Don't Try This At Home - part 2

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Beer, not rocket chemistry
Feb 16, 2006
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Corrales, New Mexico
Cash was in short supply so we had to work on half a shoe string. The warehouse we leased had last been used by a winery (Gruet) and was really just a big warehouse space with high ceilings and a floor drain. It needed build-out so we brought a third partner on board who had some building experience. We built a huge, two compartment coldroom, one side for primary fermentation, the other for cold conditioning. The roof was built to support grain storage and such.

Our first fermenters were Grundy tanks, which are 7 bbl british serving tanks, not jacketed or conical. We bought 20 of them, 12 for fermentation, 8 for conditioning and constructed a manifort to connect them in series of four to accomidate our 28 bbl batches. The kettle was a horizontal dairy tank I located in a field on a local dairy farm and bought for $300. It was originally designed as a cooling tank, but we figure that if we reversed the flow, ran steam instead of coolent and pretended we didn't know any better it would work, and it did. We bought a huge boiler/steam generator and had to build a fireproof room around it. We found another horizontal tank for our hot liquor vessel and utilized the boiler to heat it as well. We put this on leg so it stood twelve feet off the ground and designed our system to utilize gravity. The mash/lauter tun was a simple stainless cylindar that we bought from a local winery. It came out of the pick-up on the way home and bounced along I-25 outside of Santa Fe, but the only damage was a small dent. We had a funky false bottom fabricated that utilized a couple copper plates, screening and pipe, put in a manway for grain removal, but it too worked really well inspite of our best efforts.

Our batch sizes were 28 bbl because that was the volume of the kettle. The equipment came from all over the area and we really had a frankinbrewhouse. The chiller was a beast of a unit that was also dairy salvage, but as with everything else, it got the job done, even if it wasn't pretty. We had inline oxygen and a plate and frame filter, a nice pump mounted on a skateboard. We always said, what did it matter, it isn't a show place. For a filler we found an OLD 24 head rotating filler. It ended up being a great buy, but when we got it we had no idea how it worked. We actually thought the lifters for the bottles were operated with water, not air. What a mess that was! We had to hunt all over for parts and spend days figuring that machine out. I built, invented actually, a 12 head, counter pressure keg washer and filller, which I keep saying I will some day market. For the first 6 months or so we did not buy a mill and use pre-crushed grain and believe it or not a motorized Corona mill for specialty grains!

As you can gather it was an unusual brewery. We did not have any consultants or manuals, so it was all seat of the pants. We had figured out the recipe and done loads of small test batches. It took months for all the licensing and inspections to get cleared and so we did a lot of homebrewing and drinking. We also lined up a distributor who just happened to be in the same complex. They took care of all promotion and sales.

We got things configured and gave it all lots of water tests. We also cleaned things with caustic and such, through which I learned the important lesson that one should not wear Teva sandles while working in large puddles of caustic soda. (Like I said, we drank a lot in that era.)

I think it took something like 6 months from the time we signed our lease until we had all the approvals we needed to get brewing. It had been a nearly three years since I had left my last church job and started this crazy path and we were just getting ready to brew. To say we were excited hardly sums it up.

Next up: Part 3 - brewing, packaging, sales and life as a brewpastor

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