The First Brew!

Yes, you heard right!  After passing our Health Department inspection last week, then scrambling around to get ingredients ordered, we managed to pull together our first brew session this past Saturday, the 14th of November.

Being our first batch on this system, we figured it would be a very long, hard day of work, and we were certainly right about that…From start to finish it took us 19 hours!  Somehow though, there seems to be just a little bit less stress knowing that we have beer in our fermenters.

Here’s a few photos of the day.  We were scrambling around so much for the first half of the day though, we didn’t manage to get any pictures of the mash-in.  Oh well, there’s always next time….

Here’s my dad setting up to do some transfers.  The pump he’s working on is receiving the mash run-off and transferring it into the kettle.  The pump in front of him is pumping the hot water into the mash tun for our sparge.

You’ll notice most of these pictures look a little hazy…We were surprised at just how humid it got in there throughout the day.  Downright tropical even.

And here’s part of the source of the humidity…our sparge arm (on the right).  For those who don’t know, sparge is a German word meaning “rinse”, so we’re basically just rinsing our mash with hot water.

Here’s a better shot of the sparge arm in place and in action.  I’m looking on, getting a nice steam bath…

Actually, I’m just watching the sparge level to make sure the grain bed isn’t getting too exposed and dry as the wort flows out of the mash tun and into the kettle…

Ah, the first wort flowing into the kettle…a beautiful sight!

Ting watches as the kettle fills…

…and then…

…the boil begins!

Here’s the spent grains in the mash tun, after all of the wort has been run-off.  I know it doesn’t look like much…but remember this is a mild, so you really don’t need a whole lot of malt…

Either way, you’ll notice there is no “grain shute” from which to eject the spent grains.  So in other words, climb in and start shovelling!

Okay, well, skip ahead a few steps (because we didn’t manage to get any pictures taken in-between) and here’s our yeast pitch, ready to add to our chilled wort as it flows into the fermenter.  Pretty cool to have a giant package of yeast with our name on it!  7.5 liters worth of yeast in fact.  The homebrewers out there will recognize the 1098 number on the yeast package too…

And finally, here’s a picture of our finished wort!  Yeast pitched and ready to begin fermenting.

And the exhausted brewteam, ready to call it a day!  Until next time…

More Painting, More Finishes

I know, I know…my posts are few and far between these days.  I do apologize for that, but what can I say?  This whole business of building a brewery is the sort of hard work that keeps you busy all day, every day, until it is done.

But we’re getting so close now…

Here’s a few pictures of what we’ve been up to.  Hopefully we’ll be able to invite everyone over very soon to see it for themselves.

The tasting room as seen from the front door. The painting in here is finished.

The tasting room as seen from the front door. The painting in here is finished.

And a view into the brewhouse from the tasting room...

And a view into the brewhouse from the tasting room...

Here's a look at the unfinished bar. This should be finished with a front and top by the end of next week.

Here's a look at the unfinished bar. This should be finished with a front and top by the end of next week.

Behind the bar where the sinks and back-bar will soon be.

Behind the bar where the sinks and back-bar will soon be.

Our friend JT works on welding a support to hold the back-bar.

Our friend JT works on welding a support to hold the back-bar. Stop staring at the welding arc...You'll burn your eyes out!

And voila! The support is finished...

And voila! The support is finished...

Here's a look into the women's restroom, with most of the tiling completed.

Here's a look into the women's restroom, with most of the tiling completed.

And the men's restroom, with no tile yet...but indoor plumbing that works!  Very exciting indeed!

And the men's restroom, with some tile...but also indoor plumbing that works! Very exciting indeed!

Brewhouse_Tanks

Here's a nice look at the brewhouse, with most of the tanks finally in their permanent locations. Oh, and also floors that have already been sealed.

Getting our bottling tank upright was a little bit precarious...

Getting our bottling tank upright was a little bit precarious...

...But we managed it. Woohoo! (anyone remember those Toyota commercials from the 80's?)

...But we managed it. Woohoo! (anyone remember those Toyota commercials from the 80's?)

Going Up (pt.4)…and Catching Up

Catching up indeed!  We’ve been working at a fast and furious pace for the last couple weeks and it has been a real challenge to find the time to post.  Things are looking really great though and, as you’ll see below, it’s getting easier to visualize the finished space.Vestibule Frame_01

This picture of the framing around our vestibule was taken just a few days after my last post.  The one on the right was taken on the same day, but looking back toward the entry door from the seating area.

Vestibule Frame_02The next two pictures were also taken on the same day and show the completed framing around the bar area.  In some of these pictures you’ll see the occasional tank or two…Since everyone was working so quickly, we had to move the tanks around quite a bit to keep them out of the way of the scissor lifts and ladders.

Bar Framed_02

It’s hard to believe that all of this framing happened in just a few days, but it just shows what a great construction team we have!  Actually, most of the guys on our team usually work on high-rise building projects, so our little brewery project must seem like a walk in the park for them…Bar Framed_01

The next picture is a view of our loading area, where we’ll bring pallets of raw materials in, and send pallets of beer out.  You’ll also notice that one side of the drywall has already been hung on these walls.  This helped to move things along quickly so that the grid for our drop-in ceiling could start to be hung on the other side of the drywall.

Loading Area_02The picture below is a look into the brew house from the tasting room, showing the framing for our door and window.Window Frame

Jumping ahead about a week (to sometime last week), we finished installing all of the electrical and plumbing work inside the walls pictured above, passed our rough inspections on those trades, insulated the walls, and finished hanging the drywall.  Yep…all in about one week. Pretty cool, huh?

Well, I guess I’ve spent enough time describing the above photos, so I’ll just post a bunch more below, and spare the descriptions…

Entry_InsulationTasting Room DW

Hallway DWLoading Area DW_01

Tasting Room_MuddedBar_Mudded

Ceiling Tiles_02Jer Bar_01

Equip Placement_04Steve Jer Tanks_01

More Equipment (pt.4)

Last week we made one more trip to San Diego to pickup another batch of equipment, this time from Premier Stainless Systems.

Among the new stuff was a bottling tank (also called a brite beer tank), a grain mill, grist case & grain auger, a heat exchanger, a temperature controller box (for controlling fermentation temperatures), some brewers hose, and a most excellent hop back!

Behold!

pict00061Here’s our brite tank, still wrapped up and strapped to it’s shipping support frame.  I think we’ll leave it on it’s side until we’re ready to install it though, since moving it around is much easier this way.  This one has a 15 BBL capacity, and is jacketed for easy temperature control.

Beer will be transferred into this tank where it will be prepared for bottling and also measured for tax purposes (tax is paid per barrel of beer produced).

pict0004Here is our heat exchanger (left) and grain mill (right).  These things are seriously heavy, so we’re also going to leave them on the pallet for now.  The heat exchanger cools the wort quickly after the boil, so that yeast can be pitched and fermentation can begin.  I know it’s obvious, but the grain mill crushes the malt and cracks the grain husks so that the starches inside can be accessible and converted to sugars during the mashing process.  Grain will enter from the top into a small hopper (not shown here), get crushed by the metal rollers inside, then exit from the bottom of the mill, and drop into the grist case…

pict0001The grist case (pictured on the left) will hold all of the crushed malt for an entire mash.  Once all the malt has been milled, it will travel from the bottom cone of the grist case, into the auger, which will then carry it into the grist hydrator, and ultimately into the mash tun.

Shiny…pretty…

If you’ve been on a tour of the Alesmith brewery lately, you’ve probably noticed a similar looking grist case that’s about 4 times bigger!

I didn’t take any photos of the grain auger yet, since it is disassembled and in several boxes, but the most visible parts of it look just like a bunch of PVC pipe.  Actually that’s all it is.  PVC pipe with a length of twisted metal inside (the actual auger), which is continually twisted by a motor.  The twisting action carries the grain inside the PVC pipe from one end to the other.  Not very exciting…

But here is something very exciting…our beautiful new hop back!

pict0015We’ll be able to pack loads of hops into this baby, then pump the hot wort, straight out of the boil kettle and through those loads of hops.  The hot wort will strip the aromatic oils from the hop cones, picking up some amazing aromas, then travel out the bottom of the hop back, and into the heat exchanger.  I’m actually starting to drool right now as I think about it…

Here’s a look inside at the screen that separates the hops from the wort.  Basically this thing is like a gigantic colander, which makes it a very versatile and useful tool in the brewery.pict0014 I figure we’ll use it for hops most of the time, but there’s really no limit to what we can do with this handy little piece of equipment.

pict00131Under the screen is a space for the wort to collect as it is separated from the hop solids, and then the wort exits through the port at the bottom.

I realize some of these photos are a bit fuzzy, so I apologize.  What can I say…my camera is a quitter…

Last but not least, here is a shot of our temperature controller box.  There are five individual controllers here (with a bunch of electronics inside), which connect to individual temperature probes on the fermentation, conditioning and bottling tanks.

pict0008The controller box will also connect to our glycol chiller, so that when a cooling demand is needed at a tank, it will trigger a valve to open, sending more cold glycol into the jacket of that tank.

The guys at Premier have done a fantastic job for us, and now we have just about everything we need for a complete brewery.  Now I’m more anxious than ever to hook everything up and start brewing!!

Dairy Equipment

The other day I got an email from Eric in Minnesota, who happens to be in the planning stages of starting a brewery up there.  He was asking about the specifics of using used dairy equipment, and what sort of modifications are necessary to make them brewhouse ready.  I figured I should probably share that info here as well, in case any other folks find it useful.

Before I get into too many details though I should mention that the used dairy equipment we bought from Alesmith was modified long before we even laid eyes on it.  In other words, I’m no expert on this stuff, but I’m making assumptions based on conversations I’ve had with people and pictures I’ve seen of this equipment in its original state (do a Google image search for “used dairy equipment”).  If you plan on modifying used dairy tanks for brewing, I would recommend you hire a professional brewing consultant and definitely a reputable stainless welder.  So here goes…

Fermenters: The most readily adaptable tanks (without much modification to them) will be the fermenters.  The two primary fermenters we have are “Milkeeper Bulk Farm Cooling Tanks”  from The Creamery Package Mfg. Co.  As far as I can tell, the only modifications were to remove the agitator blades and motor assembly from the top of the tank (previously for stirring the milk as it cooled) and to remove the self-contained refrigerant box on one end of the tank to expose the in & out pipes for the cooling jacket.

Former location of agitator spindle & motor.

Former location of agitator spindle & motor.

The picture on the left is the top of one of our fermenters.  The three “screw holes” are where the motor used to be mounted, and only penetrate the outer jacket.  The center hole penetrates into the actual tank, and used to have an agitator blade that went down into the tank to stir the milk as it cooled.  It looks like someone welded a sanitary connection onto this hole at some point.  This connection now holds our sanitary thermometer well (seen in the next pic).

Thermometer well

Thermometer well

As I mentioned earlier, the other change these tanks went through was to remove the self contained refrigerant control boxes.  The general practice in breweries is to control all tanks that need cooling from one cooling source (usually a glycol chiller).  It would be much less efficient to cool each of these dairy tanks with it’s own set of electrical controls, pumps, etc. so the refrigerant control system was removed to expose the pipes that run through the tank’s jacket.  The glycol cooling system was then connected to these pipes.

Disassembled refrigerant control box

Disassembled refrigerant control box

In the photo on the left you can still see the exposed pipes where we’ll connect our glycol chiller.  This “box” on the end of the tank used to hold lots of wires, pumps, temperature controlers, etc.

Another reason to disassemble these control boxes is because the refrigerant system that came with the tanks would hold the fermenting wort at a temperature that would be too cold.  (Since it was designed for keeping milk cold.)  All the same stuff applies for our two secondary fermenters – The “Hi-Perform” Bulk Cooling Tanks from the Mueller Company.

Another important note is that these fermenters will require more labor to clean than a conical uni-tank (since you basically have to climb inside and scrub them).  Climbing inside a tank that had previously fermenting beer, and large amounts of CO2 can be dangerous and deadly, so you will definitely want a CO2 detection meter for checking the empty tank before you climb in (and probably a portable exhaust fan as well).  Both of these items can be found through McMaster-Carr, or other vendors.

Boil Kettle: Our Boil Kettle was originally a steam kettle (either for pasteurizing milk, or for making cheese?) from The Creamery Package Mfg. Co.  I think the only modification was to attach an elbow pipe inside the kettle which is used to create a whirlpool after the boil.

Brew Kettle exterior

Brew Kettle exterior

In the photo at left the outlet port (on the left side) will be connected to a fixed-speed pump, and then to the inlet port (on the right).  You’ll see in the next photo that on the inside of the inlet port, an elbow has been welded to divert the flow of the wort around the kettle, thus creating a whirlpool.

Brew Kettle interior with whirlpool inlet

Brew Kettle interior with whirlpool inlet

You’ll have to figure out how you want your brewery to be powered (steam, direct-fired, electrical) and that will probably effect your decision about what sort of kettle to purchase.  If you decide to go with steam, you’ll have to find a local company that makes steam boilers, and that they can size it properly for your operation.  Our kettle is jacketed and steam fired.

As far as the sizing of your brew kettle to your fermenters, there is plently of literature out there (I know Ashton Lewis writes about this in The Homebrewer’s Answer Book), so I won’t talk about that here, but also your brewery consultant can help you out in that regard.

Hot Liquor Tank: Our Hot Liquor Tank is a bulk milk cooling tank from The Dairy Equipment Company.  The tank is jacketed, and there is a refrigeration unit attached, but we’re not using that.  Instead, there is a big metal radiator unit that sits inside tank, standing upright.  The steam pipes are attached from our steam boiler into the radiator, and that’s how the brewing water gets heated up for the mash-tun.  I think our heating element was either custom-made or repurposed from another piece of equipment.  I’m not really sure where to source something like this, but a stainless fabricator or welder might know.  Also, when you’re dealing with steam you difinitely want to have an experienced plumber or contractor help you hook things up.  Steam generates pressure, and is obviously hot, so you can create some dangerous situations if you don’t know what you’re doing.

HLT steam heating element

HLT steam heating element

Here’s our heating element, which still has some mineral scale on it and needs some more cleaning.  The steam pipes extend out of the top (bigger pipe is hot steam, smaller pipe is return).  Also, our HLT had a re-circulation system added to it to keep the heat evenly distributed.  In the next picture you can see the basic piping system that circulates the water out of the tank, to a pump and then back to the top of the tank.  There is also a valve and hose connection so that the water can be diverted to the mash tun when the proper strike temperature has been reached.  Yes, our HLT is still pretty funky-looking, but we’re working on cleaning it up nice and pretty.

HLT with recirculation piping

HLT with recirculation piping

Mash Tun: The Mash Tun was an old Mueller model M (I think) bulk milk tank, with the agitator blade and motor removed as well as the refrigeration unit removed. In the next picture you can see where the motor mount used to be, and the hole, which was cut bigger to accommodate the grist-hydrator.  The top of this tank was single-walled, so I imagine it was easier to cut through.

Mash Tun top

Mash Tun top

The next picture shows the same angle of the Mash Tun, but with the grist hydrator mounted on top.  The milled grain gets augured/piped into the top part of the hydrator while the strike liquor gets pupmed in through the PVC hose connection at the front.  The whole point of this setup is that you don’t want to get dry grist-balls in your mash, and stirring 1,000+ pounds grain with a couple hundred gallons of water is not very easy to do by hand.

Grist Hydrator on top of Mash Tun

Grist Hydrator on top of Mash Tun

Grist Hydrator exterior detail

Grist Hydrator exterior detail

Grist Hydrator interior detail

Grist Hydrator interior detail

You can see in the following pic how the strike liquor gets distributed on all four sides of the unit.  Then in the next pic you can see the spray nozzles on the inside that ensure the grist is evenly coated as it falls through the center of the unit.

I’m not sure, but I think a grist hydrator is probably something you’ll have to have custom built by a brewing systems fabricator or an experienced stainless welder, unless you can find a used one somewhere…

Also, our mash tun is jacketed, but we’re not using the jacket for any heating or cooling.  The way we have the tank setup is basically for single infusion mashes only.  In lieu of a false-bottom, we use a single pipe with downward-facing slits cut into it, which connects to the main outlet valve of the tank.  Yes, it is very much like a giant homebrew setup…but this is how Alesmith originally made all their great beers, so you know it works!  The sparge arm is very similar…A long copper pipe that runs the length of the tank, with small holes drilled into it.  It is suspended from the top of the tank in a pretty rudimentary way, and water from the HLT is pumped into it during the sparge.

Sparge arm (top) and wort manifold (bottom)

Sparge arm (top) and wort manifold (bottom)

Mash Tun interior with manifold installed

Mash Tun interior with manifold installed

Used dairy equipment can certainly be cheaper than a brand new, custom made brewhouse, but there are still a lot of considerations you want to make before spending your hard earned money on anything.  Also, one other thing to be mindful of…Try to get documentation (manuals, specifications, etc) on any used equipment you are buying.  You may need to submit it to the Health Department at some point before they will give you approvals to start operations.  This is the situation I’m finding myself in now, and some of these equipment manufacturers have since gone out of business.  Buying this equipment certainly saved us a ton of money (as opposed to buying new, custom-made equipment), but I’m hoping that we don’t run into too many bureaucratic road blocks that make it more expensive in the long run.  I guess you’ll have to stay tuned to find out…and keep your fingers crossed for us.  ; )

More Equipment (pt.3)

Our keg filling head finally arrived today.  It was meant to ship the other day with our bottling line, but apparently it was out of stock.  Anyway, it’s here now!

keg-filler_01

 

 

 

 

 

It looks a bit like some science fiction torture device with all those levers, valves, knobs and gauges…I’ll have to figure out how to make it work without maiming myself…

 

Our next shipment will probably come in another few weeks, since some of the tanks are still being fabricated, but we’ll definitely post more pictures when it all arrives.

More Equipment (pt.2)

It took longer than expected, but yesterday we finally received some more deliveries of our new equipment!  Our bottling line, labeling machine, flowmeters, glycol chiller, and a big drum of glycol all arrived throughout the day on three different trucks.  It’s pretty exciting to see the shiny new equipment, and it somehow makes everything feel more real.  I can’t wait to actually get some beer moving through this stuff!!!

 

Just like unwrapping a giant Christmas present!

Just like unwrapping a giant Christmas present!

Ooo...Just what I wanted...a 6-head manual bottling line!  Thanks Santa!

Ooo...Just what I wanted...a 6-head manual bottling line! Thanks Santa!

flowmeters

Hooray for flowmeters!  These will help us measure the volume of liquids as we’re moving large amounts of water, wort and beer around the brewery.  Obviously very important for consistency in brewing, but also pretty important for Uncle Sam.  The tax man always wants to know exactly how much finished beer is being sold, and even being moved around the brewery from tank to tank.  These two look like a sturdy, trusty pair though – I’m sure they’ll do a great job.

 

 

labeller_01Our manual labeling machine.  Looks pretty basic, but also pretty cool.  A bottle lays horizontally across the rollers in the front and the roll of label-stickers sits on the rollers in the back.  Crank the handle and the label rolls smoothly onto the bottle.  Grab a new bottle and repeat (about 100,000 times).  Yep, we know…it’s a LOT of manual labor…but isn’t that the beauty of making a hand-crafted, artisanal product?  The fact that you get to participate in and enjoy every part of the process?  And doesn’t that ultimately result in a better finished product?  Yeah, we think so too!

 

chiller_01Our beautifully shiny, new glycol chiller unit.  This one is 5HP and should easily cool all of our tanks while still having enough cooling capacity for us to expand and add more tanks in the future.  This thing works by cooling down a tank full of glycol to a very low temperature, and then pumping that glycol to stainless steel pipes that run along the outer jacket of the fermenters and conditioning tanks.  Any heat in the beer inside those tanks is transferred to the cold glycol running through those pipes.  That warm glycol is then pumped back to this unit to be cooled down, and eventually sent on the same journey again.

chiller_02Here’s the control panel for the chiller unit.  To the right of the unit (in the background) is the 55-gallon drum of glycol, which is basically like a food-grade “antifreeze” (or a liquid with a lower freezing point than both beer & water).  The two pipes sticking out on the front left of the unit are where the glycol will ultimately flow into and out of the internal tank.

This guy will definitely keep our fermentations cool and our yeast happy!

 

We now have almost everything we need for a fully operational brewery.  In a few more weeks we’ll probably be receiving our heat exchanger, bottling tank, hop-back, grist case, mill, auger, and a handful of other odd & ends.  Now, if we can just get the city to move a little faster with our permits……