Don't Try This at Home - A Day in the Life

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Brewpastor

Beer, not rocket chemistry
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Being a part of a brewery is an experience that I would not trade, but that sense of gratitude has developed over the years since leaving. That isn't to say it was all blood, sweat and tears. On the contrary, it was a huge party that happened to include a lot of work and a fair amount of frustration. And nobody got rich.

The best way to explain what I am talking about is to pick a particular day that had its ups and its downs.

Brew days were always very busy. They started early, were full of tasks and more often then not were hot and exhausting. Our brewing system was a frankin-brew system, build out of cast off equipment we found along the way. It was gravity fed, and steam heated. The Hot Liquor Tank was a steam jacketed horizontal dairy tank. We put it on 12 foot legs and bolted it to the cold room wall so it wouldn't fall over on us. We built the roof of the cold room to be strong enough to support a great amount of weight and in the early days used the roof for grain and keg storage. It was also at a height where the top of the mash tun was even with the roof, as was the bottom of the HLT. We did not own a grain mill until a few months into the operation, so we would buy pre-ground grain and manually dump them into the mash tun, while running in the hot liquor and mixing the lot with an old canoe paddle. It was hot and dusty, but effective. Our brew length was 28 bbls. so we generally had a couple dozen bags to deal with.

The HLT was filled by a water source we located on the ceiling. It was a 1" pipe with a ball valve. Before we got equipped to reclaim our chiller's water, we would fill the HLT with fresh water the day before we brewed. It was heated with steam from a boiler that was set on a timer. So at 3 AM the boiler would kick on and we would have hot water for mash in when we arrived at 6.

In those start-up days we did not have any conicals, nor did we have glycol cooling. Rather we had a Grundy Tank farm located in a two compartment cold room. A Grundy Tank is a 7 bbl pressure tank that was used as a cellar tank in Britain. They were cheap and got the job done. We had 12 tanks in our fermentation side which we kept in the mid 50's. We had hose manifolds that allowed us to link four tanks together for a single batch. In the conditioning room we had 8 tanks which we kept in the lower 30s. These too were also connected by mainfolds and had carbonating stones.

In order to brew you had to have tanks sanitized, empty and ready for the beer. This meant finished beer had to be filtered, carbonated and packaged. The bottling line had to be sanitized and the bottles prepared. The kegs had to be cleaned, the filler prepared and all of this had to happen in a single warehouse with just enough room to get around. In addition, boxes had to be built and taped (by hand) as did six-pack holders. In those days we also labeled by hand with peal and stick labels. You do the math of how many 12 oz. bottles there are in 28 bbls!

The thing was that we always had beer to drink, and lots of it. We also had a great distributor right around the corner and they carried some of the finest wine and spirits available. So we never had a concern about drink and did lots of it while bottling and labeling and other general tasks. Like I said, it was a big party. 3 friends, doing what had to be done with too much alcohol at their call.

On this particular day we had to get ready to brew, which meant bottling, filtering and cleaning fermentation tanks. The beer to be bottled was carbonated and ready to go and the bottling line was preped the day before. We had also filled 2 dozen kegs earlier. While the other two got the hoses and so forth prepared, I sanitized the conditioning tank manifold, which included a dump line that we used as part of our post packaging cleaning. It include a hose that ran out the back door. The whole manifold was a series of tri-clover fittings and valves. We called it "The Part of the Buffalo We Couldn't Use." Another line went to the filler. When everything was ready I opend the line to the filler and ran out to my station on the filler, which was the unloading side. We had a 24 head filler and the bottles came off at about 1 per second. My job was to grab them out of the rinser and drop them into the cases. I also stacked the cases. The other two loaded bottles from a bulk pallet, watched fill levels and pressure, lubricated the lifters and about a hundred other tasks all at once. This would go non-stop for a couple hours, the whole time we would be drinking beer. Part of the game was to pound a beer as quickly as possible, getting it down in the little window that was available, while they were still cold. As if this was not enough, sometimes we would have a bottle of something else around and we would toss that back and forth. I got to the point where I could down a beer in 6 or 7 gulps, toss the bottle into the trash and still have time to grab a handful of bottles without missing a beat.

On this particular day I opened a valve, ran to my station, and waited. But nothing happened. No beer was coming to the filler. I ran back to see what was wrong and discovered that I had just dumped about 3 bbls of beer out into the parking lot.

Tempers flaired, words were exchanged, the bottle was passed and we started again. The filling went aolng well enough until one of the lifters jammed open/up. These lifters are what pushes the bottle up into the filling heads. There are 24 or them on a rotating filler. The whole thing is engineered so that the lifters rise and fall, so they are up for filling and down for capping, discharge and to rotate under the loading and unloading brackets. Well when a lifter does not drop a number of things happen. First bottles start to break and glass starts to fly. Also brackets are ripped apart and lifter shafts are torgued and bent. This causes the drive chains to jump, sprocket teeth to crack and the machines timing to get screwed up.

On this particular day we had 4 shafts jam. Each time it happened we would have to stop everything, replace the parts, reconnect chains and fittings, retiming everything in the process. The first time we had to do this it took us a week. We did not have a manual. The filler, like everything else was ancient. Over time we got it down to about an hour. Generally it was a job only one guy could do, so while one of us worked the others labeled and drank. It never was a happy time.

In addition to the 4 shafts, we also had 2 valves stick that day. The filler valves were up in the filling bowl. They consisted of a series of gaskets and springs that worked together to let carbonated beer flow when you wanted it to, and not flow when you didn't. When they stuck one of two things happened. Either beer wouldn't come out of that valve which was no big deal because there were 23 others. Or beer would come out and not stop. This was a big deal, not only because it wasted beer which sprayed all over every one and everything, but also because it lets the pressure go and so bottles don't fill correctly and glass is wasted.

In order to fix this everything has to stop. The beer has to be pushed back into the conditioning tanks and the filling bowl on the filler has to be opened. This means 60 nuts have to be removed and the top of the bowl lifted off. Then the valve is removed, repaired and replaced. The top is put back, as are the bolts and then everything has to be resanitized, repressurized and started back up. Of course, while all of this is going on beers are drank.

This day was long and frustrating and because it was long we missed lunch. By the time the beer was all bottled everyone was exhausted. We had to brew the next day, so we had to clean everything, including the conditioning tanks, and the filter. The HLT had to be filled and the boiler set. We decided we would have time to filter the fermented beer and transfer and clean tanks in the morning while we brewed. So we finished cleaning everything, got the filled cases stacked on what pallets we had and the rest on the floor out of the way. Anything else we figured would wait until the morning.

As you might guess, we had a little alcohol in us by this time. It was probably 3 or 4 in the afternoon and we needed food. There is a local strip club that had a good menu and better visuals so we decided to go there. We turned out the lights, hopped on the bikes and roared off to lunch, where the day tappered off.

The next morning began about 4 AM with a call from the owner of the window company in the space next to our brewery. It seemed his shop was flooded and water was pouring from under our bay doors. So with a head that was intent on paying me back for the abuse I had done to it the day before, I made my way to see what was happening.

Well it was a mess. It seems that in our hurry to get lunch we had forgotten to shut off the water. In very short order the HLT had over-flowed and turned the brewery into a lake. It not only flooded the brewery's floor, but the spaces on each side of the brewery. It flooded the ceiling of the cold room, soaking the stored grain in the process. It ran through the top of the cold room, soaking the preped filter and its pads, and it all soaked cases of beer sitting on the floor.

Well, another day at the brewery had begun. There was beer to be brewed and a mess to be cleaned up. But we had all the beer we could ever want and a few other bottles besides, just another day in the life.
Like I have said before, don't try this at home. :drunk:
 
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Brewpastor

Brewpastor

Beer, not rocket chemistry
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At some point I will tell you about the brew day. It was memorable as well. I wish I had some pictures of the brewery, put I can't find any.
 

McKBrew

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Definately a Murphy's Law day Brewpastor, and proof that excessive drinking and brewing don't go well together.
 

MTpilot

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makes me glad we don't bottle except for competitions. we also don't get drunk till after work.

since we only keg, we have a rough weekly schedule of transferring/filtering on monday and tuesday, brewing on wed and thur, then washing and filling kegs friday.

a buddy of mine works at a brewery that has a bottling line and their days tend to sound a lot more like yours were.

it's hard and frustrating work with little compensation, but still my favorite job in my limited work experience. If only the pay were a little better, it would be a career instead of just a job.
 
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Brewpastor

Brewpastor

Beer, not rocket chemistry
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As time went by things got smoother. Alcohol consumption also declined, mostly out of boredom! But breweries are full of hard work. It can be worth it, but it isn't a cake walk.
 
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Brewpastor

Brewpastor

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Ryanh1801 said:
Good read, Thanks for taking the time to post that.
It is good to get it down. But some day my kids are going to find and read this and that will be the last of my authority over them!
 

c.n.budz

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Brewpastor said:
It is good to get it down. But some day my kids are going to find and read this and that will be the last of my authority over them!
What ever happened to "Do as I say, not as I do"

Either way, that was a great peek into a professional micro operation. Can't wait to hear about the actual brew day.
 

Yooper

Ale's What Cures You!
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Thank you so much for this glimpse into the brewery! I love reading about your adventures- especially when I dream of ditching my job and work in a brewery!
 
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