beer production equipment

Overview of 15 BBL Fermenter

A 15 barrel (BBL) fermenter is a large fermentation vessel used by commercial craft breweries and microbreweries. It has a capacity of 15 barrels or 465 gallons (1,760 liters). 15 BBL fermenters allow small to mid-sized breweries to increase production to meet growing demand while retaining flexibility for craft batches.

This guide covers different types of 15 BBL fermenters, design considerations, suppliers and pricing, installation and operation, how to select the right system, and pros, cons and limitations to consider.

Types of 15 BBL Fermenter

There are two main types of 15 BBL fermenters used in craft brewing operations:

Stainless SteelMost common type, made completely from stainless steel. Durable, easy to clean and sanitize. More expensive than plastic but lasts much longer.
Plastic (HDPE)Made from High Density Polyethylene plastic. Lower cost but still food-grade and durable. Limitations on pressure ratings.

Stainless steel is generally preferred for its longer lifespan, durability, and flexibility to add valves, ports or integrated cooling. Plastic vessels can provide an economic large volume fermentation option.

15 BBL Fermenter

Design Considerations for 15 BBL Fermenter

Key design factors to consider for a 15 BBL fermentation system:

Design ChoiceOptionsDetails
Shape– Cylindrical
– Conical
Conical bottom allows sediment to settle for easier transfers and harvesting. Cylindrical vessels are simpler to manufacture.
Cooling Ability– Glycol/Recirculating
– Direct expansion
– Jacketed
Glycol and recirculating cooling offer precise temp control. Direct expansion less complex. Jacketed uses chilled water in vessel walls.
Material– Stainless Steel 316
– Stainless 304
– Plastic HDPE / PET
316 has highest corrosion resistance. 304 is cheaper but still durable and easy to weld/fabricate.
Fabrication– Welded seams
– Smooth/brushed finish
Smooth polished or brushed finish improves cleanability, prevents bacteria adherence and buildup over time vs rough welds.
Ports & Fittings– Sample port
-Sight glass
– Butterfly / Ball valve
– Thermowell / Probe
Depends on monitoring, transfers, cleaning needs. Sound design reduces dead zones and contamination risks.
Automation– Temperature probes
– Level sensors
Allows remote monitoring, data logging, prevents overflows.
Pressure Rating– Atmospheric
– Pressure capable
Most operate at atmospheric pressure. Some allow pressurization for special processes.
Sanitation– CIP spray ball
– SIP capable
Automated cleaning cycles improve efficiency, reduce risks. Important forirtiessanitary brewing.

Choosing conical bottom, glycol cooling, stainless steel 316L construction with smooth welds andFinishings integrated ports for cleaning, sampling and probes allows maximum quality, flexibility and ease of operations for the 15 BBL scale.

Layout and Flow Design

Properly designing the layout and product flow is crucial for an efficient 15 BBL brewhouse. Consider:

  • Seamlessly integrate the 15 BBL fermenters with the brew kettle, mash tun, bright tanks, filtering and packaging equipment
  • Optimize transfer piping runs and valves configurations to reduce liquid losses
  • Layout to allow forklift access or room to manually move vessels
  • Consider height of fermenters – tall enough for forklift clearance underneath while allowing access to top ports
  • Floor slope or trenches for drainage and cleaning water collection
  • Space for catwalksorsafe access to top of fermenters
  • Utility connections for water, glycol, steam, compressed air located nearby
  • Physical space for future expansion as production increases

An experienced brewery engineer can help optimize the equipment layout and flow design. Poor design can cost time, product losses and major inefficiencies.

Suppliers and Pricing

ManufacturerPrice RangeOfferings
JVNW$35,000 – $55,000Stainless steel or plastic turnkey systems
Premier Stainless$45,000 – $65,000Highly customizable to order
American Beer Equipment$39,000 – $59,000Value priced turnkey systems
SSBrewtech$48,000 – $68,000Integrated cooling and automation

Pricing can range from $35,000 on the very low end for basic plastic vessels up to $65,000+ for fully customized stainless steel glycol cooled automated fermenters. Generally expect $45,000 – $60,000 for a complete stainless 15 BBL fermenter with integrated cooling and controls.

Be sure to get multiple quotes and do an apples-to-apples comparison on every included component before selecting a supplier.

Installation and Operation

Proper installation and operation procedures are critical for maximizing efficiency and beer quality when using 15 BBL fermenters:

PhaseKey ActivitiesDetails
Installation– Floor mounting, securing vessels
– Connect cooling lines, glycol system
– Connect CIP system piping
Follow manufacturer instructions for space requirements, utility connections, ventilation etc.
Commissioning– Pressure test for leaks with water
– Test cooling system
– Test cleaning cycles
Validate all systems functioning before first use
Fermentation Cycles– Yeast pitch and aeration
– Temperature control profile
– Transfer yeast slurry
Control fermentation variables for ideal ester and alcohol production
Post-fermentation– Cold conditioning as needed
– Fine with ingredients
Allow sedimentation, clarify liquid
Cleaning & Maintenance– Hot caustic wash cycles
– Citric or phosphoric acid wash
– Interior weld inspections
Keep detailed logs of each vessel usage and all cleaning cycles
Safety– Establish operating procedures
– Personal protective equipment
– Confined space protocols
Pressurized vessels can be dangerous without correct safety handling

Following detailed procedures and logs for each fermenter leads to consistency and high quality beer output. Maintenance and sanitation discipline is mandatory.

Choosing the Right 15 BBL Fermenter System

Here are key evaluation criteria when selecting a 15 BBL fermenter supply partner:

Decision FactorEvaluation Guidance
Brewery ObjectivesHow does the fermenter help meet production goals and brewing flexibility needs?
BudgetWhat is affordable today yet leaves room to grow in future?
ConstructionStainless steel thickness, grade, welds and surface finish standards?
Feature SetCooling, automation, cleaning – what capabilities are included?
Lead TimeHow long from order to delivery?
ReferencesTalk to their existing brewery customers on performance.
Service RecordReview experience doing installs,technical abilities of service team.
ExpandabilityCan the supplier support growing from 15 to 30 or 60 BBL systems downstream?

The fermenter choice impacts the quality, capabilities and longevity of the entire brew system. Invest wisely upfront in a supplier positioned to grow with the needs of the brewery long term.

Pros and Cons of 15 BBL Fermenters

Increased production capacity from smaller systemsHigher capital investment required
Meet growing distribution demandAdditional space required for installation
Launch broader variety of commercial recipesMore cleaning and maintenance burden
Retain flexibility for small specialty batchesRequires Supply agreements for key utilities like glycol or CO2
Quality and automation features previously too expensiveAdditional cooling capacity likely needed in brewhouse

While 15 BBL fermenters require greater capital, space, utilities and effort compared to smaller systems, they unlock sales growth potential and flexibility advantages perfect for expanding microbreweries aiming to enter larger distribution channels without compromising unique craft recipes.

Limitations and Considerations

Be aware of these potential limitations when adding 15 BBL fermentation capacity:

  • Total automation and remote monitoring usually requires working with a full-service brewery equipment integration partner potentially at higher capital costs
  • Cooling capacity can become constrained depending on existing infrastructure, may need glycol system upgrades
  • Packaging line may need to increase speed or add additional capacity to avoid bottleneck
  • Water usage will increase – review waste water permit allotments and disposal fees with local municipalities
  • Additional grain handling systems and raw ingredient contracts will be needed to feed expanded mash tuns and brewhouses
  • More kegs, cans and bottles required – revisit packaging supply agreements
  • Refrigerated distribution warehouse space may need to grow if much more cold inventory produced
  • Marketing budgets likely need to scale up to support selling the additional output
  • Staffing shortages are already a major concern across the beer industry – harder to find qualified brewmasters and operators at this scale of operations

Make sure the entire supply chain from raw materials through to packaged distribution is ready to scale up when upgrading fermentation capacity to this 15 BBL range.

15 BBL Fermenter

Frequently Asked Questions

What volume can a 15 BBL fermenter actual produce annually?Around 3,000 barrels per year since multiple fermentation cycles can be run. Up to 6,000 barrels possible maxing out the system.
What are the power requirements?5-10kW range for integrated glycol chilling systems. Less if only cooling jackets used.
What is the typical pressure rating?Atmospheric to 15 PSI. Certain plastic vessels have lower ratings.
What are the height and footprint dimensions?15-25 feet tall. 5×5 to 7×7 feet footprint. Conicals wider than cylinders.
How many people needed to operate the system?Typically 1-2 trained operators per shift. Automation allows smaller crews.
What types of beer styles work best?Ales more common, but with right yeasts and precise temp control can brew lagers.
What is the typical lifepsan of a 15 BBL fermenter?20 years for stainless. 5-10 years for plastic vessels.
How long is an average fermentation cycle?4 days to 2+ weeks depending greatly on style and parameters.

These fermenters strike an ideal balance between production scale and retaining uniquencraft characteristics that make small batch brewing so popular.


As consumer thirst and distribution reaches continue expanding for craft beer, upgrading to 15 BBL fermenters allows small brewers to cost-effectively scale production while retaining flexibility to adapt unique recipes per seasonal tastes and cater to local preferences. When supported by an integrated plan to scale up downstream packaging and distribution logistics, this fermentation platform can transform a microbrewery into a regional powerhouse. Choose equipment suppliers carefully based on quality, features and service reputation. Lastly help new staff embrace automation capabilities to improve safety, efficiency and beer perfection as operations grow.

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