When I built our brewery in Salida, Colorado in 1994, my goal was to do it as inexpensively as I could because a) I wasn’t a great brewer who could justify a great system and b) I couldn’t afford one anyway. So I made my way up to Dairy Engineering in Denver, recommended by my buddy Bill Carver in Durango, and what a sight to behold!
They had a huge yard of stainless tanks of all sizes and shapes, and the ability to do sanitary welds, so they could fashion whatever my imagination could come up with. I had them modify some Grundy tanks I had (see a really bad video tape I made back in 1995 called Frankenbrew below). I also picked up two dairy tanks. One I converted into a mash tun, and the other to be used as a hot liquor tank.
These tanks worked well, even if I had some growing pains with them, but basically I was happy. I was also anxious to see what other uses there were for these tanks.
I had the opportunity in 1996 when we built another brewery in downtown Colorado Springs. There I used three dairy tanks as fermentors. They were in their own room for safety as technically they were open fermenters with a lid and I didn’t want grain dust making there way into the actively fermenting beer. These were milk chilling tanks like the one pictured above. They come jacketed and the exit port already has a tri-clamp so all that is necessary is to insert a racking arm into the port, hook up the glycol lines and add a thermowell. Done!
If I was to turn the tank above into a fermenter, I would first remove the mixing motor in the top, and locate the round cover plates for the openings on top. I would also inspect the inside for any scratches or rust. Usually that’s not an issue because the inside of these tanks are beautiful. I have no idea how old many of the these tanks are, but they come from a time when there were small dairy farms, and most of these tanks were made in America (also Germany) with very skilled labor. The welds are beautiful. There is absolutely no problem with a sanitary fermentation with these tanks.
I bring this up of course just to remind folks that these are still out there, and they are cheap. They make a great hot liquor tank or mash tun, and also terrific fermentation tanks, but I would include a cold liquor tank as well or perhaps a lagering/conditioning tank too.
If you have the room in your brewery, it is worth considering integrating some of these beauties into your operation. My good friend Nathaniel Miller of Big Choice Brewing still uses one for his mash tun and he is proud of it.
I’m just putting this out there for your consideration, whether you are opening a new brewery or doing an expansion.
Call me crazy, call me cheap, but unlike 1994, I can make good beer now and wouldn’t hesitate to integrate dairy into my operation.