COOL-FIT Piping Keeps Beer Production Flowing without Leaks or Mold

Sep 21, 2017 9:00 AM
glycol-07(1) (1)Solace Brewing Company owners Jon Humerick (left) and Drew Wiles (left) installed the COOL-FIT pre-insulated plastic piping system from GF Piping Systems. The overhead installation conveys cold glycol to supply and maintain proper fermentation and cellaring temperatures between 50 to 75°F, depending on beer style.

When business partners Drew Wiles and Jon Humerick first planned to build their own brewery in Virginia, they knew before breaking ground that they would install COOL-FIT® ABS Plus pre-insulated plastic pipe and fittings from GF Piping Systems for their glycol loop.   The decision was based not only from the pair’s prior experience working at a brewery and touring other facilities, but also from Wiles’ background at his family’s winery.

With a degree and experience in business administration, Humerick started working at Beltway Brewing Company after he went there as a potential customer.  “I was doing the business planning for my own brewery and I wanted to hire Beltway Brewing to make beer for it.  I quickly realized that to be successful in such a rapidly growing and changing industry, I needed to have experience.  So I took an opportunity to work there and that’s where I met Drew.”

Wiles completed studies in microbiology in college, then moved back home and helped his mother and brother start a winery.  “It was really almost out of necessity,” he explains.  “Our family inherited a piece of farmland and instead of parceling it off, selling it and losing the family farm, we created a workable family business with the opening of Paradise Springs Winery in 2008.”  With his biology background, Wiles liked to hang out with the winemakers in the fermentation cellar on the production side of things.  After about 4 years of making wine at the winery, he started making wine at home and then brewing beer.  People were asking when he was going to start a brewery.  

“Everyone thinks that a winery and a brewery are similar industries, but in reality, there are completely different,” says Wiles.  “From production to packaging, serving and then to distribution, if you want to be successful, you have to know the ins and outs of both.  When I did decide that’s the direction I wanted to take, I knew I would have to learn the business.”

To do that Wiles went to work for Beltway Brewery as QA/QC manager of fermentation.  After about a year and half, he became Production Manager overseeing all production, packaging and warehousing.  “The goal was always to start my own brewery,” says Wiles “so finding a partner like Jon at Beltway to accomplish that was exactly what I needed to get going on building a facility.” 

glycol-11(1)The COOL-FIT® Plus pre-insulated plastic piping system installation at Solace Brewing includes some 250 feet of 4” (d110) headers with 1-1/2” (d50) drops to each of the fermentation tanks. It also incorporates full port Electric Actuated Ball valves on the Supply piping to the tanks and Manual full port Ball Valves on the Returns.

Wiles and Humerick learned about COOL-FIT from touring numerous places but also from experience with Wiles’ family winery.  “At Paradise, we had initially installed insulated PVC and learned the drawbacks there – you could see mold growing and there were leaks. It definitely wasn’t aesthetic or sanitary.”  Because of these issues, the winery upgraded to COOL-FIT piping during the time Wiles and Humerick were working at Beltway Brewing, which also had a COOL-FIT system.  “By that time, we knew all about COOL-FIT and that it was really the best choice,” says Wiles.

COOL-FIT Plus is a corrosion free pre-insulated plastic piping system with lifespan of 25 years.  The system’s core pipe is made of COOL-FIT ABS, which is insulated with high density closed cell polyurethane foam and protected with a water-tight, UV resistant black polyethylene jacket.  The entire system is vapor tight and shows no thermal bridges, which minimize energy loss along the lines.

To save on expenses, Wiles and Humerick installed the entire COOL-FIT system themselves, including drops for future expansion.  Because of their experience at Beltway Brewing, the partners had learned the importance of proper installation and spent a lot of time in the business planning stage on engineering.   The general contractor for the Solace build was a certified COOL-FIT installer, and Wiles and Humerick were able go over best install practices before they even started putting everything together.

Solace Brewing encompasses 15,766 square feet that includes the production area and the tasting room.  The current COOL-FIT pipe and fittings consists of some 250 feet of 4” (d110) headers with 1-1/2” (d50) drops to each of the five fermentation tanks.  There are also full port Electric Actuated Ball valves on the Supply piping to the tanks and Manual full port Ball Valves on the Returns.  The system conveys cold glycol  to supply and maintain proper fermentation and cellaring temperatures anywhere from 50 to 75°F, depending on beer style.  The system is also used to cold condition the beer after fermentation and for packaging brite beer around 32°F.  When doing the COOL-FIT installation, the forward-thinking owners plumbed in valves for eight tanks, allowing for future expansion.  Equipment that came with the brewing system from Craftwerk Brewing Systems included a 3-vessel brewhouse, four 40BBL fermenters, and one 40BBL brite beer tank.

“The support from our GF representative, Angela Sampaio, was fantastic,” says Wiles.  “I planned out our loop for size and proper floating so that the first tank on the supply is the last on the return line – that helps balance the whole system.  Beyond that, I showed GF our plant layout, the loop and explained our vision for future expansion.  She put together a full list of all the sleeves, nipples, adaptor pieces, amount of piping, and valves we would need.  Ryan Herco, our local distributor in Richmond, supplied the system.  They also had great customer service. When we needed an extra piece or two because we made a subtle change in the plan, they were quick to get us replacement pieces or extra pieces to finish the job.

“With the COOL-FIT ABS Plus system, you install it once and that’s it.  You don’t need to go back later and keep making repairs,” says Wiles.   “We paid attention to detail on each cemented connection - every last adaptor nipple, barrel nipple, every connection to every fitting and piece of pipe.  It was a little crazy with just the two of us and the install took two full weeks, but now we have an installation that will last us forever.  It’s going to stay that way for 10 or 20 years - however long the brewery is in operation. ”

Initial beer production at Solace is anticipated to be about 3,600 barrels a year.  When the additional eight tanks are brought in at some point in the future, production is expected to top 15,000 barrels per year.  Wiles and Humerick plan to produce a variety of craft beers with many IPAs and different styles along with some special flagship beers.  They also plan to have a barrel-aging program, using winery barrels and whiskey barrels through the connections they’ve developed over the years.

Wiles especially likes their decision to use 4”(d110) headers as well as the flexibility COOL-FIT allowed them for future growth.  The possibilities are exciting.  “We can easily expand as needed.  If we want to chill our cold box, we could do a glycol air heat exchanger and chill it that way. We can also expand the header to future parts of our brewery floor to add even more tanks when necessary. ”

Originally appeared in the September/October 2017 issue of The New Brewer.