
Buying Cheap Brewing Equipment Kits
Purchasing a full brewery equipment kit is often cheaper than buying individual pieces. Common kits include:
- Homebrew starter kits – $100-$300, equipment for 5 gallon batches
- Nano brewery kits – $1000-$5000, 2-3 BBL brewhouses
- Turnkey brewery kits – $30,000+, up to 15 BBL, plug and play
While less customizable, kits simplify getting started and maximize value from economies of scale.
Cheap Options for Cleaning and Sanitation
Proper cleaning and sanitation are must-haves for brewing. Here are some budget cleaning solutions:
|Peracetic acid||$1/gallon||Soak/circulate, rinse||Non-rinse sanitizer||Corrosive at high concentrations|
|Restaurant CIP||$300||Hot rinse, pump spray ball||Reusable, effective||Labor for assembly, heating water|
|Carboy brush||$10||Manual scrubbing||Cheap||Very labor intensive|
Peracetic acid is an economical sanitizing agent. Adapting restaurant cleaning in place (CIP) equipment can automate cleaning tanks.
Suppliers for Cheap Brewing Equipment
Here are some recommended suppliers for deals on discounted brewing hardware:
|Supplier||Location||Equipment Types||Price Range|
|Adventures in Homebrewing||USA||New tanks, kegs, kits||Low to high|
|MoreBeer!||USA||Kits, pumps, burners, chillers||Low to high|
|Ontario Beer Kegs||Canada||Used kegs, taps, parts||Very cheap|
|Brewhaus||China||Kettles, burners, fermenters||Very cheap|
|Alibaba||China||All brewhouse equipment||Very cheap|
|eBay||USA||Motley used equipment||Very cheap|
|Restaurant supply||USA||Boilers, kettles, tanks||Mid-range|
|Craigslist||Local||All used equipment||Wide range|
|Probrewer||USA||Used commercial tanks||Mid to high|
Check brewing forums, Facebook groups and online marketplaces for deals as well. Homebrew clubs are also great for finding used equipment locally.
Typical Cost Ranges for Brewery Equipment
Here are rough price ranges for new budget-friendly brewing gear based on quotes:
|Item||Cheap Price Range||Details|
|20 BBL fermenter||$1000-$5000||Used, scratched plastic or stainless|
|3 BBL brite tank||$500-$2000||Used/imported, unjacketed|
|10 BBL boil kettle||$3000-$8000||Imported/used stainless|
|10 BBL mash tun||$2000-$6000||Insulated plastic/stainless|
|Plate heat exchanger||$1000-$3000||Single use, imported, 1-3 bbl/hr|
|7 BBL unitank||$4000-$10,000||Chinese import, scratched, unjacketed|
|3-5 bbl brewhouse||$6000-$20,000||Manual, propane heating|
These prices can be compared to new U.S. equipment costing 2-5x more. Significant savings are possible buying used tanks or Chinese imports.
Ideal Brewhouse Size for Startups on a Budget
For startup microbreweries, a practical brewhouse size is:
- 1-3 barrel (BBL) manual setup
- Affordable equipment cost from $10k-$30k
- Handles pilot batches up to commercial scale
- Lower operating costs
- Allows small taproom-only sales
- Build up capacity over time
Larger automated 10-15 BBL systems have exponentially higher costs. Start small and minimal to keep expenses in check. Aim for a breakeven point below 5000 BBL annual production. Contract brew overflow batches until expansion makes economic sense.
Cost Saving Tips for Brewery Equipment
Follow these tips to maximize savings on critical brewhouse gear:
- Buy used tanks and parts from brewery expansions or closures
- Import inexpensive manual equipment from China
- Start with 1 BBL pilot batches, expand as revenue grows
- Focus on top priority equipment like a boil kettle first
- Use plastic fermenters instead of stainless when possible
- Control fermentation temperatures with cost-effective brew belts or controllers
- Use single-use plate chillers instead of expensive multi-use chillers
- Sanitize with peracetic acid instead of automated chemical CIP
- Avoid bottling line initially, use a bench capper or kegging instead
- Buy equipment in kits for discounts compared to individual pieces
By keeping costs low upfront on equipment, more working capital remains for operations and ingredients during the crucial first year. Breweries can gain momentum on a shoestring budget.
Applications and Uses of Affordable Brewing Equipment
Cheap brewing equipment allows entrepreneurs and homebrewers to:
- Launch a microbrewery on a budget
- Develop test batches and new recipes
- Learn the brewing process hands-on
- Pursue a craft brewing hobby affordably
- Teach others about brewing and beer making
- Start a brew on premises or incubator facility
- Experiment with unique ingredients and techniques
- Host tasting events and parties with homebrewed beer
The lower capital costs make cheap equipment ideal for any small scale brewing operation. Brewpubs, taprooms, taphouses and brew on premises locations can all benefit from budget-minded hardware.
For homebrewers, affordable kettles, carboys, fermenters and chillers let you:
- Brew 5 gallon batches from your garage
- Dial in recipes to perfection over time
- Make beer for personal consumption or as gifts
- Enter homebrew competitions with unique creations
- Save substantially compared to buying craft beer
- Enjoy the creative science of fermentation
- Develop skills to become a commercial brewer
Having access to even basic equipment unlocks so many possibilities to produce tasty homemade beer.
Pros and Cons of Cheap Brewing Equipment
There are some key upsides and downsides to using budget equipment:
Benefits of Cheap Brewery Equipment
- 90% cheaper than buying brand new
- Allows bootstrapping a brewery on a shoestring
- Minimizes risky capital outlays when starting out
- Small equipment has lower operating costs
- Lets you expand in phases as production and profits grow
- Less wasted capacity than oversized equipment
- Learn hands-on commercially-scaled techniques
- Unused tanks from a brewery closure are abundant
Drawbacks and Limitations
- Used equipment may have unseen wear or defects
- Cheap imports often lack support from vendors
- Manual equipment requires more grueling labor
- Plastic fermenters scratch over time and need replacing
- Inability to scale up production in the future
- No automation increases risk of inconsistencies
- Harder to dial in precision temperature control
- Less resale value if tanks are scratched or dented
The tradeoff is mostly labor. But cheap equipment lets you enter the market and work out kinks before investing in expensive upgrades. Used tanks are widely available from the thousands of closed brewpubs whose discarded equipment floods the market. With good maintenance and cleaning, these tanks can serve another decade or more.
For the capital-constrained startup brewery or homebrewer, the pros of budget equipment often outweigh the cons. But to expand beyond a microbrew scale, upgraded equipment becomes necessary.
Comparing Cheap vs Expensive Brewery Equipment
How does affordable brewing hardware stack up against more expensive commercial solutions? Here’s a head-to-head comparison:
|Factor||Cheap Equipment||Expensive Equipment|
|Cost||<$1000 for used tanks, imported gear.||>$5000 for new U.S. made equipment.|
|Build Quality||Low to moderate. Used tanks work but have dents/scrapes. Imported tanks are thin and warp.||Excellent. Heavy duty kettles and tanks built to last decades.|
|Automation||Mostly manual transfer and heating.||Fully automated, turnkey brewhouse solutions.|
|Lead Times||Used in stock, imported 1 month.||3-6+ months for custom U.S. tanks.|
|Labor Requirements||Highly manual, more hands-on work.||High degree of automation to reduce labor.|
|Precision||Harder to precisely control temps and processes.||State of the art monitoring and controls.|
|Capacity||Up to 3 BBL commercial, 10-15 gal homebrew.||10-30+ BBL commercial brewhouses supported.|
|Operating Costs||Cheaper to run small batches with minimal electricity/propane.||More expensive to operate large-scale automated systems.|
|Cleaning||Manual clean and sanitize.||Automated CIP systems and cleaning chemicals.|
|Maintenance||Higher. Used tanks break more often.||Lower. New equipment under warranty.|
|Quality Consistency||More variation batch to batch.||Automated systems ensure consistency.|
|Future Expansion||Limited. Equipment maxes out at low volumes.||Scalable to add more tanks as needed.|
For early-stage breweries or homebrewing, cheap equipment provides the basics to develop quality beer on a budget. Commercial craft breweries should invest in better equipment for the long haul.
The main tradeoff is labor. Time and effort replacing cheap equipment can outweigh upfront cost savings compared to durable commercial-grade systems. But for new entrants, cheap gear reduces risk.
How To Select Budget Brewery Equipment Suppliers
Choosing the right supplier is critical when buying inexpensive brewing hardware. Here are key considerations when evaluating sources of affordable equipment:
Check Quality and Reputation
- Examine build quality – thickness of steel, quality of welds, longevity
- Read reviews and talk to customers about their experience
- Ask about defect rates and support for problems
- Look at sample equipment photos for imperfections
- Request references from breweries using their gear
Evaluate Support and Documentation
- What support do they offer for questions/troubleshooting?
- Is the equipment well documented with manuals and instructions?
- Can they provide measurement specs, drawings, materials list?
- Do they have an engineering team that can modify design?
Review Experience and Specialization
- How long have they been supplying breweries? Look for 5+ years experience ideally.
- What types of breweries have they worked with? Get references.
- Do they specialize in budget equipment or also offer premium solutions?
- How customizable is the equipment?
Assess Delivery and Shipping
- Where do they ship from? China shipments take 1 month.
- How much is shipping for tanks, kettles and fermenters?
- Do they support delivery logistics like lift gate trucks?
- Can they deliver to your brewery location?
Consider Warranties and Returns
- What warranty do they offer? Used equipment may not have any.
- Can you get replacements for defective parts?
- What are the terms if you need to return equipment?
- Who pays for return shipping if necessary?
Vet suppliers thoroughly and get references. This avoids getting stuck with lemon equipment that doesn’t function properly.
How To Design a Brewery Floor Plan on a Budget
- Optimize workflow between brewhouse, fermentation room, and packaging area. Minimize pipe runs and pumping distances.
- Arrange tanks vertically to save floor space. Stack fermenters and brite tanks 2-3 high.
- Use blank wall space for tank stands rather than expensive platform frames.
- Minimize room divisions. An open layout saves on wall construction.
- Utilize height for vertically stacked equipment. High ceilings enable taller tanks.
- Reduce hallways and wasted space between rooms. Optimize traffic flow.
- Locate ingredients and refrigeration near brewhouse for easy access.
- Position packaging lines close to fermentation for short transfers.
- Place electrical panels and plumbing runs conveniently to avoid long conduit runs.
- Minimize utility and drain trenches cutting across floors. Plan piping layouts wisely.
- Use cheaper plywood and plastic wall coverings rather than expensive FRP panels or stainless steel.
- Install used mezzanines for upper tank storage rather than costly new platforms.
- Consider mobile fermenters and kettles on wheels to avoid permanently installed stands.
- Use blank space creatively like installing a taproom or restaurant to generate added revenue.
- Evaluate loading bay doors in relation to equipment locations and access routes.
With some creative space planning, an efficient brewery layout is achievable even on a tight startup budget. Focus on optimizing workflow and minimizing construction costs.
Installing and Operating Cheap Brewery Equipment
Here are some tips for installing and using affordable brewing hardware:
Installation Best Practices
- Review equipment manuals and specifications for assembly, utility connections, clearance, etc.
- Ensure adequate overhead lifting height and path for tanks.
- Have professional welders connect chiller lines, plumbing, glycol, steam, gas lines.
- Connect kettles and tanks to power, water supply, drainage, glycol if jacketed.
- Anchor tanks properly to stands or floor to prevent tipping.
- Install temperature controllers and test heating/cooling system.
- Check doorways to ensure equipment can be moved in/out.
- Test pipe connections for leaks after assembly using pressure.
- Clean and sanitize entire system thoroughly before first use.
- Follow all equipment safety procedures in manuals.
- Adhere to temperature ranges and limits for mash, boil, fermentation.
- Use precise timers and measurements for best results.
- Control fermentation temperatures closely.
- Take careful notes each batch for consistency.
- Monitor wort clarity and extract efficiency.
- Use airlocks, bungs, clamps to seal vessels.
- Clean and sanitize equipment immediately after use.
- Store equipment properly when not in use.
- Replace plastic fermenters showing major scratches or cracks.
Thoroughly document standard operating procedures and recipes to achieve consistent quality between batches with the same equipment.
Maintaining and Caring for Cheap Brewing Hardware
To maximize longevity of inexpensive brewery equipment:
- Disassemble and thoroughly clean kettles, tanks, pipes after each use.
- Use non-caustic cleaners like PBW followed by sanitizers.
- For deep cleans, soak equipment in cleaning solution overnight.
- Replace plastic ball valves and gaskets before they leak.
- Lubricate o-rings and seals to prevent drying out.
- Check for loose fittings, warped manways, signs of corrosion.
- Use brewery coatings to prevent corrosion inside tanks.
- For used equipment, inspect for weaknesses in welds or steel.
- Fix problems early before they lead to equipment failure.
- Follow preventative maintenance schedule in manuals.
- Have an expert welder on hand for steel equipment repairs as needed.
Well cared for equipment can stay in service for decades past a brewery closure. But neglecting maintenance and sanitation will quickly compromise function. Document procedures and train staff thoroughly in equipment best practices.
Q: Is used brewing equipment risky to buy?
Used equipment from brewery closures can provide major savings. But examine it closely for defects and ensure it was properly maintained. Get any leaky, rusted or damaged tanks repaired by a pro before use.
Q: What are keggles and how are they used?
Keggles are converted kegs made into kettles. The spear is removed and ports are added for drainage. They make affordable boil kettles for 5-15 gallon homebrewing.
Q: Can I start brewing with homemade equipment?
It’s possible to DIY certain items like a mash tun cooler or kettle. But other critical gear like fermenters and chillers are best purchased. Focus DIY on non-vessel items like stands.
Q: Should I buy new vs used fermenters?
For piloting small batches, used plastic fermenters are fine. But for full scale production, buy new stainless steel tanks for consistency and longevity.
Q: How do I clean used brewing equipment?
Break down all parts fully. Soak overnight in PBW. Rinse thoroughly. Sanitize with diluted star san or peracetic acid. Replace gaskets/o-rings.
Q: What are the most essential pieces of brewing equipment?
A kettle, mash tun, fermenter and accessories like a chiller and thermometers make up a basic brewhouse. Add tanks and packaging later as production grows.
Q: Is Chinese brewing equipment poor quality?
Quality varies widely among Chinese suppliers. Vet them thoroughly and inspect equipment on arrival. Pay more for thicker stainless steel.
Q: How long does brewing equipment typically last?
With excellent maintenance, stainless steel tanks and kettles can operate for 20+ years. Plastic gear like buckets need replacing every 2-5 years.
Q: Should I buy equipment in kits or piecemeal?
For startup breweries, full equipment kits offer complete functionality at a discount. Later you can add specialty items ala carte.
Q: How much does a 3 BBL brewhouse cost?
Expect $10k-$30k for a budget 3 BBL manual brewhouse with used/imported tanks. New American-made equipment can cost $60k and up.