Date: June 19, 2020

Posted by Ryan Oxton

In a recent conversation I had with Laurence Livingston, a professional brewing consultant and experienced brewer, we touched on the topic of the times, Covid19. I was curious to get his perspective on how the brewing community was doing as a whole and how some operations, big and small, were making ends meet. The discussion ultimately led to the subject of pilot systems and Laurence’s thoughts about how now, more than ever, they’re a necessity in today’s thriving brewery. I thought I’d pass five nuggets on to you… without his fee, of course. 

Laurence:

I advise all our craft brewing clients to seriously consider purchasing a pilot system – many breweries are currently either using one or planning to buy one. Here are five important strategic advantages of owning and operating a pilot system.  

  1. Starting up with a full pilot system is a proven way to build a brand before making the big investment in a larger system. It can be coupled with food service, a tap room/tasting concept and/or function as part of a larger long-term plan for expansion to typically a 10 bbl or larger volume brewery in year-2 of operations. 
  2. Most brewers use the pilot system to test brew new beer formulas. Important sensory analysis can be done for minimal cost. Non-brewing staff can be trained on the brewing process while test batching.
  3. The pilot system brewhouse can produce sterile wort, which is integral for a commercial level yeast propagation operation. Further matched with a properly-fitted small yeast propagation tank, the pilot system multitasks to keep your yeast fed, clean and viable. It also saves the business plenty by allowing brewers to easily build pitchable quantities of yeast from a small amount of slurry.
  4. Unique situations call for unique measures. During the COVID 19 pandemic breweries fired up their pilot systems primarily to help downsize production while they retool for survival. Pilot systems are super useful for so many reasons, some just recently discovered.
  5. Ability to increase margin on special in-house small batch releases. Turn a rare treat into a beer that customers will jump at the chance to try and bring in additional margin for this unique opportunity.

So, whether you’re considering opening up a taproom or have been in operation for years, there’s likely a place for a pilot system in your arsenal. They are versatile setups that can evolve with your brewery as your needs change and definitely worth a look as you’re mapping out your next move. In the meantime, I’d like to thank Laurence for his time and insights – I think I owe him a beer!

Ryan Oxton is the Market Development Manager at Spike. When he’s not guiding aspiring homebrewers with their first systems or working with breweries as they upgrade their operations, he enjoys spending time with family and losing the occasional golf ball or two. Email: info@spikebrewing.com.

Laurence Livingston is a full-time brewery consultant at Kettle and Still Consulting. after a 30+ year career in commercial brewing, he shifted gears to focus on helping others pursue their dreams of brewing professionally. Contact Laurence at www.kettleandstillconsulting.com to bring your aspirations to life!