Unitank brewing is the stuff of arguments among homebrewers who insist on sticking with tradition. It is not even a question in large commercial breweries. The use of unitanks has become the standard for commercial brewing. Microbreweries and brewpubs may be the one exception.
The question for hobbyists and microbrewery operators is this: how do I know when it is time to invest in a unitank? The answer is found in a single word: volume. If you are producing enough beer to make the old way of doing things cumbersome and somewhat difficult, a unitank may be your best bet.
What Is a Unitank?
Brewing beer is a multi-stage process. There are two fermentation stages, known as primary and secondary fermentation. Traditional brewing calls for fermenting in separate tanks. This offers several advantages. Among them is the ability to start a second batch of beer in the first tank while the current batch is undergoing secondary fermentation in a separate tank.
Unitank brewing dispenses with the separate tank for secondary fermenting. No beer transfer takes place. Once primary fermentation begins, the beer remains in the same tank through secondary fermentation and carbonation. It may then be moved to a brite tank for clarification. Some brewmasters hold off on carbonation until the beer is transferred to the brite tank.
Unitanks for Home Brewers
The general consensus among homebrewers is that unitanks are not worth the investment. For starters, unitank brewing is expensive. It is a lot cheaper for hobbyist to use plastic buckets, glass carboys, and modified kegs.
Another issue for homebrewers is floor space. A unitank is no small piece of equipment. Being that it’s stainless steel, a unitank isn’t a lightweight either. You need to have enough floor space to install it. And once installed, you really don’t want to move it.
Does this mean it is never appropriate for a homebrewer to invest in a unitank? No. Though a unitank might seem like overkill when you’re only brewing 10-gallon batches, unitank brewing does make life easier.
CedarStoneIndustry, a Houston company that specializes in stainless steel brewing equipment, explains that some home operations would be better served with a unitank. Here’s how to know if it’s time for you to go that route:
- Your supply isn’t keeping up with your demand
- Your buckets and carboys are consistently too heavy to lift
- You’re running out of space for storage kegs
- You’re spending an inordinate amount of time cleaning vessels.
The two biggest advantages of unitank brewing are brewing volume and greater efficiency. The brewing volume speaks for itself. As for efficiency, investing in a unitank ultimately mean spending less time moving buckets and carboys around. It means cleaning only one vessel as opposed to five or ten. And assuming you purchase a stainless steel unitank, there are far fewer concerns about hygiene.
Just the Right Size
All the signs that a homebrewer should consider unitank brewing also apply to microbreweries and brew pubs. Fortunately, unitanks come in a variety of sizes. Some companies even manufacture custom tanks for clients with unique needs. The long and short of it is that you can get just the right size to match your needs and available space.
Unitank brewing is probably overkilled for home brewers who only brew a few gallons per week. But if your volume is getting up there, you might find that a unitank is better suited to your operation. In the end, it is all about volume. If you want more beer, you have to upgrade your brewing capacity.