Equipment: How The Beer Is Made

Because equipment selection is one of the most important decisions made by a new brewery (although obviously not the only major decision), we spent a large percentage of our time researching equipment manufacturers and making calculations re: optimal size.

We considered everything from a 1 barrel (BBL) nano brewery system (bootstrap strategy) up to a 15BBL microbrewery system (go big or go home strategy).  In the end, we decided to purchase a 10 BBL direct fired gas brewhouse with 7 BBL tanks.  1 US BBL of beer is equal to 31 gallons (haven’t been able to figure out why it’s 31 BBL).  This will give us the flexibility to expand in the future with 10 or 20 BBL tanks if we need to (we hope so!).  The decision to go with 7 BBL tanks instead of 10 BBL tanks was so that we could focus on taproom sales and smaller batch brewing to bring customers more variety, i.e. turn over the tanks faster.  Additionally, having an “oversized” brewhouse lets us build super high gravity beers (e.g. quadruple IPA… just kidding [sort of]) in reasonable quantity.  And we’ll pretty much be married to our brewhouse, whereas the tanks are a little easier to trade out for bigger ones if we want to do that.  The cost difference between 7 and 10 BBL tanks is not huge, but for a startup every penny counts, so there were some financial calculations to be made as well, especially since we are purchasing seven tanks to begin with.

The other important decision aside from brewery size, was what manufacturer to go with.  Our brewer and co-founder, Kevin, visited several breweries around the state to look at some of the different options available.  Ultimately, we chose Alpha Brewing Operations, out of Nebraska, to furnish our brewhouse and tanks.

alpha brewing operation system

Above is a photo of an Alpha brewhouse (not the exact one we are getting, but similar).

We are still finalizing our equipment selections for the malt mill, glycol chiller, and other accessories.

Here is a picture of a 7 bbl tank, the size that ours will be.  We have a lot of work to do before the tanks arrive in February followed by the brewhouse soon after.


Equipment: How The Beer Is Made

There’s a Lot of Paperwork Involved in Opening a Brewery!


One of the huge steps that we have checked off our list is submission of our federal brewery licensing application.  The TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) is very interested in exactly what it is that you plan on operating.  By very, I mean they want to know the coordinates of your proposed location, the layout of the brewery and tasting room, how much beer you plan on producing, how the business is organized, and, the biggest pain, they want to know a lot about the owners and anyone intimately involved in the company.  That means bank statements, background checks, whether or not you have been or currently are involved in any other alcohol business.  The most difficult and time consuming part of this was gathering personal and financial information from the investors who met the qualifications for being scrutinized by the TTB.  If any of the investors have greater than 10% interest in the company, or are managing members, they are subject to these rules.  This is all completed online, which is convenient, except that during the month or so that we were working on this, there were two occasions where the system was shut down for several days for maintenance.

We started working on the application around the first week of September, 2015, and were able to submit it on October 13, 2015.  It was then accepted on October 29, 2015, which means someone has looked at it and it has been assigned to someone to review.   The average processing time for a brewery application is about 132 days as of August 2015.  That puts us into February before we can start brewing any beer.  Fortunately we won’t have equipment until then, and our building won’t be ready before then.  Now we just have to hope that we completed the application to the satisfaction of the TTB, or that 132 days can lengthen significantly.

Once the federal license is issued, we can submit our Virginia ABC application, which is no walk in the park, but much simpler than the TTB.  Each state is different. Additionally, there is the paperwork required to start and operate a business in your state.

We will update the status of our licensing applications as they progress. Until then, we will be working on designing the tasting room, sourcing ingredients for the first brews (hops in particular), and finishing up our equipment orders (still need a lot of ancillary items).

There’s a Lot of Paperwork Involved in Opening a Brewery!

Random Row Brewing Company finally has a home!  Starting late winter 2016 we will be occupying 608 Preston Avenue, Suite A, a large, open space formerly occupied by Moxie, which recently moved into a larger space at the back of the property.  The lease negotiation process took us a lot longer than we thought, but in retrospect that is understandable – we are asking our landlord to let us move tons (literally) of expensive, immovable equipment onto his property, cut trenches into his floor, drill holes in his ceiling, and do any other number of unspeakable things to the building.  But we have found an amazing partner in Mark Green, who is developing the King Lumber project of which we are now a part.  Mark has been extraordinarily professional to work with and has worked tirelessly to frame every potential point of contention (or negotiation) into a win-win context.  As for the property itself?  We think it will suit our needs perfectly.  It’s part of a larger historical renovation, the centerpiece of which is the King Lumber Building, and if interested in learning more information, see Sean Tubbs’ excellent article in Cville Tomorrow.  Features that we were particularly drawn to included ample parking (most of us have children and we don’t like dragging our kids across the street for any reason), high ceilings (lots of expansion opportunity), and central location (while not all of us live downtown anymore, we are always looking for an excuse to get down here).

This is 608 Preston Ave, Suite A, in all its post-demolition glory. By summer 2016 it will be the home of Random Row Brewing Co. 10 barrel brewhouse, fermenters, serving tanks, cold room, bar, etc. Have to start somewhere...
This is 608 Preston Ave, Suite A, in all its post-demolition glory. By summer 2016 it will be the home of Random Row Brewing Co. 10 barrel brewhouse, fermenters, serving tanks, cold room, bar, etc. Have to start somewhere…