Nothing in my previous brewing experiences came close to preparing me for the level and intensity of working at Firestone Walker. Not several years of homebrewing, not helping out at small local breweries, and not even getting a diploma in brewing technology from The Siebel Institute and Doemens Academy. This is how varied and complex brewing is. Knowing a large amount about many other aspects of brewing doesn’t exactly prepare you for the realities of production in any particular plant.
I feel like I spent the first couple weeks at work running around the cellar, hardly knowing what I was doing at any particular time. I would come home in the evening and collapse form physical and mental exhaustion. My head would be so full of different processes and procedures to memorize that I could hardly think in cohesive phrases. Not that I ever do. I started on May 3rd working the 1-930pm shift in the cellar with Jason Pond. Jason has been at the brewery for a little more than a year and previously worked as lead brewer at Oskar Blues in Colorado after working his way through almost every production job at the brewery. Luckily, he’s a great teacher.
My first experiences with operating our clean in place system (CIP) were pretty brain frying. For some reason I find it incredibly difficult to learn a procedure without knowing the reason for and effect of each step, and it usually takes a few times of doing something for all of that to sink in. It’s a pretty simple premise on the whole: set up a piping loop through the cellar and pump the caustic cleaning solution through it from the holding tank and back into the holding tank, using a heat exchanger in the loop to keep the solution at the optimal temperature. Then you just need to attach hoses that break the caustic away from the loop and send it into the tank’s spray ball, and then a pump at the tank to make sure the caustic makes it back to the holding tank and keeps the system in balance for the duration of the cleaning cycle. Then there is the rinsing and heating/cooling of the tank as well as the other steps to prepare the tank for cleaning and inspect it afterward to make sure everything worked. So maybe it’s not that simple on the whole.
Once you learn the setup of all the hoses and valves, and what to open and close at what time, things start to come together. Every little step has a vital impact on the whole process. Envisioning the progression from step to step and what is happening at any given time makes things much easier for me at least. Now I can look back with a greater understanding and wonder why it took me so long to get some things. I still forget some things, but thankfully am usually able to quickly correct.
Sometimes messing up is the best way to learn to never forget something again. A few notable experiences would be learning to never forget about a tank that you are bleeding pressure from for a dry-hop and going to lunch, always making sure that both of your water valves are closed while running the caustic cycle on a tank, and double checking which tank you have to set up the filter lines to for sanitizing. Pretty much everything is worth double checking when dangerous chemicals or sanitizing are involved. Then there is the matter of not dumping the yeast from a tank when it still has a blowoff attached and no internal pressure. But these are stories for another post soon to come.