Beer Buzz: Equipment Crunch

October 11 2012, 1:00 PM

Here's a worst-case scenario for the head of a new brewery: You have a killer location and construction is nearly complete. Word of an opening is buzzing around the neighborhood, and you've finalized the recipe for your flagship brew. Problem is, you don't have any brewing equipment. And you might have to wait six months to get it. Talk about a buzz kill, but as the craft beer scene continues to explode around Colorado, this scenario is all too likely. 

Not that long ago, there was a robust secondhand market for brewing equipment in the Centennial State. Opening a brewery isn't cheap, and beer startups were taking advantage of less expensive hand-me-down equipment from larger craft brewers like New Belgium. But with dozens of breweries having opened in the last two years, the days of quickly nabbing inexpensive, secondhand brew kettles and fermenters are long gone. There are a few go-to websites for this kind of used equipment, and seemingly the minute something lands on one of those sites it's gone, says Bill Eye, head brewer of the new German-style Prost Brewing. In fact, Eye says sometimes the equipment isn't even posted for sale—there's a buyer lined up ahead of time. "It's a crunch," says Eye, who used to brew at the Aurora-based Dry Dock Brewing. "I know a few projects that are fully funded, good to go, and will have to wait." (Eye traveled to Germany to purchase the 60-barrel Prost brew system; he had been on the lookout for a specific setup and pounced when he found it.) 

Buying new isn't necessarily any easier—or quicker. Matt Hess, the head of River North Brewing, decided to go the brand-new route, because with used equipment, Hess says,  you're "at the mercy of the market." When Hess first started shopping around in March of last year, there was a 12-week wait for new equipment. By the time he was ready to place his order for a 15-barrel brew system, a few months later, the lag time had jumped to around 22 weeks. These days, Hess figures the wait is close to six months. "I wish there was a good local tank manufacturer," he says. 

Despite the market for brew equipment being particularly tight, Hess sees a silver lining: If the Colorado beer scene continues to grow, breweries will expand and another wave of secondhand gear will hit the market. And there's always Germany, says Eye: "Interestingly enough, if you were willing to take a trip to Germany, you could probably find a few deals." 

Image courtesy of Shutterstock