Day 91

Our last day in the Teaching Brewery until after Christmas. It was a bit atypical, at least for the Teaching Brewery. Usually, since there are twelve people in the class, we are divided into three teams of four–one team on the large system, one on the small system, and one on maintenance duties. Today, only about seven of twelve students showed up for class. <Scratches head> Huh? People, it’s brewing day at brewing school!

Since there weren’t enough people for proper teams, Brewmaster Jon Downing put some of us to work brewing up a lager, while others pumped a thousand litres of of beer through a filter and into the bright tank to await bottling. I was assigned to turn on the keg washer and get it ready for action, then demonstrate how it worked to any of the other students who had not used it before. However, the keg washer has a 6-minute automatic cycle, so I had plenty of time to check on the filtering and help with the brewing, albeit in small chunks of time. Once the filtering and keg washing was done, some of us applied labels to bottles by hand. (We usually use a labelling machine, but these were larger 650 mL bottles that wouldn’t fit in the machine.)

And as happens in every brewery from time to time, we ran into an unexpected brewing problem. The mashing and lautering of the lager went very smoothly, but when came time to boil the wort, the wort wouldn’t come to a boil, because the kettle clearly wasn’t getting enough steam. I’ve heard of “stuck sparges” (where the wort in the lauter tun won’t drain through the grain and out to the kettle), and “hung fermentations” (where the yeast stops eating sugar and producing alcohol), but I’ve never heard of a “no boil”.

The boil, which should have taken us an hour, was a “sort-of” boil that stretched out to two hours. That’s when we discovered that the hot liquor tank (where the hot water for starting the day’s brewing is stored) had decided to heat up tomorrow’s water supply today, using up most of the available steam in the process, and starving the kettle of  enough steam to properly boil the wort.

So it was very atypical day for us, but probably a very typical day for a “real world” brewery–fifteen different tasks, not enough people, and a mysterious technical problem to boot.

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