Fans typically are thought of as a way to improve employee and customer comfort. However, fans can do much more than cool off people — they can cool and improve processes as well. This is increasingly apparent in distilleries and breweries, where heat and moisture are the inevitable products of the inherently exothermic process of fermentation.

Temperature and humidity conditions have profound effects on products such as beer, bourbon and wine. However, maintaining ideal conditions in large production facilities, distribution centers and cellars can be costly and inefficient. Craft breweries face particularly unique challenges because they often occupy nontraditional spaces such as old warehouses and factories — facilities with outdated doors and windows and little insulation.

This article identifies five ways that large, overhead fans can help solve problems such as these. Fans often can deliver — and at less cost than adding an HVAC system, facility sealing or insulation.

1. Fans Help Regulate Temperature in Distilleries' Rackhouses

The primary use for fans in distilleries is to ensure a consistent temperature profile from floor-to-ceiling for aging spirits. Employing a fan to regulate a space’s temperature is especially fruitful in the rackhouses of distilleries. These buildings — often tall with black metal roofs — heat quickly, creating a space that is highly susceptible to temperature stratification. Dramatic differences in temperature occur from the floor to ceiling level. In the largest rackhouses, air at the ceiling can be 20°F (11°C) warmer than air at floor level.

In these stratified spaces, spirits spend years locked inside barrels during the aging process. During that time, they undergo a series of seasonal climatic changes that trigger chemical changes. It is a delicate process: If a spirit ages too long and too quickly, it can result in undesired flavors and aromas that compromise the quality of the spirit. Yet in a stratified space, barrels at the top of the rackhouse age rapidly — and can easily age too long.

A high volume, low speed (HVLS) ceiling fan can ensure a consistent product from the top of the warehouse to the bottom by limiting the temperature differential in a space. Using a high volume, low speed fan to remove air-temperature stratification helps ensure that every barrel ages equally. A fan also eliminates the need to rotate barrels from hot to cold spaces and vice versa.

The temperature-regulating effects of a high volume, low speed fan also can be used to improve processes employed in breweries. For instance, Allagash Brewery installed two high volume, low speed fans to ensure the quality of the brewery’s signature Allagash White witbier. The Allagash White must be kept at precisely 72°F (22°C) for the duration of the fermentation. Any variation in temperature can cause the beer to go bad. Allagash struggled to keep its storage area at the correct temperature. The presence of hot and cold spots required regular testing and rearranging of the beer to keep it the proper temperature. Once Alagash added a high volume, low speed fan, it redistributes the pockets of warm air.  Equilabrating the room’s temperature means each bottle is kept at an exact 72°F (22°C). Rearranging beer is no longer necessary.

2. Fans Help Regulate Humidity the Barrel Rooms of Wineries and Distilleries

Fans can do more than regulate temperature: They also can help regulate humidity.

Flying Leap Vineyards is a winery based in the high desert of southeastern Arizona. The composition of the soil and the dry climate at Flying Leap closely mimics the conditions found in Burgundy, a region of France known for its winemaking prowess. Nonetheless, when Flying Leap decided to open a distillery to produce whiskey and brandy, they knew that the same dry climate that advantaged their wine would be detrimental to their spirits.

When barrel-aged spirits warm up, some of the liquid evaporates and enters the wood of the barrel itself. When the barrel cools off, the gas condenses and brings the wooden, oaky flavor of the barrel back into the spirit. However, in a dry climate with low humidity, an abnormally high amount of vapor can escape the barrel entirely. This leads to a drastic reduction in the amount of spirit at the end of the aging process.

Flying Leap combated this product loss by implementing a humidification system in concert with a high volume, low speed fan.

“Our barrelhouse is 37 feet tall,” notes Mark Beres, president of Flying Leap. “Even with a humidifier, we experienced differing levels of relative humidity from top to bottom, leading to greater evaporation in certain areas. The fan mixes the air inside our barrelhouse, evening out the temperature and evening out the humidity. It creates a really stable environment for all the barrels.”

Using a high volume, low speed fan in concert with a humidifier allows Flying Leap to maximize the amount of product they have at the end of the aging process. This in turns boosts profitability while simultaneously helping to ensure a consistent, reliable product.

3. Fans Help Dry a Facility After Clean-in-Place Sanitation

Breweries often face sanitation issues and, therefore, condensation issues. In essence, anything that a brewery’s beer touches has to be sanitized (washed down). During each wash, water typically pools on the floor, and chillers become covered in condensation.

Particularly in craft breweries, where the uneven floors of old, refurbished buildings can lead to excess pooling, the buildup of water can result in mold, fungus and bacterial growth. Additionally, puddles look unhygienic — an important consideration for craft breweries, where touring the facility is part of the customer experience.

Fans, both overhead and directional, speed the evaporation of puddles and can be used to prevent condensation by lowering the surface temperature of the floor or walls. This addresses the breweries’ concerns about customer experience and helps brewers maintain a sanitary facility. Overhead and directional fans also can slow or stop rust damage and reduce the potential for slip-and-fall accidents.

Even in distilleries, fans can provide a much-needed drying effect. When warm, moist air coming off fermenting mash collides with much colder stone or metal walls, the result is undesired condensation. A fan operated at high speed can rapidly increase the surface temperature of the walls. By redistributing warm air trapped near the ceiling throughout the room, the fan can help prevent condensation from occurring.

4. Fans Remove Alcohol Vapors due to Fermentation from Barrel Rooms

Alcohol vapors pose a serious risk in distilleries, both in production and storage areas. Inhalation of vapors can cause an intoxicating effect that poses a real risk to employees. In addition, a buildup of highly flammable alcohol vapors can lead to increased fire risks. Removing these vapors is an integral part of owning and operating a distillery. Needless to say, a largely wooden building filled with flammable vapor, wooden barrels and liquid alcohol is undesirable.

In production areas, alcohol vapor enters the air rapidly as part of the energy-intensive fermentation process. In storage areas, alcohol evaporates constantly from the aging spirits locked inside barrels. This “angel’s share” can build up in a densely packed, poorly ventilated building.

Traditionally accomplished using natural ventilation or an HVAC system, the removal of alcohol vapors can be aided with the use of floor- or wall-mounted directional fans or high volume, low speed fans. In production areas where alcohol is evaporating from a localized source, directional fans can create a steady flow of air over the large pots of fermenting mash. This breeze forcefully sweeps evaporating alcohol towards a window or an HVAC intake for removal. The cramped spaces of rackhouses, however, pose different issues. Not only does a densely packed layout of barrels prevent focused airflow, but the alcohol is evaporating from thousands of sources. In such a space, a large overhead HVLS fan can create rackhouse-wide airflow that helps circulate fresh air into the space.

5. Fans Help Save Energy by Reducing Temperature Stratification for Process and Comfort

Though not truly process improving, saving energy is the most popular reason to deploy high volume, low speed fans in breweries and distilleries.

Fans work year-round to save money. In summer, high volume, low speed fans produce a cooling effect of up to 10°F (5.5°C), allowing a brewer or distiller to set their thermostat higher without compromising on employee or customer comfort. In winter, high volume, low speed fans minimize temperature stratifications in the local environment. By pushing trapped warm air from the ceiling to the floor, an HVAC unit can run less frequently while still having its effects felt.

Oregon-based Deschutes Brewery — one of the largest craft breweries in the United States — uses fans in its warehouse facility, both to save money and protect its product. “We had stratification issues in our old warehouse,” says Scott Mellinger, Deschutes project engineer. “With our heaters running wide open in wintertime, the temperature near the ceiling was 73°F (23°C), and at floor level — where we keep the product — it was 58°F (14°C).”

While the integrity of Deschutes’ beer was compromised by stratification, the brewery also was using energy ineffectively and inefficiently.

After installing six high volume, low speed fans, the warehouse’s floor-to-ceiling temperature differential fell to 1 to 2°F (0.5 to 1.1°C) — a drastic improvement from its previous 15°F (8.3°C) differential, says Mellinger. The custom-designed airflow solution maximizes energy savings, and the fans vary their speed based on the moment-to-moment temperature differentials of the warehouse. Deschutes’ energy costs have plummeted, and the quality of their award-winning beer is no longer imperiled by poor airflow temperature.