Archive for June 2012

Day 298

June 28, 2012

Refrigeration is both the blessing and bane of the modern brewmaster. Before refrigeration, brewmasters could not brew from May until September due to the summer heat–yeast that ferments at too high a temperature creates undesirable off-flavours in the finished beer, rendering it undrinkable.

The blessing: Refrigeration allows the modern brewmaster to lower the temperature of the fermenter to acceptable temperatures in the summer, enabling year-round brewing.

The bane: Refrigeration allows the brewmaster to brew all year-round–even in the heat of summer. There is no air-conditioning in a small craft brewery’s brewhouse, so on a hot humid day, the steam and hot water produced by brewing can regularly send the temperature northwards of 40°C (104°F).

All we can do is drink lots of water, and gather regularly in the large storage fridge to cool down–but we are too hot to appreciate the irony of modern refrigeration coming to our aid so we can survive the brewing allowed by modern refrigeration.



Day 296

June 26, 2012

Manuals do not exist for some of the problems you run into at a brewery. In these cases, some creative thinking is required. Case in point:

The newest fermenter at the brewery is about 4 metres (14 ft) high.

All of the other fermenters in the brewery have a manway (a small hatch) in the roof of the fermenter–by climbing a ladder, you can open the manway and look down inside the fermenter. However, for some obscure reason known only to the engineer who designed it, the manway of this new fermenter is set in the side of the fermenter, about 2 metres (7 ft) off the ground.

There is a rotating sprayball mounted on the ceiling inside this fermenter that sprays cleaning or sanitizing solutions all over the inside of the fermenter.

Today, just as we started cleaning the fermenter, the sprayball somehow unscrewed itself and fell to the bottom of the fermenter.  This presented the brewmaster with two problems:

  1. How could he reach the sprayball, about 1.8 m (6 ft) below the manway?
  2. How could he screw the sprayball back onto its mount up at the roof of the fermenter, about 1.8 m (6 ft) above the manway?

Solution #1: I poked the handle of a cleaning brush up through the drainage hole in the bottom of the fermenter, lifting the sprayball up enough so that the brewmaster, reaching through the manway with an the extendable pole usually used to unscrew burnt out light bulbs in ceiling fixtures, could snaffle the sprayball and lift it out.

Solution #2: This required a bit more preparation. We moved a skid of beer, which stands about 2 metres tall, next to the open manway. The assistant brewmaster climbed onto the top of the fermenter, attached the end of a steel chain to a nearby stanchion, threaded the chain down through a hole in the top of the fermente; the brewmaster, lying on the skid of beer, then reached through the manway and made a loop in the end of the chain.

Sliding into manway

Lying on a skid of beer, the brewmaster reaches through the manway to put a loop in a piece of chain before entering the fermenter. Yes, he fit through the manway.

The brewmaster, armed only with a head-mounted flashlight and a wrench, carefully slid through the manway into the fermenter. Putting his foot into the loop of the chain, he pulled himself up so he could reach the fermenter ceiling, and reattached the sprayball to its threaded mount. He finally emerged into the light of day, and we all went back to work.

This is not a procedure that was covered in any of our first-year lectures.


Day 294

June 24, 2012

If you work at a small craft brewery, chances are that occasionally you will be dispensing your product at beer festivals. Although this sounds easy, there are several steps you need to take to properly prepare yourself.

Feet: You are going to be standing behind your beer taps all day, so flip-flops, thin-soled sneakers, high heels and über-hipster loafers, while stylish, will leave you crying for mercy by the end of the day. Comfortable, well-cushioned shoes with good arch support look dumb, but who’s going to see your feet?

Ears: The more people there are, the more everyone has to shout to make themselves heard. Then add loud rock music. The result is an incredible assault on your hearing. For the same experience, try talking to someone while standing beside a gas-powered lawn mower.

Eyes: People will ask questions about your beer and your brewery. Since you won’t be able to make out what they say due to the noise, be prepared to read their lips. (To help your lipreading, do not give your beers similar sounding names, such as “Golden Wheat” and “Bold and Sweet”.)

Larynx: When you are answering questions, you too will be yelling. In order to avoid losing your voice after only a couple of hours, do this simple exercise once a day for a month with tools you can find lying around your house:

  • Take a large daily newspaper and a pair of earplugs, and lock yourself in a fairly sound-proof room.
  • Insert the ear plugs–no reason you should go deaf, at least not until the day of the festival.
  • Pick up the newspaper and read the newspaper stories out loud at a very high volume. By “very high volume”, I mean “scream”.
  • On the first day, limit yourself to 30 minutes of screaming. Increase your screaming by 30 minutes a day until you can read the entire newspaper from start to finish without strain.

You are now ready to communicate at a beer festival. (Note: If you have teenagers, you can skip this preparation since your ability to yell is already well-developed.)

Bladder: Remember to ALWAYS go to the washroom before the festival doors are opened and the crowds are admitted. The line-up for the washroom will form within minutes, and will only get longer as the day progresses. Inevitably you will trade samples of beer with other brewers. Show some willpower and limit yourself to a few sips, lest you are forced to join the lineup. As Mother Nature loves to remind us, we only rent the beer. (Skip this if you are female. Beer festivals are the one place where the line-up occurs outside the men’s washroom.)

Day 290

June 20, 2012

At mega-large breweries, publicity events are handled by the marketing and publicity people. An event script is written. Attractive people are hired to act as hosts. A cool (and air-conditioned) venue is rented. Workers are hired to set up and clean up.

At small craft breweries, there is no publicity or event-planning department. Special events such as the release of a new beer mean the business of the brewery–making  and bottliong beer–is suspended for the day. Everyone at the brewery, from the owner to the brewmaster to the summer help is required to pitch in, clean up, set up, greet, answer questions, give tours, pour beer, sell beer, shoo the last customers out and and clean up.

If you’re pouring the new beer, you will be asked to describe how the beer was made, what ingredients were used, what style the brewmaster was trying to emulate, the history of that style of beer, what flavours the person should be tasting, and if it is available in local stores.

All in all, a special event makes for a very long day.

Tomorrow, back to bottling.


Day 285

June 16, 2012

Breweries are criss-crossed with pipes–pipes for water, wort and beer, as well as for glycol, CO2 and oxygen. On occasion, they might even contain a caustic or acid solution. It’s therefore very important that before you take a fitting off the end of a pipe, that you check what’s in the attached pipe. Also, has the valve at the other end of the pipe been closed, or are you about to dump 2500 litres of beer on the floor? Have you bled off the pressure, or are you about to get a faceful of the pipe contents?

I knew all of this in theory, but, as they say, experience is the best teacher.

I was asked to replace a 1-inch pipe elbow on the pump that moves water from a large reserve tank to the rest of the brewery. I double-checked that the valve from the reserve water tank to the pump was closed, but something distracted me, and I neglected to close the valve on the other side of the pump. When I removed the pipe from the elbow to be replaced, the pipe sprang off under a fair amount of pressure and water jetted everywhere. In the few seconds it took me to trace the pipe and turn off the offending valve, I was inundated, totally soaked from head to foot.

As luck would have it, the brewmaster happened to be walking by and pointed out–between bouts of laughter–that I was lucky the pipe only held water.

Lesson 1: Check, then double-check your valves.

Lesson 2: Keep a dry set of clothes in your car.



Day 284

June 14, 2012

I recently bumped into a friend whom I hadn’t seen in a few weeks, and I mentioned my summer employment at a small brewery.

“Ahh!” exclaimed the friend enviously. “You must be drinking a lot of beer.”

Drinking a lot of beer? Uh well, no.

Tasting a lot of beer? For sure.

Every day, we draw samples of beer from each fermenter, noting aroma, colour, and change in flavour profile from the previous day. (I say “we” in the sense that it’s actually the brewmaster or assistant brewmaster drawing the samples, while I get a taste because I just happen to be passing by at exactly the right moment. Passing by at the right moment is an important life skill.)

Likewise, before bottling, we taste the beer from the bright tank. Then several times during the bottling process, we choose a bottle at random, pour it into a glass and examine it for aroma, colour, carbonation and flavour. (Yeah, it’s that “we” thing again. Well, hey, I am right there packing cartons, I don’t even have to pretend to be just passing by at the right moment.)

Before kegging, we draw a sample and check it for aroma, colour, clarity, carbonation and flavour. (Now that is one time when it’s actually part of my job to sample the beer–if there’s something wrong with the beer, the person filling the kegs represents the last opportunity to catch the problem.)

So, all in all, a lot of sampling during the day, but not a lot of drinking.

To be frank, there’s just too much to do in the brewery and not enough time to drink.




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