Mad Skills Needed

I have worked for a couple of breweries before starting this one. I have seen tens if not hundreds open their doors. The process is long, it never goes as fast as you want, it is the nature of the beast.

Brewing is by it’s nature requires a many skill sets, problem solver, electrician, tour guide, and of course janitor, mostly in fact janitor.

So neither of the areas were any surprise as we are starting. The element that perhaps strikes me unsuspecting was how often I’d be asked about an opinion on something that I had no experience in, nor any preference. For example last week I was evaluating a used forklift, I have worked with them regularly enough in the past but I am far from an expert. So I called up a repair company and had one of their guys join me. It was old so it needed some repairs, not surprising really. Along the way we also discovered it wasn’t the model advertised so then I was left working numbers to see if it fit our needs. Remember how many kids complain in ask when we would need algebra in school, in the brewers world I would say the answer is regularly. 20 years later I wished I’d taken that calculus class as well some days too.

Another week it’s support struts and how many we need on the bar. Media expert, plumbing guru, and the titles keep rolling on. At times it’s fun and other times you sit saying to yourself “I’d just like to start making beer, please.”

Keep your head down, do your homework, admit your ignorance, and be on time. Every day a little more progress and yeah, when do I open?

Soon.

School is Back

Today starts the fourth section of the Wake Tech Craft Brewing class basics class. It has been fun to teach, but more importantly it is helping people prepare for careers related to the brewing industry. The other benefit is local brewers will have better trained new staff walking in the door.

The students come from a wide range from young adults trying to get their career going to retired folks looking for a hobby. Some homebrewers take it, but over half attendees have no experience with brewing before walking in the door.

The class is review of the brewing process and issues in a brewery. I work to set expectations from the first day, not this is not a class on making wort, it’s about general operations. The class does make one beer on a pilot system, but this is done to make sure they understand the entire brewing process start to finish in a hands-on approach. And yes, the beer is enjoyed for the class graduation. The last big point I try to make clear is brewing is work, hard work. Long days standing getting wet in hot or cold conditions are the norm, drinking beer is often the exception not the rule.

Teaching the class requires me focus on the basic elements of the brewing. As the adage goes you only really know a skill when you teach it to others. Standing up in front of 20 students helps me practice on public speaking which is under appreciated but often needed skill when opening a brewery. All those funny odd skills from cleaning to electrical repair to public speaking that go into brewing that people never stop to think of, but perhaps because it does require so an odd mixture of skills that makes the life so appealing.

Throwback Thursday – Man on a Mission

This week’s Throwback Thursday a beer trip to San Francisco

Original post date: May 23, 2006

When I visited San Francisco little over a week ago I had two missions. One was to relax and enjoy good times with friends I don’t see often enough, people while not blood are in my book family. Then there was the second mission to see as many of the San Francisco area breweries as possible. I think I accomplished both.

We arrived on Friday and immediately I could smell something in the air, beer and it smelled damn tasty. After our crew arrived we had lunch, gathered our necessities and headed off in a cab.

Well one group did, but our group had the cabby from hell. I explained where we were going he replied.

“I dunno where it was.”

‘Great’ was my immediate thought, the only cabbie who doesn’t know his own city. I tried to explain again and he began to shout

“I don’t know where it is” in heavily accented English.

At this point I pulled out a map and explained roughly how far south he would need to drive us from our Union Square hotel to the area of the brewery. As I explained the location he interrupted once again.

“No No No I know how to get there but don’t know what is there.” He proceeded to explain three more times, shouting.

At this point I nearly told the bastard to pull over and go in search of a less surly cabbie. I was on vacation and I didn’t need this crap, if I had been alone I know I would have done it too. But considering I was there with two friends it seemed too much a hassle to bother them with the cabbie claimed to know how to get there and so we put up with his attitude.

Eventually he dropped us off at Speakeasy Ales and Lagers a nondescript commercial building a long ways from downtown. The place was rather quiet and empty when we arrived, not the most promising sign when your looking for brewers and beer, but it was my plan and tour so I had little choice. I marched up the dock entrance like I knew exactly where it would take me. In a way I sort of did know, I was going into a brewery. I hoped.

I knew we were in the right place when I saw the pallets of two row malt and the Speakeasy eyes gazing at me. Hard guitar licks played on an echoing stereo system and the smell of malt in my nostrils proved I was in the right place.

I had called their phone line and left a message I had five for a tour on that Friday, leaving my number in case they wanted to call back with questions or confirm. I never got a reply I meant to call back and confirm but I got busy and it never happened. I knew the brewery was open on Fridays so we took our chances.

The first person we met was Big Mike, aka the brewer, I liked him immediately. He didn’t have us on the tour list, but there was only another couple for the tour so they had plenty of room for us on the tour. After a few minutes wait he poured us a few pints to keep us entertained while we waited for the start of the tour. Their beers were malty, strong, and the imperials aggressively hop. I was in heaven. They reminded me of Stone beers, but more balanced in construction.

Big Mike lead us on a tour of their facility and I suspect he realized I wasn’t your average drunk visiting the brewery. I asked about hops used, temperature control, malt, yeast and every other question a homebrewer could come up with it. Mike seemed to enjoy the questions because it allowed him to pass along more than the regular “We boil here, we age it here, we bottle it there” tour.

I was impressed by their standards and commitment to excellence, but not at the expense of enjoying life, it is beer after all.

After the tour we returned to the tasting area, where their usual Friday afternoon open house is hosted.

While there I spoke with Chris in Sales, we had a great conversation about California beers, the recent microbrewery industry move to canning, and getting their beers into Flagstaff. Also while their beer is available in seven states, it’s evidently available in Finland. A bar there some how got a supplier to bring it in and they love it. Good for them but I’d hate to pay their prices for a pint. But considering Speakeasy’s beer it’s worth the trouble.

The Beers
My first beer was an Imperial Amber which was big, bold, and hoppy. It didn’t fit my mood of what I wanted to drink, but I knew I could drink it far easier than anyone else in the group so I suffered through it. Okay I didn’t really suffer, it was beer.

From there I moved over to their Bootlegger Black Lager which I had sampled earlier and found to be excellent, well balanced and no esters, exactly like you want a Black Lager to be. I intended to find a Black Czech lager I had discovered a few years ago while in San Francisco, but this was the best I could do. That said I wasn’t in the least disappointed.

Last of the beers I have distinct memory was the Old Godfather Barley Wine-Style Ale , while not aggressively strong at 10.2%, it’s a deadly beast. It’s smooth and as balanced as any pale ale I have ever had. It was far too drinkable for something that strong. I wish I bought a growler full of it. In the end I did buy a growler, just because of their distinctive style, but having it filled with their Bootlegger Black Lager made it no trouble at all. Having to use later for my homebrews is only icing on the cake.

A short while later we piled into a cab to our next stop, 21st Amendment.

Postscript: Writing could be stronger, but I like the narrative structure. I have great memories from this trip.

Spent Grain Rule’s Impact on Brewers

Alan asked this morning “Won’t vast majority of US craft brewers deal well with new FDA requirements on spent grain because of exemptions?” Because of exemptions, no but brewers will deal with the new rule well and I’ll explain why. More importantly I think the final rule will not mean the end of brewer and farmer cooperation.

Let me back up and give you some background before I go into the why. For almost 5 years I worked for Congress, specifically for two members of the House of Representatives one of which was in a leadership role. In addition I worked for a trade association for 2 years part that was monitoring the federal rulemaking process for our members. Later I was at a medical device company for 5 years and dealt with FDA regulations and auditing. From this I feel comfortable making educated guesses about where the final rule will end up.

Currently we are in the first publishing of the rule. The person who wrote it probably lives in Washington DC and wrote in respect to best practices for animal feed without awareness of how daily operations for breweries and farms work. Mostly the intent is to prevent harm that might occur even though there is no evidence it has occurred. They will likely look at the response and talk with groups like the Brewers Association for a middle ground. Then the FDA will publish a new draft of the regulation that will implement. Make no mistake we are not getting out of this requirement.

To work around I have heard a few proposals. Some ask “what if we give away the grain?” the lawyers on the Brewers Association recent briefing made it clear that will not change anything. Some suggest “if we only give it to a farm for compost?” Unless there are no animals on the farm I doubt that will be permitted and for your own protection it would be better you assume it may occur to avoid any liability. Exemptions based on company size will likely be rejected though smaller companies may be given greater time to implement the process.

So what may the final rule look like? I think it will be bookkeeping in two forms. One a log sheet at the brew deck or spent grain area that records beer lot number, time/date, and brewer. When it is picked up we will add the farm picking up, time/date, and the farm person’s name. It all can fit on one page sheet on a clipboard. Considering the life cycle of beer and food we will have to maintain that documentation for at least 180 days, but 2 years to be on the safe side. That in itself is not burdensome.

The second part that may become required through this rule and some of the safety rules are more of a written Standard Operating Procedures(SOP) documents. They will get more detailed for the safety requirements, that is a separate agency, but for the spent grain rule it will designate a spent grain location, the logsheet and training for it’s use. As long as you have a process and follow it the FDA will be satisfied, but traceability will be the requirement.

Based on my experiences in medical device industry and brewing practices I am already establishing SOPs for brewery operations for Compass Rose from the start and I intend to add this record keeping into the list. With greater FDA attention to the brewing world, I think more record keeping, training, and documentation will become an industry standard. It will be more burdensome for existing breweries that work in an ad hoc manner, but in the long term it has potential bring a higher standard of quality across the brewing community.