How Best to Bring the Heat? When to Go Electric, Gas, or Steam Brewhouse.

ABS Commercial has been a full-service equipment and parts outfitter for over 10 years. From our corporate headquarters in Raleigh, North Carolina we are proud to offer customizable stainless steel vessels including brewhouses, tanks, keg washers, and small parts to customers across the country. We have some of the quickest lead times in the industry along with a huge inventory of tanks between 3-90 BBL kept in stock. Most of our equipment can be certified to ASME, CU & UL standards, where applicable.
20BBL ABS Commercial Brewhouse
When it’s time to install or upgrade your brewhouse, you have a key decision to make: How will you heat it? To find the best system for your brewery, consider the pros and cons.

The heat source for your brewhouse is an important choice, since producing wort and heating a hot-liquor tank are very energy-intensive processes. Your choice here impacts—and is impacted by—a lot of factors, such as size, scale, efficiencies, and the utilities available at your brewery.

So, what’s the best option for you? Here are the most important pros and cons to consider when it comes to electric, direct-fire, and steam systems.


An electric brewhouse is a great choice if you need to save money on initial set-up costs. The equipment itself is typically cheaper, since the HLT and brew kettles are equipped with the heating element inside. No extra equipment is necessary, which is also a plus for smaller spaces. It also doesn’t require a flue stack, so there’s no additional fire inspection or approval. Electric also is a high-efficiency heating method because 100 percent of the generated heat is transferred straight to the water or wort through the heating elements. Dialing in the temperature is easy, allowing excellent temperature control.

A downside to an electric system is that they typically require upwards of 300–500 amps of electricity and three-phase 480-volt power. These requirements are not standard for most buildings; they require significant permitting and upgrades, which increases costs. The electric heating elements must be fully covered with liquid before they can be turned on, or else there’s a high risk of scorching your wort or burning adjuncts onto the elements. The elements can heat the sugars in the wort at higher temperatures, producing caramelized flavors and color compounds through Maillard reactions—sometimes these changes are favorable, but they’re not appropriate in all styles and can quickly become toast-like or burnt flavors. The heating elements also need to be able to get your wort to a full rolling boil, not just a simmer, to drive off dimethyl sulfide (DMS) and other off-flavors. After brewing, the heating elements also need to be removed for cleaning, which is time-consuming and labor-intensive. The monthly cost of electricity to run the system can add up quickly, while electric systems also tend to heat slowly, extending your brewing time—two factors that can make it inefficient and prohibitive to scale up with an electric brewhouse.

Conclusion: Although electric systems have a lower set-up cost, the running costs with monthly electric bills are high. They have great temperature control but heat slowly. Electric is best for brewhouses under 10 barrels in size or in areas where electricity is less expensive.
Consider electric if:
Don't consider electric if:

Direct Fire

A gas-powered direct-fire brewhouse heats quickly and is incredibly efficient. As soon as the bottom of the brew kettle is covered with wort, you can turn on the burner, with little risk of scorching your wort. Forced-air burners have low nitrogen oxide emissions and are efficient, safe, and versatile. Natural gas and propane are cheaper sources of energy than electricity, and because direct-fired breweries operate more efficiently, they can significantly reduce your running costs. They also allow for growth, since direct-fire systems are easy to scale up. Direct fire is a widely used heating method, so many brewers are familiar with this type of system.

On the other hand, direct-fire systems have slightly higher setup costs due to the need for gas burners for each vessel, and they are slightly more expensive than electric heating elements. They also require installing or purchasing natural gas or propane to power the burners. While there is good temperature control, the end of the boil tends to hold heat for a few minutes, which could affect the taste of your beer. Direct-fire systems require flues to vent the space and thus a fire inspection, which could affect start times and construction costs. It is important to make sure that the burners and flues are properly configured, or else you could waste a lot of energy, which in turn wastes money. It’s also important to check the emission regulations and requirements of gas burners in your state; they may lead to higher costs.

Conclusion: Direct-fire systems heat quickly and efficiently. While they require some additional setup with permits and costs, they are the best balance between cost and performance. In addition, most brewers are familiar with direct-fire systems and the system can be scaled up for growth.
Consider direct fire if:
Don't consider direct fire if:


A steam system has the fastest heating method, with welded steam jackets in contact with the kettle and HLTs. The steam runs on pressure, but the energy and flame used to heat the steam only turn on when you need steam pressure. That way, the system doesn’t waste energy when not in use. Its heating is efficient yet gentle, with the lowest risk of scorching your wort. A steam system also is highly flexible for different sizes of brewhouse, perfect for scalability. In the long run, energy costs are low—and some cities may also offer city steam.

However, steam-jacketed equipment requires a large up-front cost and is the most expensive of the three options. While scalable to any size, it is not cost-effective to use in smaller-scale breweries. Specialized steam jackets, steam traps, and condensate returns add additional construction costs. Also, most local authorities require costly permits and inspections for operating steam generators/boilers, which can slow down your start-up timeline. The boiler also needs its own room near the brewhouse and special pipework plumbed around your brewery, to carry the steam from the boiler to the vessels being heated.

Conclusion: Steam systems are expensive to set up but heat quickly and run efficiently. This heating method is flexible for different sizes of brewhouse, but it makes the most sense for brewhouses over 10 barrels in size. Scalability is easiest with this system.
Consider steam if:
Don't consider steam if:

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