Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Holy Molasses, Batman!

When I drove in this morning, I was met with this: 

The much talked about bulk molasses tank had arrived!

This will save so much hassle of schleppping totes around - and it's a nice visual partner to Derek's bulk grain silo.  Asthetics are not to be trifled with...  Now the molasses, like our base pale malt, will simply be piped into the fermentor as needed!  How 20th Century! 

Here's a pic of it being filled. 

and another

Yayy Molasses! -


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Bottling Hurricane Amber Ale

Bottling day is almost ALWAYS Tuesday.  We are closed on Tuesday.  We are closed on Tuesday because we require a bunch of staff for bottling.  Yesterday, a rare bottling Wednesday, I realized another reason.  Bottling, is, Loud. 

As the tourguide, that point was squarely driven home yesterday, and my voice is worse for the wear today.  However - a HUGE shout out goes out to the folks on the tour yesterday.  I have never had a more attentive crew!  Hopefully you could hear me over all those wonderful noises - the sound of our flagship being packaged up for you! 

To tell you who's in this video - like many good things - it starts off with Pete.  He's the one loading bottles, about 22,000 in one day, onto the start of the line.  He was a designated Storm 'hanger-outer' for years and a staple of the Friday night tour.  He is infallibly positive and has a way of making a long production day feel light and goofy. 

Then the bottles head through the twist rinser, and over to the filler crowner, which Derek is supervising.  On the way we see him fiddling with the CO2 pump.  Derek is a fiddler.  We are thankful for Derek's fiddling skills.  The nature of commercial machinery is that it always could use a little tweaking and fine tuning.  Somehow Derek can hear the machines talking and usually fixes stuff before it becomes a problem.  Kind of a great person to have in your toolkit. 

When the bottles hit the filler crowner - they get their beer, their head space filled with CO2 and their cap.  The CO2 purge is something we invested a lot in in this new bottling line.  Air in the head space can make bottles taste less fresh, but the CO2 doesn't have that effect.  We all emptied our piggy banks to invest in this part of the line - and having worked on it for about a year, our bottles are tasting more like our draught, for longer.  Talk to anyone in the brewing world.  This is a Big. Deal. 

Then, the bottles get rinsed and on to Reva at the labeller.  Reva is a pop-trivia queen, an open water swimmer, and on bottling day, a labelling wizard.  We are very lucky to have lured her here from Colorado. 

And then - my favorite part - the bottles end up with Jeff and Adam who put them into case boxes, six packs, etc and get them ready to head out the door.  The reason this is my favorite part is that these guys know how to smile.  Check it out.

- Laura

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The First Stripping Run!

That sounds dirty...and it is, but not in 'that way'!  The molasses that Brent loaded into the fermentor on Saturday AM made it to about 9 percent alcohol early this morning.  Therefore - voila - he has loaded the first pot-full into the still! 

It will bubble away until all the alcohol has turned into 'steam' and made its way into that stainless 'condenser' on the right.  After that, all the left over water and color and sticky molasses smelling stuff will spill out onto the floor.  As it drains and the sweet smell hits us in the office, Linn and I will start thinking about lunch... 

The collection tray you see at the bottom is brand new and replaces the Swatch Watch system that he and Adam had all last winter.  In the past, the distillers would put a five gallon 'log' to collect the raw spirit.  It takes about 24 minutes to fill up a log...so every 23 minutes, all winter long, someone's watch went off to remind us to switch containers.  Our big tech upgrade is a bigger bucket. 
Technology is not always the answer, especially, it would seem, when it comes to Thomas Tew.


Saturday, October 8, 2011

The first fermentation of the Distilling Season

When I arrived at the distillery this morning, there was a slight frost on the windows.  I came in, set my coffee down and said hello to Brent, seeing his light on in the office.  I had become used to his Saturday morning company in the summer months and was suprised when he didn't answer.  I had seen his truck outside so went to look for him on the production floor to tell him a story.  I found him driving our battered forklift, which in itself is nothing special.  But what the prongs of the forklift hefted certainly was. 

I sipped my coffee and watched him steer the lift around equipment, gracefully guiding a one ton cube of molasses to my feet.  I check my watch and understand that he plans on starting the first fermentation of the year before he heads out to man our booth at Oktoberfest.  As usual, I am impressed with how much he is able to accomplish with his time. 

I believe this is the last time I will see this, as the rumor is a bulk molasses tank is on the way.  A bigger tank for molasses will make the operations of distilling more efficient just as the silo did for our brewing processes.  It will clear space on the distillery floor for more aging barrels.  I bet Brent won't mind the forklift gymnastics either. 

In three to six days, (the exact time depends on many things that I, an English major, do not understand) - the yeast will have eaten all the sugar out of that complex molasses, and Brent will fire up the still.  He will execute a stripping run, a final distillation, each of the painstaking steps he taught Mike Rowe how to do.  The molasses he loaded today will become barrel numbers 156 and beyond.  The earliest it will be ready is May of 2013, but most likely longer. 

But this is where it starts.  Barrel number 156, happy birthday.  Today, in the Saturday morning October chill, your rummy life has begun.  In the spirit of Thomas Tew, we welcome you. 

- Laura