Choosing our Equipment Manufacturer...[Portland, OR Part 2]
When buying brewing equipment, it seems you have two major choices to make:
New v. Used
We’ve found that unless you find a brewery closing nearby at exactly the right time, odds are good that you are going to be looking to buy new stuff. For us, part of this is because of our starting size – there aren’t a ton of 20 barrel brewhouses and 40 bbl fermenters floating around. Fifteen bbl brewhouses are more common – but even still, used equipment is selling at a very large percentage of the cost of new, and has all the downsides that may come with buying second-hand. This, of course, is due to the insane growth of the craft brewing industry, so all equipment is in really high demand.
The biggest advantage to used equipment, generally speaking, is speed of delivery. If you can find something used and snap it up, you should be able to get it to your place relatively quickly. New equipment all needs to be fabricated, and usually comes with significant lead times, often anywhere between three to six months.
New tanks have their own advantages – customizable, no wear and tear, exactly the right size, etc.
And because we don’t need the equipment right this second, it makes the most sense for us to buy new.
Domestic v. Foreign
American-made or foreign-imported is the other decision when choosing your manufacturer. American-made tends to be more expensive – but there is more security in being able to visit the plant, inspect the equipment, have technicians sent out to sort out any issues, inexpensive shipping for repair parts, etc. European equipment is similar in many ways, but often is more expensive, and certainly more expensive to ship.
Chinese equipment is the other major option. While there is certainly some great Chinese tanks, there is also some absolutely horrific Chinese tanks. The problem (generally) is that its difficult to know which you have ordered until it shows up at your door. The risk level is far higher than with American or European made tanks, and because of this, we’ve decided to go with American-made.
Finding the Right Company
After careful deliberation and considerable back and forth with multiple U.S. brewery equipment manufacturers, we made the decision to go with Mark’s Design and Metalworks in Vancouver, Washington. Mark’s does completely customized set ups and works with lots of breweries on the west coast (Baerlic, 10 Barrel, Ballast Point, + others), a couple in the midwest, and just a few on the east. We originally found them through the wonderful blog run by Alarmist Brewing in Chicago, and have since heard nothing but praise for their setups. (http://alarmistbrewing.com/)
Upon recommendation of the wonderful staff at Mark’s, we recently traveled to Vancouver, WA (20 minutes north of Portland, OR) to check out their manufacturing area, talk to breweries in the area who also had their equipment, and make the final decision on whether we were going to take the brewery equipment plunge with them.
Upon arrival, we met with the friendly team, and were taken on a tour of the facility. The space is a HUGE open warehouse, full of 30+ welders circling around massive stainless steel tanks of all shapes and sizes and in various amounts of completion. Even through our earplugs, the sound was absolutely overwhelming, and we all were craning to hear what Melinda (our tour guide and Mark’s wife) was describing.
There was nothing comparable to our 20 bbl size being made at the moment, but Melinda detailed the process for us from start to finish. Some of the larger tanks really do take months to complete, so Mark’s has a lead time of about four months, which works perfectly with our schedule. They had a couple of tanks between the 200-400 bbl range being made that were absolutely gigantic, and took 9 full time staff during the day and night to complete. Totally crazy, and totally cool. Maybe in a few years we’ll be getting some of those…
A few doors down was Ghost Runner’s Brewery (http://www.ghostrunnersbrewery.com/), a recent start-up who decided to purchase Mark’s equipment. Jeff, one of Ghost Runner’s co-founders, was nice enough to show us around their spiffy new 10 bbl system so we could see one up close and personal. Even though their setup was half the size of what ours will be, it gave us a really good idea of what we’d be looking at eventually, and certainly convinced us that Mark and his team know what they’re doing.
The visit concluded as we addressed some of our concerns and customization goals with their dedicated design team, who do some really remarkable 3D layouts. All in all, it was an incredible visit, and really astonishing to see what the talented welders can accomplish with some sheets of stainless steel.