Sunday, September 20, 2009

Day 72: Hop Harvest Heard Round the World!

Let's play some catch up!

Saturday the 19th, Steve and I brewed our very first fresh hop ale! The idea formed a couple weeks back when we received word that MSU Bozeman started growing a few select hop varieties this year in a test plot. They were looking for homebrewers/breweries to come and harvest the hops on Saturday the 19th. After a little prodding and some day dreaming about a fresh hop brew, Steve finally gave in to my prodding and we decided to go ahead with the idea. We had quite a few ideas for the style of beer but eventually agreed that a fresh hop pale ale would be the best platform to showcase the green/wet hoppy character. Unsure of the amount of hops we were going to recieve, we decided to only brew a 1/2 batch (5 bbl).

I spent most of the days leading up to this brew day brimming with excitement! This is the first batch of beer that I have been able to collaborate with Steve on! Finally Saturday arrived!

I drove to the hop field with Kelly sitting shotgun and left Steve at the brewery to mash in. Once we arrived it only took about 45 minuts to fill the back of my truck with hop bines (not a typo, they are bines not vines). The most efficient way for us to deal with the trimming of the hops was to take whole bines back to the brewery and to have an army of volunteers/beer lovers chop them up for us. Below are a few images of the harvest taken by Kel.

Here I taking down a bine of fuggles. As you can see in the picture, some of them look much bigger and more fruitful than others! (We made sure to take the really awesome looking ones!) We ended up with mostly cascades, a few bines of fuggles, and a few of a native north american variety that I don't recall the name on.

The back of my truck... with as many hops as we could fit!

Our kettle + 24.5 lbs. of hops! They look like little green cockroaches!

The "Lone Peak Fresh Hop Pale Ale" (I know boring name) is still fermenting right now. I tried it yesterday. The aroma is sweet and slightly grassy, the flavor was still yeasty from the fermentation but a toasty malt character definatley comes through, and the finish is a light but apparant hop character that can be described best as fresh! (Score that was our goal).

P.S. Just to show all of you how we have fun in Montana... this is my buddy Alex biking over a bonfire at the bar last night!

P.P.S. Tomorrow the forecast is 38 degrees and snowing all day! Ski season here we come!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Day 64: How my job has changed...

Last year, in a lunch meeting with the owner of a very prestigious St. Paul based brewing company, I remember asking "How has your job changed since you started Summit Brewing Co.?" Often before I had these lunch meetings I would sit down and generate lists of questions. This was one of the questions that I had come up with for that meeting and to be honest I wish I would have thought of it years ago...

My dream is to someday start a brewpub (and craft distillery cough cough). Of course, I have bigger aspirations than just any brewpub though. I am hoping that this brewpub turns into a pilot/test/fun facility and I end up with a much larger production facility to produce beer that sells all over the country. Many have already accomplished this in their own lives. When I asked Mr. Stutrud about how his job has changed over the 20 years that he has run Summit Brewing Co., I was asking how MY future may change when I accomplish the same someday. Too bad. Instead of discussing my awesome question, I ended up learning about the 3 tiered system and how it hurts craft breweries
(which is still very important, but not exactly what I wanted)

Luckily for all of you I will ask myself the same question (and answer it) Spencer, how has your job changed over the 60 days you have worked at Lone Peak Brewing Company?

The greatest change from Day 1 to Day 60 (that is when I started writing this post) is my independence...

I began as a "camera". This stage lasted a few weeks and consisted of me following Steve around and watching/mimicking what he did. It took me a few weeks to buy that black notebook of mine (adding the record function to the camera); I would recommend buying one and keeping it with you during this stage of learning. It will speed the retention of what is observed greatly.

I next transformed from an observer into a "robot". Instead of watching and learning from what Steve did, I was instructed by him to do things. These tasks ranged from clamping hoses and setting up tanks (in the correct configuration) to starting cleaning cycles (in the correct order of events). After a short time of performing small ordered tasks, I became an upgraded robot (v2.0). I was instructed to "set up a tank for sanitizing" or to "mill in for the IPA." These tasks involved a series of the smaller tasks that I had previously learned how to perform and complete in the correct order.

The next stage was "Artificial Intelligence". Suddenly, I was predicting what Steve was going to do. On my own I began to do things like dig the mash tun (uninstructed) after he was done brewing. Then I would go mill in for the 2nd batch of IPA. He would tell me that he needed to harvest yeast from FV4 and while he wasn't looking I would set the whole thing up for him! I believe that it was this stage that I really started to develop into a valuable employee. Steve was then free to spend more time completing his responsibilities and less time monitoring me. An important note here: as I developed into a self-sufficient being, I learned that completing the job CORRECTLY is just as important as completing it. If I made a mistake I knew that I had to correct it myself, and do it right away. Otherwise, Steve would have to repeat what I did, wasting my time and his.

What the fuck comes after Artificial Intelligence in robot development? I knew I couldn't keep this analogy up... Somewhere between the last stage and today I have become capable of managing myself and my time to be productive without Steve's direction. Although we often still collaborate on what needs to be done around the brewery, I am very aware of what needs to get done to keep the brewery running. Once I receive the green light to transfer a brew, I can complete the transfer, clean the tank the beer came from, carbonate it, keg it, put away the kegs, clean the brite tank, and record the necessary paperwork. I am capable of preparing distributor orders, getting kegs out the door and receiving them from customers, changing kegs, fixing kegs, and fixing our draught equipment. Almost every task in the brewery other than brewing the beer and doing the paperwork I can complete now.

What is going to happen in the near future? Well, I have been dedicating all of my free time to getting Candice working. I anticipate that because of the amount of time I have dedicated to the machine, and the familiarity I have with it (and my silly engineering background) that I will be in charge of running it, maintaining it, and troubleshooting it soon!

It has been a long journey! I am looking forward to what I learn in the future and will keep this story going someday...

Cheers, Prosit, and Skoal!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Day 59: From Russia with Beer...

I named today's post after the mostest boringest James Bond movie ever made. Today was pretty boring! The off-season is beginning to hit pretty hard and as a result the main priority influencing our brew schedule is "we need to keep the yeasties alive!" instead of "oh crap we are going to run out of that beer!" Today was the first day we have brewed since late august (I believe). I still am keeping myself busy with beer transfers and kegging, but we are almost out of beer to transfer now!

Candice the canning line is what will be keeping me busy starting tomorrow. We had a small computer chip malfunction and had to order a few more... thanks to labor day our "two day shipping" turned into "almost a week." Tomorrow should be the day that I get to start canning water though!!! I'm very excited. Although Candice and I didn't get along very well at first meeting, now I know her better than ever and we are developing into a great team.

Although the day was pretty slow, the end of the day was filled with horror, suspense, and a little drama... It was about 5:07 in the PM, I had just gotten done milling in for the IPA we are going to brew tomorrow. I walked up stairs, wondering to myself "what can I do for the next 50 minutes before I can get out of here?" That was quickly answered for me! Steve was about to clean out our transfer line/heat exchanger that we use to get beer from the kettle to the fermenters. After we had finished our brew we had chased the line out with hot water and then cold water like we always do. When he started the pump on the CIP cart to circulate hot cleaner through the lines, nothing happened! This was puzzling to us...

Could the heat exchanger be frozen? No, the glycol was turned off hours ago.
Could it be clogged with crap? No, we didn't send any crap to it.
Could there be a vapor lock? Nope, not with 500 some odd channels for liquid to move through.

We kept turning on the pump for short bursts only seeing a small amount of liquid trickle through the line back into the CIP cart. More questions and tinkering went on for a good hour. Eventually Steve just told me to go home, he would keep playing with it for a short while and then head home and we would deal with it in the morning. Lots of swear words had been said by now. What if our heat exchanger was somehow clogged?!?!? We would have to rip it apart and send it back to the manufacturer to be reassembled! What if we have to buy a new one? That could cost $5000 easily... I chose to take the easy route and just get the hell outta there. Right as I was leaving though, Steve stopped me and with a stupid smile on his face said "so I got it working" "What did you do?" I asked. "You don't want to know," was his reply.

It turns out that when he put together the filter housing that we use to catch shit running through the lines, he didn't put the metal basket in the bottom. What was happening was the filter bag was clogging our outlet, essentially slowing down the entire wash loop. WOW! One wasted hour and a few extra points on our blood pressure because of a stupid filter bag. I love my job!

Cheers, Prosit, and Skoal!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Day 58: The ____ Brewing Company

Most days at the brewery , I have some monotonous, tedious, slow paced and or boring job to complete. Today, I spent about 3 hours washing kegs, which is about as "bad" as it gets. Now this isn't a bad job by any means, I am just implying that of all the jobs at the brewery, keg washing can pretty much be done well while you are half asleep. Other jobs like this are milling in, cleaning pigs, scrubbing tanks, and blowing off yeast. Usually while I do these jobs I tend to day dream, most often about my future and the brewery that I want to start someday.

Lately, I have began to feel intimidated and left out in these day dreams. (That is sad considering they are my dreams!) The main reason behind this is that craft beer is exploding! Our industry is growing in a sinking economy. New and exciting beer styles are introduced every week. Breweries and brewpubs are opening left and right. Awards and honors are being given to the newest, greatest, and most contributing members to our movement. Renewable and alternative energies are being harnessed to create techniques and systems that are better for the environment.... All this is going on, and I am at Lone Peak Brewery, up in the mountains, washing kegs.

I have come to realize that for every brewery that is exciting and cutting edge and creating the next best and most sought after beers, there are probably 10 breweries who are just chugging along making good beer quietly in their corner of the world. For those 10 breweries there are probably 20 more that aren't even making good beer, that are in turmoil, that are closing their doors. What if my brewery is the latter? What if I don't even get there?

Sorry for the lack of confidence in this post, but if I were to say that I was 100% confident all the time I would be lieing (I am human). What I plan to do to ensure a successful future is to do what I have done my entire life when seeking personal growth and opportunity. I learn as much as I can, I dedicate myself to doing the best that I can, and I surround myself with the people that I one day want to be like. Currently I am dedicating myself to doing the best that I can. I guess I am learning as much as I can (I would like to be reading more, but working 10 hour days seems to be covering me for now). Somehow I still have to surround myself with the people that I one day want to be like.

If I had my dream... oh wait I have that right now... okay if I could continue my dream, I want to go work for one of the great's in the near future. Stone, DFH, FFF's, Avery, New Glarus, Southern Tier, Goose Island... the list goes on. I want to work for a brewery that makes beer that people are willing to trade across the country and the world for, that people are willing to drive across the state for, that people are willing to brag about. Only by becoming apart of the team at one of these breweries can I begin to understand how to foster such a creative and positive environment for myself and my brewery someday.

Cheers, Prosit, and Skoal to all the greats out there!