Well, we’ve finally done it. As of today, Monday, 5/12/2014, we have three (of three) fermenters chewing on beer. But it was quite a journey to get here!
Coordination was the problem. Coordinating our engineer and the welders to finish our steam piping. Coordinating yeast, malt and hop suppliers to all get us our stuff here in time. Coordinating someone from the Front Range to come up and fire on our boiler at the same time we got someone from our brewery system provider out to teach us the ins and outs of our new brewery.
On May 1, everything finally came together, and we were able to fire up the boiler, get steam to the brewery and start making some beer. But even that wasn’t without its challenges.
Sunday, April 27th & Monday, April 28
I was up until 4AM the morning of the 28th wiring up our steam solenoids. These are electrically-actuated controls that basically open a valve, allowing steam to flow to certain parts of our system (to heat things up). Late Sunday evening, I got word that our rep from Premier Stainless Systems arrived in town and was looking to go out for a drink. I had to put him off as I knew I had a long night ahead of me – little did I know that I’d be around until 4. He had arrived just in time to coordinate with the representative from a front-range boiler company, who we were expecting to show between 8 and 9 on Monday.
After a good two hours of sleep, I got up, got the kids to school and arrived at the brewery by about 8am. Our boiler had suffered some damage in transit here from California, so we had preemptively replaced the burner control at the manufacturer’s suggestion. We didn’t expect everything to go off without a hitch, but we were hopeful.
Of course, the boiler-fire-up-guy got almost all the way through his checks before realizing there was a problem with an actuator used to control how much air the system takes in (to fire effectively). We ordered the part overnight, and he left for the front range. We reviewed procedures with our brewhouse rep, getting as much done as we could, and passivated the brewhouse so we’d be ready to brew the following day.
Tuesday, April 29
The part arrived early the following day, but by the time it got here, it was to late for boiler guy to return. We reviewed procedures with our brewhouse rep (again), and generally spent more time preparing to brew the following day. Morale was waning.
Wednesday, April 30
Of course, when the gentleman showed up to fire on the boiler on Wednesday, we had the spare part in hand and again: we weren’t confident, but were hopeful. He started through his checklist once more, and we expected to be brewing later in the day (only a day behind! Not too bad!). The actuator worked! The pilot light lit, and the burner fired up. Then a nasty clacking sound, and everything shut down. Again, and again, and again. An electrician and electrical engineer showed to offer assistance – according to the manufacturer, it was a grounding problem – nothing helped. After the boiler guy spent hours on the phone with not only the boiler manufacturer but also the manufacturers of individual parts on the boiler, we got the following information: the part that we had preemptively replaced MONTHS ago – and the part we replaced it with – were both defective. We needed to overnight a third burner control and were told that would fix the problem. Of course, nobody here believed that – the likelihood of either of those parts being faulty, let alone both of them, was astronomical.
We left for lunch that day in an absolutely rotten mood and upon our return verified that boiler guy would stay overnight in Steamboat that evening. I arranged with our local UPS to notify me as soon as the part arrived – but I had little hope that the new control unit would do anything different than the other two. Everyone was frustrated, which was exacerbated by walking through a mock brew – basically pushing water around.
Thursday, May 1
True to their word, I heard from UPS as soon as the shipment left their freight truck and arrived in the local warehouse. I hustled over there (boiler guy was already onsite, everyone else was recovering from the previous evening), grabbed the part and handed it off to boiler guy as soon as I could get the box open. Within 20 minutes he came back inside to give me the thumbs up, and we were making steam.
I called and texted everyone to get back to the brewery. It may have been a bit premature as there was still a lot of tweaking of the boiler to get it working as efficiently as possible, but we were making steam! A few dribbles here and there from the piping, but the welders were on-hand to see where things weren’t tight and arranged to come back in the future so they could plug up the little gaps. With all hands on-deck, we were ready to make beer.
Of course, our rep from Premier, who was going to walk through the first couple brews with us, already had his return ticket and had to leave Steamboat by about 1pm – before we got any grain into the system. But because we had spent the previous several days preparing and getting to know the system better, we were well prepared.