Wanted: War Stories
Fellow Brewers --
Though we may be loathe to admit it, we all have some war stories to tell.
I would like to hear some of them.
I'll start with the first that comes to mind ...
I was once consulting for a greenhorn brewmaster in an unnamed city in an unnamed pub ...
It was only one of his first brews. He needed help mashing in. He turned on the kettle, turned on the agitator and he and I started dumping buckets of milled grain into the augur that went up to the mash tun. After nearly 500# I noticed some flour clouding out of the tun; I didn't think much of it, it happens some times.
But the cloud got much bigger and I started to suspect that something was wrong. I revealed to him my concerns. He went up to check the mash.
It turns out that he forgot to put the mash liquor into the tank!
Needless to say, we stopped mashing in. He started shoveling and I left the building. Oh, the agony. I stopped consulting shortly thereafter seeing as I wasn't there to reinvent the wheel.
One day, we got a call about a strange taste in the beer. I drove down to the account in downtown Denver, and sure enough, there's a nasty chlorine taste to the beer. Damn!
And then the calls started streaming (or should I say screaming?) in.
I spent several hours identifying which batches were affected, and tracing where the beer went, and pulling it asap. Then I tried to figure out just what happened!!! The weird thing, it was three different batches. I carefully went through my procedures, and I checked out all of my equipment (at first I thought perhaps it was my keg machine, but no...).
I finally figured it out. I fermented in open-top dairy tanks, and aged the beer in Grundies, and my delivery guy, tap cleaner and occasional assistant had cleaned three Grundies for me a month earlier. Guess what was clumped in the bottom of the tanks? Yep, chlorinated caustic. He had given the tanks a cursory rinse, and hadn't bothered to visually inspect them, or test the water coming out. And I guess he hadn't bothered to use the acid sanitizer that I had given him, either. And, since I had "trained" him to do these things, I assumed the tanks were clean and sweet...
And, as he had quit a week earlier, I couldn't even find him to kill him!!!
Last edited by tarmadilo; 05-27-2005 at 04:37 AM.
If you use a flex auger to convey your grist to the mash tun, this either has happened to you or is waiting to happen to you!
We began mashing in our Stout and were halfway through when Quinn, one of our brewers, shouted that nothing was coming out of his end of the auger at the mash tun. That's funny, because the mill is still full and running and so is the auger motor. Then suddenly the belts on the mill began smoking, the mill was jammed and we shut it and the auger down. Turns out the long spring-like metal auger in the flex auger had broken somewhere in the middle of its tube! I raced to undo both ends of the auger, pulled out both pieces of the coil, and drove around town trying to find a machine shop that could braze the pieces back together. Luckily I had brought a growler of Pale Ale with me, because I found a guy who should of retired long ago, who brazed it back together in about 30 minutes, stopping occasionally to refill his styrofoam cup with beer. We got the auger back together and finished milling in. The initial mash only had to sit for about three extra hours, but luckily we use a high mash temp for our Stout and it didn't affect the final fermentability much.
for the record
I am not he of which he speaks....
no stories like that to tell yet, I'll keep you posted.
Man, have I got stories........
Our first site is a 7 Bbl system and the Brewer at that time used to double as a sales/delivery person for the accounts. I still work a full time job as an Engineer, so if he would have any problems he would page me.
He pages, I call our cell, and he's stuck on the roadside along I-5 southbound toward Seattle in the old Ford delivery van we used to have.
"Well, Brian........I've got a bit of a problem out here........the delivery van's not working right. I was just driving along and it broke."
"I think it's the rear axle. It's broke."
"How do you know it's the rear axle."
"Oh, it's the axle alright.............I saw it skipping through traffic ahead of me at 60 miles per hour. I skidded the van off to the side of the road. No problem."
My knickname for him from then on was "Chuck Yeager".
I had thrown my back out over a weekend and was out of work for a week. On Tuesday, I get a call from our Brewer that there's a small red hot spot appearing on the side of the combustion chamber above the burner tube from the conversion burner to our 7 Bbl kettle.
On Wednesday, I was told the red spot was now glowing. I recommeded not brewing until I could get back on my feet and repair it.
No more calls while I heal my back.
I go into the Brewery the following Sunday and look at the hot spot on the kettle combustion chamber. Right above the burner, sticking out from a big, round, molten hole in the chamber was a refractory fire brick. The paint on the burner as well as the Honeywell control module were scorched. The module, being plastic, was badly melted and was no longer functional. The paint on the wall was burned away, and the paper of the drywall (fireboard) was charred away to reveal the gypsum.
Because I do the repairs at DK, I came right out of a back injury to spend 3 days plasma cutting, fabricating a patch, reconstructing the burner tube, and welding the whole mess back together. Replaced the module, and repaired all the refractory blanketing.
I have tuns more...........
In 1988 I left a great little brewery in Toronto to take one of those fateful steps we all make and started working (briefly) for a company of questionable integrity that made brewing equipment. The company was called Continental Breweries and was one of the early suppliers in the game. Their timing was right but unfortunetly, they were incapable of being honest in a business deal.
The owner was a short, rotund guy with a heart condition. During a trade show in Chicago he was sitting on the edge of a hotel chair looking extremely pale and sweaty. He couldn't get up and gasped at me to get him his glycerine (sp?) pills.
It is one of those fateful moments but I can guarentee you that there is one or more of you reading this that got screwed by Continental Breweries and wishes I went over and gave him a shot in the chest and flushed the meds. It would have prevented dozens of bankruptcy's and a class action lawsuit against a shyster. Ah yes, those little moral challenges we face day-to-day.
Here's my horror story:
I'm sitting at my work - a desk job doing systems work for a big corporation, sitting in front of a computer all day or worse yet in "working meetings" for sometimes 6 hours at a clip. I blink and find that 13 years of my life have gone by, so I resign, and start a micro.
Whew, that was CLOSE! Talk about life threatening.
My Horror Story...
This is the story of how I got fired from my first brewing job. I won't give out the name, but it was a small brewery in N.E. Minneapolis that shares its name with a famous guitar player...
Anyway, my patience with the place had begun to wear thin after working with equipment coddled together from old dairy equipment, misc. scraps of stainless and stuff that should have been put out to pasture twenty years prior.
We used the old-style Hoff-Stevens kegs, which we cleaned with this bizarre cradle-like contraption that basically suspended the kegs over a CIP ball that blasted hot caustic everywhere. On keg cleaning days, you would have to get dressed up like a cross between a Haz-Mat team and the Gorton's fisherman and hope that when you started sweating that no caustic would penetrate your armor sending you running and stripping. Unfortunately, it always did.
We filled kegs with an ancient racker right out of the late 40's that required a surgeon's touch and a psychic's intuition to use effectively. And there you would wait, poised to strike bung with mallet when the racking arm would lift up.
It was a Friday in the early Spring and orders were beginning to come in, prompting me to have to both clean kegs and rack on the same day. A huge part of the order was a bunch of 1/4 bbls that unbeknownst to me, took a bung that was about four microns smaller than the ones used for the 1/2 bbls. I was already tired, pissed and itchy from my caustic bath when I started the racking. After wailing away frantically at about eight 1/4's and getting them sealed properly, I thought I was getting the hang of it...until...keg number nine. The racking arm rose, I struck, bung ricochets across the cellar. Try again, same thing. Grab another bung. Ready. Racking arm raises. Pow! Missed all together with a direct hit on the keg, which sends beer foaming all over the place. Lower the racking arm...again to top off the keg. By now, it was getting late and I really wanted to go home. Whack! The bung splintered and I hit the keg again sending a fountain of beer all over me, the racker, the cellar floor. And that's when I lost it...
I grabbed the mallet in sheer, abject and utter frustration and let out a primal scream of obscenities and hurled the mallet at the floor. Upon impact, the mallet head broke away from the handle and flew directly into one of the glycol lines going to a fermenter and shattered it.
There I stood, defeated, in a shower of beer and glycol and knowing my tenure was up. I grabbed my radio, my coffee mug and a bunch of little stuff I had lying around.
On Monday, my boss for whom the brewery is named sat me down in his office about an hour before my trip to Unemployment.
It had already been a long brew day, and I happened to still be at the bar. The bottlers at this particular pub worked evenings downstairs in the cellar. The guy who was cleaning up came bursting through the door, DRENCHED in beer. He had disconnected the clamp on the wrong side of the bottom valve, and about 15 Bbls. of stout came roaring out of the tank, which had almost 20 psi on it. There was a few small drains in the cooler, which by now was ankle-deep in beer and foam. It took hours to mop it all up.
Oh yes, this bottler was a 2-spout manual type, requiring the operator to step on a pedal which would raise the bottles up into the fill tubes. After getting a batch of weak glass, bottles started exploding, leaving various sized pieces of glass imbedded in various parts of the operator. We eventually had to get them outfitted in meat packers armor (kevlar aprons, chain gloves, full face masks, etc.) They sure loved being in a cellar with low air flow all suited up and sweaty....
Another good one: I was in the first 15 mins. of the boil, when all of a sudden the steam pressure dropped to 0, and the boil stopped. Turns out at the construction site across the street they had severed a gas line. The city did not get it repaired until the next day. Shovel out the mash tun, dump the kettle, and after 10 hours of work go home with an empty fermenter.
Ahh, and everyone thinks all we do is sit around and drink beer all day!
We had one offsite account that is fairly close to my house and the beer they got we made specifically for them also happened to be one of my favorites so from time to time I would run by there to have a pint or three as well it was a good time to gauge public perception as well as their staffs knowledge of the beer and above all if they were serving it through clean taps.
I sit at the bar and order my pint, a newer bartender who I have only seen a few times is working tonight hands me my pint and makes "that face" we have all seen. I ask "what's up?" and he replies "how can you drink that piss?" Of course I am calm, I see my chance to educate rather then berate and I start talking about the beer only to have him interrupt me and say, "I love good beer, but what you're drinking ain't it."
Now I am starting to get a bit hot under the collar but rather then say something I decide to be quiet and drink my pint. The smell should have told me stop but I was to peeved to think clearly, the first sip literally took my breath away and I spit it right back into the pint and look up to see the bartender grinning, "See, I told you."
I had to ask him, "what the hell is wrong with your lines?" and get the standard, "it's not the lines, that's how that beer is made." Of course I have to say something now and tell the barkeep that "it is most certainly not, everything that is wrong with this is from a line infection most certainly" and then I asked for the manager.
The manager comes out and rather then continue to play cat and mouse I hand him my business card and ask him if we can step aside as well I want him to pull the keg offline while we figure out what is going on. We talk for a few minutes and then I ask him if I can go check out the ice-house where they are serving their beers from.
Now this is a place that has 100+ beers on tap and includes a healthy dose of the local pubs. We cruise the line looking for my keg and as we do I am checking out the FOB's on the wall and the trunk lines as we pass, all of them coated in a thick black/green coating of crud that must have been 1" thick in most spots. We get to my keg and from the sanke handle all the way to the FOB is the same chunky stuff I saw coming in. I pulled out the trusty Gerber and starting scraping some of this crap off and show it to the guy and tell him that this is the problem with the beer and most likely a lot of the other ones they have on tap.
Man that place was NASTY. I had just taken over the pub after being the assistant for some time and instantly learned that you cannot trust others to take care of your product.
Of course then there was the time my '99 GABF hat got sucked off my head by the exhaust fan for the brew house. Standing on the platform above the tun, I had just finally broken that hat in when I felt it come off my head and looked up just in time to see it being pulled through the turbine and shredded into 1000 pieces. I never did find most of it...sniff sniff...