We used plastic conicals for the first year in a walk in cooler set to 34 degree and controlled the temp via heat wraps and insulation with temp control. I could control the temp anywhere from 34 to 80 degrees with this set up. Very simply, cheap and effective. Since you can keep the cold room fairly sanitary you will not find infection a problem. We went with some 10 bbl conicals later on outside cold room and ran a stainless coil inside to regulate temp and that worked well too, though since they are not very air tight you need to move them over to bright tanks ASAP.
The bright tanks are going to be pretty important if you want to have a consistent product and they will have to be stainless. Sure, you can do it in kegs for your pilot system but if you can find a pressurizable BBT with diffusion stone it makes like so much easier.
I would go with 55 gallon stainless drums and brew 1 bbl batches. That would be the cheapest route. You can actually squeeze out 45 gallon batches out of 55 gallon drums. Electric elements (low density) in BK are fine but just remember to keep them clean (clean after every batch) or they will leave your beer with an unpleasant smoky character. I had this happen on mine a couple times till I learned my lesson. Cleaning is a bit of a PITA.
I batch sparged and used a CFC (chilzilla) and regular march pump and did the wort recirculation to drop temp down to about 80 and then racked into plastic conical and let the temp drop down in CR overnight then pitched next AM.
If you are only planning on a 5 bbl brewhouse make dark sure you have a pub to go with it. Not very easy to make a living on a 5 bbl brewhouse. But with self distribution, sales on premiss and a a decent pub you will probably do alright. Just remember: it is as hard (maybe harder) than everyone says it is and we are probably headed for a craft beer bubble breaking point soon. If you time it right there will be a lot of cheap used equipment on the marketplace.
Hey Keith, Thanks for the feedback!
Another pro brewer using plastic, its puts me more at ease to look at plastic! What brand of plastic conical where you using at the time? One of my fears for my ferm chamber is i live in MA, the weather her is so freaking erratic its ridiculous. its -15 right now and tomorrow its supposed to be 40. During the summer we peak at 110 or so. Obviously your walk in cooler scenerio sounds like a better way to control the ferm chamber, just use an AC and coolbot and individually warm a fermenter, it would allow for cold storage as well. What heat wrap did you use and how did you cool the walk in? Also, as an afterthought, did you do anything special to the inside of the walkin to make it easier to clean etc? Ive seen plastic sheets at home depot that may work well. When you run the coil inside a fermentor is that a glycol system?
I was also looking at bright tanks. Stout tanks currently has a 125G conical fermentor/bright tank. i wonder if this would be a good option? If not ill just plan on buying a bright tank, it is what it is:)http://conical-fermenter.com/125-Gallon-Conical-Fermenter-with-Thermowell-Thermometer-and-Wheels-from-Stout-Tanks-and-Kettles.html
So ive already bought 2 30g blichmanns. I wouldnt be adverse to a 55G drum for the BK tho. DO you have a link for a decent company to get them from? As for the Elements i currently have them mounted in waterproof J boxes and will be attaching them weldlessly with shims, gaskets and a hex nut. Would i be better of using TC fittings on them for ease of removal? I definitely agree that cleaning will be key and a PITA. What cleaners do you use? Im currently planning on PBW and starsan but there may be better pro options out there.
I bought a morebeer Sparge Arm(thanks Mic) and have a therminator lined up to do my chilling. I also have a 50ft SS IC if i have an issue with my wort being to hot going into a fermentor. The system calls for 2 pumps(both march 809's that will get an impeller upgrade when i need it and maybe 2 SS chugger heads for sanitation reasons)
As for future plans, when i said 5BBL+ my intention was i will purchase as big of a brew-house as i can currently afford. I understand that a batch of beer takes essentially the same amount of time no matter the size to brew, but it all comes down to finances. As for making a living, im 33, Single, and have no kids so i dont have a huge amount of bills.
Brewpub.... Ive considered this. I plan on opening my brewer with my BF and fellow brewer. We have ZERO restaurant experience between the 2 of us. The city we are planning on opening our brewer in has a very active restaurant scene with new ones constantly opening and crappy ones constantly closing, this situation really makes me fear opening a brewpub. I hear you about the craft beer bubble, i just need to figure out how to find used equipment from that level, cause i hardly think many will be posting on craigslist:)