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Opening a new business can be a daunting task. Between the legal paperwork, securing the best perceived location, hiring new employees, the investment can require the use of a life savings. In the brewing industry, this investment can be amplified by the cost of purchasing production scale brewing equipment. Because of this, many start-up brewing operations have turned to the use of Frankenbrew equipment within their brewing process. The term “Frankenbrew” was coined by Tom Hennessy of Colorado Boy Pub & Brewery. The term refers to any equipment incorporated into a brewery that was not originally intended for that purpose, but has rather been repurposed, modified, or in-house fabricated to be used in the brewing process.
Frankenbrew equipment can be created in a seemingly infinite number of ways using sometimes surprising source materials. Hot liquor tanks, used to keep water hot during the brewing process can be made from insulated milk tanks, or from uninsulated stainless-steel vessels with the inclusion of an electric heating element or burner coupled with a thermostat. Mash tuns, used for the mashing step that converts malted grains to fermentable wort are a bit more complex than a hot liquor tank, including a ‘sparge arm’ which showers the mash with hot water to rinse the extracted wort from the grains and a coarse screen to retain the solid grain material as it is moved into the boil kettle. The mash tun can also be made from many different types of stainless-steel vessels, often incorporating some sort of stainless-steel piping with holes drilled to serve as a sparge head, and screens that can range from a full-bedded drilled stainless steel false bottom with holes drilled, to more stainless piping with holes drilled or slots cut in, to even a network of braided stainless-steel flex piping of the sort which is often found in household appliance plumbing.
The idea behind any of these ‘Frankenbrew’ alternatives to traditionally manufactured brewing equipment is to save money for a small-scale brewing operation, but possibly due to the wide variety in Frankenbrew applications, there is very little literature on how a brewhouse can utilize this equipment, or weighing in on any associated costs vs. benefits. This research seeks to begin filling that gap in information by focusing on both quantitative and qualitative aspects of the potential costs and benefits involving Frankenbrew equipment in comparison to the use of more traditionally manufactured counterparts of similar scale.
To do this, Michigan breweries were visited and/or interviewed about their brewing process using twelve different brewing systems. Five of the ten used a heavy incorporation of Frankenbrew equipment in their brewing process, the other five used primarily more traditional brewhouse designs made up primarily of commercially manufactured brewing equipment that required little or no modification to be used in their brewing process. Quantifiable data came in the form of comparing brewhouse extract efficiency, labor hours involved, cost of installation of one group as opposed to the other. Because of the variation of Frankenbrew equipment, the average and standard deviation of values from each of the two groups were taken for comparison. From a qualitative side, brewhouse owners and personnel were interviewed regarding their overall level of satisfaction with the equipment by touching on shortcomings, advantages, whether they planned on replacing the equipment soon, and whether, in hindsight, they would have employed the same equipment if they were to start over. In the interest of keeping potentially private business practices confidential, all company names and personnel remained anonymous for this research.
 Hennessy, Tom, Brewery Operations Manual: 3 Steps to Open and Run a Successful Brewery, (Montrose Colorado: Tom Hennessy, 2015), 54-60.
King, Daniel, "A Comparison of Frankenbrew and Traditionally Manufactured Brewing Equipment" (2018). Honors Theses. 2935.
Honors Thesis-Open Access