When Normal Isn’t Normal Anymore, and Why I Love Barrels and Hop Cannons

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The hop cannon, our new method for firing dry hops into fermentors.

Expansions are crazy times in a brewery. Try making beer with a dozen contractors running this way and that, the smell of burning metal filling the air as welders furiously connect new pipes running every which way.

It’s the middle of July and we are trying to mash the first batch of beer in the new brewhouse in August. What started as a hole in the parking lot is now a four-story tower  of German wort-making power. Four sparkling new Huppmann brewing vessels sit on the newly-glassed-in brew deck, as white tile takes shape on the walls around them. It’s a beautiful sight to behold.  The brewhouse operator’s office on the ground floor is starting to take shape. The former conference room now resembles the situation room in the West Wing.

Hop Injection. Sugar injection. Dedicated brewhouse CIP systems. A freaking wet mill. Shit is getting crazy. Then we have to install a new automated outdoor cellar of massive fermentors to put all that wort in. In the mean time, we have a couple new Ziemann 300bbl tanks getting dropped in the brewery next month. The insides of the cones are so highly polished that we can supposedly filter right off the bottoms, even with dry-hopped beers, or so they claim. Shiny, shiny toys.

Working through this period is an amazing experience for a young brewer. Just seeing everything it takes to make something like this happen is pretty intimidating. But the result is going to be worth the days of inconvenient utility shut-downs and massive holes where walls used to be the day before. I’m actually surprised that we have been able to keep production so consistent as this whole thing has proceeded.

I’ve been back on the day shift a bit over a month now and it didn’t take long to realize that the night shift had the wonderful ability to insulate me from much of the crazy and commotion of the expansion work. You come in to work at 9pm and hey, there’s a new CIP system installed! Just like magic. Now I show up just as everyone is getting down to business and have to work around whatever new contraption is going in today. To be fair though, things have also intensified as of late.

Coming back to the day has allowed me to pick up some new skills as well. I can now fire the hop cannon like an artillery master in the lupulin infantry. It can be frustrating to operate smoothly at times, but it still beats clipping in to the roof and climbing on top of tanks.

I’m also the new Union barrel filler/emptier, after several weeks of apprenticing with our former barrel dude. Right now, we empty and fill 32 barrels (each 62 gallons) per week, and it’s probably the most physically demanding, messy, and stressful thing I’ve done so far. But working with barrels is a great skill to develop, and I’ve also had to learn how to do the micro QC program for them, which is another fun, new activity. Well, sitting in the micro lab and plating 32 samples in a row might not be everyones idea of fun, I guess. 32 barrels, and 32 separate opportunities to get an infection. It might cause one to sleep restlessly.

Someday, I’ll be able to come into the brewery and not see random welding equipment and conduit laying around. Someday.

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