Wednesday, March 25, 2015

How to Make Your First Commercial Batch of Beer in 75 Easy Steps









As you may or may not know, I have somehow found myself a job as a professional brewer. I make the beer at Kent Falls Brewing Co, a farm brewery (Connecticut's first). It's pretty sweet! I've been lucky now to have jumped into the world of pipes and clamps and hoses that is professional brewing, and have even made it to the point where we're successfully moving beer out onto the market. How does this work? What sort of process does one go through as a novice pro brewer? I'm sure many of you are curious what it's like to make the dream happen, and so I'd like to share with you these 75 Easy Steps by which you, too, may make your first Commercial Beer. If you are impressed by just how effectively this guide allows you, too, to bring your first Commercial Beer out to market, please share with your friends, family and neighbors so that they too may absorb this useful knowledge!

1. Spend three years opening a commercial brewery. This step is probably the easiest. As anyone in the industry will tell you, breweries practically open themselves.

2. Okay, obviously most of that step #1 was just super painless, but towards the end maybe you find a hiccup or two. Just basic fun stuff like maybe the auger (the pipe that transports the grain from the mill to the grist case) won’t align the way it was intended due to the placement of another pipe, and you’ll have to diagram out some crazy schemes before realizing the grain mill can just go in a different corner altogether, and a super-long auger run solves the problem. Something like this will delay your planned brewing schedule a few weeks, but there was other stuff to get done anyway.

3. When you are just about ready to brew, the winter will take a turn toward the unfathomably brutal and smother your remaining sanity in a blanket of endless snow. This will delay your planned brewing schedule a number of times, but there’s always other stuff to get done anyway. Shoveling, for instance.

4. When the snow let's up for half a day and schedules align, perform your first water brew (a test of the brewing system with only water, rather than actual production of wort). There will be some weird quirks to figure out, some procedural questions to answer, but in general, this goes pretty smoothly. Congratulations! You have now boiled water.

5. Transfer water into a fermentation tank. Find that the glycol immediately chills the tank down to near-freezing temperatures and can’t be turned off. Okay. Uh. That’s… not supposed to happen. Something wonky is going on with the solenoid valves of the glycol system, apparently. This will delay your planned brewing schedule by a day or two. It's okay, you can just... do another water brew, I guess? It's probably for the best, really, if you think about it. The more prepared you are, the better!

6. Briefly considering jumping into the bottled water market instead. The margins are much better.

7. On your second water brew, you’re certain your brew system is operating smoothly. This is great. You’re so close, you can practically smell the wort. Just have to wait for this glycol situation to get sorted out, but that's only a matter of time.

8. Also your cellar-side pump stops working every five minutes due to some unforeseen electrical issue because of course it stops working every five minutes due to some unforeseen electrical issue no it’s cool this is fine it’s just another few days, like, whatever at this point, you know? It’s fine. We've already been delayed a few months, what's a few more days? Seriously, it’s fine, it’s not that big of a deal, we’ll just brew on Monday. All that will be fixed by then, you know.

9. Okay. It’s Sunday night. Time to prep the grain so you're set to go in the morning. Get ready for your FIRST EVER COMMERCIAL BREW holy shit this is so exciting.





10. Why the **** will the grain mill not work?

11. Too tired for this. Can’t troubleshoot. We’ll figure it out in the morning.

12. Monday morning! Brew-time! Right after we figure out this grain mill.

13. Okay, okay, that was our bad. Can’t load the grain in before you start the mill. Should have known better. To be fair, all the labels on the mill are in German. Were you supposed to know what “Zu / Auf / Zulauf” means? Maybe you spent two years teaching yourself German back in the day and you still don’t ******* know what that’s supposed to mean in the context of a grain mill. What do you look like, some kind of German mill scientist? I mean, now you know what that’s for. Okay. Needs to be Zu before you start the mill or it jams. You have to Auf the grain in there as it starts. Got it.

14. NOW WHY IS THE SCREEN FLASHING A RED WARNING LIGHT?

15. AUGER ERROR???

16. WHY WON’T THE AUGER WORK NOW ARE YOU…. ****. ****. OKAY FINE. FINE. THAT’S FINE.

17. Because the coil has popped out of the back of the rotor and jammed itself into the wall, is why. That’s why, right there.

18. At this point brewing is obviously not going to happen until Tuesday, but that’s cool. All the kinks should definitely be worked out by Tuesday. Figuring out a way to work around this whole “auger not working” business isn’t really that hard. One step closer!

19. Look, seriously, it’s no big deal, we’ll just mill 1,400 lbs of grain into buckets and load it into the mash tun by hand. That’s fine. That’s totally fine. We could certainly do that if it’s required. We’ll just get started on that right now, in fact. 1,400 lbs of grain, right on that.

20. You’re brewing! You’re actually brewing! Congratulations. This 20th step in Making Your First Batch of Commercial Beer is easily one of the most important. When Making Your First Commercial Beer, you definitely want to start by Brewing a Beer. Or, if not start, then at least certainly include this step somewhere along the way.

21. Go ahead and make wort. You got this. It's all just hoses and tri-clamps, man. Don't open the wrong valve, don't do anything hastily, don't melt your crotch with hot water and dangerous chemicals, don't ruin thousands of dollars worth of beer, etc. Also might as well make another pot of coffee. Gonna need that.

22. Transfer wort into fermentor. Wow!

23. Pitch yeast. Sanitize everything carefully! Almost there! Stay on target!



24. Holy shit! You did it! The fermentor is half full, now all you have to do is brew another batch tomorrow, let it ferment, crash, harvest, transfer, package, distribute... Oh, and clean. Still a whole lot of cleaning to do. Let's make some caustic and start that CIP on the kettle. What time is it? Never too late for another cup of coffee, anyhow.

25. Man, what a long day. That... that was exhausting. Time to crack open a few beers and celebrate. You've been saving something special for just this moment. Empty it into your face!

26. Get some rest, buddy. You've earned it.

27. Wake up a few hours later, time to do it all again! Let's get some coffee going first though!

28. Still have to load the grain in and stir by hand, but you're a pro at this by now. Think of all the money you save working at a brewery, not having to pay for a gym membership! The benefits really stack up here, when you think about it.

29. Definitely about time for more coffee.

30. Why does the hose water smell like weird plastic chemicals? That's gross. Don't want that in your beer. Guess we can't use the hose? Can someone look into this?

31. Okay, but this step mash in the kettle requires rinsing out the last of the mash to transfer. We're going to need to chase it down with some other source of water. How about service water through the spray ball? That should get it out, right? Yes. Yes. Brilliant. You're a real problem-solver, you are.

32. Why isn't the water coming out of the spray ball? Is everything open?

33. It's just trickling out, like it's clogged with... oh, fuck. Fuck.

34. We clogged the fuck out of our sprayballs with mash, didn't we?

35. FML.

36. Hopefully today's run-off into the kettle won't take four hours like yesterday, but you'll get that sorted out. Just like everything else! Haha!

37. Wait, did you leave the kettle bottom valve open? You're running-off into the kettle, dumbass! It's gonna go down the drain!

38. Stupid! You're so stupid!

39. Run! Run! Wipe out on the floor! This'll hurt a bit.

40. Close call. Maybe poured a liter or two of first runnings down the drain. Not a big deal. Probably didn't need to almost kill yourself, sprinting around a brewery with wet floors, but hey. Really liked that hustle.

41. Mental note: don't ever run. Do things quickly but deliberately. Have full situational awareness at all times, no matter how exhausted or stressed you are.

42. Drink more coffee.


43. Can someone spend, like, eight hours unclogging these spray balls with a paper-clip, one tiny fraction of a grain hull at a time? If someone could just do that right now, that would be just great.

44. Don't worry, we'll accidentally clog them again a second time at the end of the day, when we try to CIP. Ha ha ha.

45. Everything else should go pretty well, though!

46. No truly significant screw-ups. That's very good. Look, at the end of the day, all that matters is you hit your numbers and made wort (and thus, beer) that tastes good. All in all, if you look at it in that light, this is going shockingly well!

47. In a few days you'll notice some epic purple bruises all down the left side of your chest from that wipe-out, of course.

48. Just can't count on things to function smoothly the first time around, I think is the lesson here.

49. Fermentation is really rolling though! So that's great. This beer is going to be delicious.




50. Well, fermentation went perfectly. As long as all the Actual Beer Stuff continues to go smoothly, there's really nothing to get frustrated about. Nothing else matters! Okay? Just keep that in mind because soon you'll be getting your kegging platform up and running and half of the menu displays are in Chinese! Ha ha. Hahahaha.

51. Fill some barrels, fill the brite tank. Relatively easy day.

52. Plan out the rest of the week. Figure it'll take a few hours to try out the kegging platform, work out any kinks in the setup, and teach yourself some basic functional Mandarin. After you know it's running smooth, you can start carbing the beer. Plan to spend the following day packaging. They'll be long days, but it'll feel so good when you're done!

53. Thursday: Test out your kegging platform. You've learned your lesson, by now: it's probably not going to work the first time, okay? Might as well just anticipate that.

54. The fitting for the compressed air into the kegging platform does not appear to be right. So it's just venting air into the atmosphere and won't get up to pressure. Pneumatics won't work. You saw that coming, didn't you?

55. Friday: Fix the connection with the weird, non-standard size fitting. Great. The kegging platform works! Let's get practice cleaning some kegs! Like you said, everything is going to have some hiccup or kink the first time through. Just gotta find it and...

56. Why did it just shut off? Why did it just stop and shut off?

57. Is there a fuse blown somewhere?

58. We'll just get on the phone again and see if we can figure this out!

59. Isn't it miraculous how the human body manages to work so well, almost all of the time? Think about it, man. It's incredible. It's like really pretty rare and usually only after many years of successful operation that it simply fails to function one day. And what real maintenance does it require? Just regular fuel. Waste. Cleaning is optional, really. And normally, that's pretty much it. The human body, man. The human machine. It really is a machine, you know? Just absolutely miraculous, when you really think about it.

60. Long story short: the fuse box inside the kegging platform blew and you need a new one. You make sure it's going to arrive tomorrow, so at least you can package first thing next week.

61. Saturday: Okay, the kegging platform works again!




62. Sunday: Time to carb up this son of a bitch so you can package on Monday!

63. Monday Morning: Why is there beer in the CO2 lines...?

64. Okay, so the CO2 ran out overnight, and the beer started to back-flow. Fortunately, it must have happened right before you came in in the morning to check, so you didn't lose anything significant.

65. Monday: Debate whether beer will be fully carbed by evening with enough time to package, or if it's better to take it slow and plan to package on Tuesday.

66. Take numerous Zahm readings throughout the day to test the carb level. It's going a lot slower than you would have thought, and eventually you'll realize you'll need to hold off until Tuesday to package.

67. Tuesday: Still needs some more carbonation. Take more Zahm readings.

68. You hit it! Let's go!

69. This is actually really easy now that everything is working right. Pretty sweet, in fact. What a convenience this kegging platform is, ultimately! This is so exciting! Your beer will be out on the market by tonight!

70. Calculate, based on keg-filling time, how long it will be until everything is package. You estimate you should be done by around 7 pm, easily, at the latest. Right in time for dinner.

71. You're drooling at the thought of the tasty wild game burger that awaits you, next to the first-ever draft pour of your beer.

72. You are done kegging around 9:30 pm.

73. Race to the first bar ever to carry your beer. Enjoy a burger that the kitchen kindly held for you. Watch with anxiety as the bartender pours the first pour of your first commercial beer.

74. Feel intense relief: it tastes exactly how you wanted it to taste. You've done it! Your beer is out there for the world to tick. In kegs, at least. The easiest way to package. Now you just have to build your bottler from scratch!

75. That can wait, though. Have some more beer first! And also might as well make a fresh pot of coffee!



10 comments:

  1. Haha! That was great! I definitely realized at some point early on that the guys that worked for me needed as much MacGuyver in them as possible and we'd fill in the brewing blanks later.

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    1. Exactly. It is allllll about the MacGuyver'ing.

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  2. Great article, step 20 had me rolling

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  3. That was stressful as fuck just to read!

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    1. Just be grateful it was only stressful and not also completely exhausting : )

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  4. I loved this post and am living "the dream" vicariously through you. Thanks!

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  5. Prospero equipment is shit!

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    1. I'm happy with the system itself, actually. And Prospero has been very helpful when we've needed them. It's just all the other crazy complex interwoven components of a brewery that give you the trouble!

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  6. Love it! As I am still in the 3 years of step 1, this was very informative. When I got to guest brew my sour with a local brewery last year they were already brewing a batch of the Winter beer and we moved it to the Whirlpool before mashing in my beer. We went across the street for coffee, and when I went back to the brew side I saw tons of steam billowing out of the doors. Looked in and the valve about half-way up the WP was wide open. Had to rush back across the street to grab the brewer to get it shut off. Much more than a couple liters lost... but not as bad as when one of his asst brewers had opened the bottom of a fermentor at night while cleaning, left for the night, and emptied the entire 20 BBL of beer down the drain...

    I have the opportunity to get in a lot of guest brews with a buddy opening this Fall to learn the ropes of operating a brewhouse, hoping that helps when my time comes.

    Congrats, by the way!

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    1. Oh man, those are the sort of horror stories I dread! The thought of emptying a whole batch down the drain gives me shivers. Let's hope it never comes to that!

      Good luck! That sort of experience is invaluable. It's really the basic procedural stuff that, I think, you'll find comes in most handy. Every system is different, but once you know the parameters, it's all just adapting to which particular valves need opening.

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