How I Spent My Winter Vacation

As I mentioned in earlier posts, I was unable (or perhaps unwilling due to exhaustion) to blog much of the time from December 19, 2011 through January 20, 2012 due to fulfilling my required internship for brewing school. Man, what an amazing experience it was, but first some background. I've known Doug and Tracy Hurst, owners of Metropolitan Brewing Company for a couple of years now. Metro has a unique position in the craft beer industry as one of the very few breweries which focuses solely on lager beers (pilsner, vienna lager) and lager hybrid beers (alt, kolsch). Metro just had their 3 year anniversary in December 2011 and its success is a testament to the passion of the owners to make great craft beer. I volunteered once in 2010 to help them bottle beer for a day just to test the waters and it was great. Because of that one volunteer day and because of my seriousness about opening my own brewery, Doug and Tracy have been extremely generous to me.

Tracy Hurst and I at Metropolitan Brewing

When the time came to let American Brewers Guild, my brewing school, know where I was interested in interning, Metropolitan Brewing was an obvious choice. Their brewery is very, very similar to what I envision mine to be with a 15 BBL steam heated brew house and 30 BBL fermenters, all purchased new. I approached Doug and Tracy about the internship and it all came together quite nicely. I brewed and learned about the beer business for 5 weeks straight, every day they were open for business.   In case you're wondering how I was able to get that much time off from work it was simply a matter of asking and then using all of my 2011 and 2012 vacation time.  I'm not fucking around here, you see.

So what did I learn? Well, a lot. Too much for one blog post, that's for sure. I'll be peppering blog posts with little tidbits I picked up as I go along here just as a record for me to remember and also to help anyone else out there going through this adventure. The big stuff I learned was how to:

  • Clean and sanitize fermenters and the bright tank which includes assembling and dissembling all parts and fittings
  • Clean and sanitize a diatomaceous earth (DE) plate filter
  • Filter beer with a DE plate filter
  • Brew 15 BBL batches of beer including mashing, vorlaufing, lautering/sparging, boiling, whirlpooling, chilling, and aerating
  • Keg beer from a bright tank
  • Bottle beer from a bright tank with a Meheen 4 head bottle filling machine
  • Cleaning and sanitizing Meheen
  • Clean out spent grain from a mash tun
  • Clean mash tun and brew kettle
  • Safely use cleaning and sanitizing chemicals
  • Safely use diatomaceous earth (respiratory safety)

These are the obvious things that you would expect to learn while interning at a brewery.  But oh, there are so, so many things that I also learned including how to:

  • Use a forklift (already knew, but needed a refresher)
  • Properly pack a pallet of beer cases
  • Properly shrink wrap a pallet of beer cases or kegs
  • Properly handle and store brewing hoses
  • Use sanitary fittings and put them on or take them off one handed (very important)
  • Organize and neatly maintain order of just about everything possible
  • Manage hot liquor (hot water used in the brewing process)
  • Record keeping of beer batches, product shipped, kegs returned, much more
  • Control inventory for both finished product and raw ingredients

This is just a fraction of all the stuff I learned.  It was just an incredible five weeks of long hours and many weekends and I loved it.

Now I'm back at my day job chomping at the bit, trying to get through my business plan and push this project to the next big phase.  Working at Metropolitan has really given me a leg up on what's involved with both starting up and operating a craft brewery and I'm not going to waste this great opportunity.

Hang on folks, things are going to move pretty fast from here.  Failure is not an option.

Super Quick Update

Metropolitan Brewing LogoI haven't updated the blog in the past few weeks, which is the harbinger of doom in the world of blogging. The reason is quite simple: I've been doing my brewing school's required 5 week internship. I've been interning at Metropolitan Brewing for three weeks now, two weeks to go. It's been an amazing experience and when I get a chance I will go into great detail. I've learned so, so much about brewing operations and the brewing business. Can't wait to share, but today I have a rare day off and oh so much to do. Many, many more updates to come. One thing I can say is that I am somehow even more excited to get this brewery launched this year. Failure is not an option.

Teaching An Old Homebrewer New Tricks

One of the key components in my master plan to open a brewery has always been to graduate from a professional brewing school. I feel very strongly that a formal education in brewing is crucial for success if you haven't worked in a brewery for many years. It's important to not only know how to brew but to know how to brew on a commercial scale and understanding the processes that are a part of that. This includes understanding beer spoiling microbiology, quality control and assurance, laboratory procedures, wort making, fermentation/cellaring (including filtration), mashing and malting biochemistry, cleaning and sanitizing (absolutely crucial), packaging, and many, many other aspects of professional brewing. Most of these things are simply not a part of homebrewing and unless you are aware of them, you're going to have a difficult time making good, consistent, shelf stable beer on a commercial scale. Enter the American Brewers Guild. ABG is a distance learning program consisting of lectures on DVD, lecture notes, online forums, online quizzes, open book exams at home (harder than you think), textbooks, all crescendoing with a final week of residency at a brewery where all the students and faculty gather together. The strength of this program versus Siebel – which is located about 3 miles from my house – and UC Davis, is that it is a great option for those of us with families to support. I simply could not afford to attend the other schools as a working father and the sole income for our family. The tuition at ABG is also a fraction of what the other schools charge too, and no lost wages for taking off work for 4 months. It was a no brainer for me.

Now don't let the thought of taking a "correspondence" course in brewing fool you: it's an extremely in depth program which has been in operation for many years. Famous alumni include the founders of Surly Brewing and Terrapin Beer Company with many, many alumni working at breweries all over the world. Instructors include Matt Brynildson of Firestone Walker, David Logsdon – founder and owner of Wyeast, and Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewing. Steve Parkes, who along with his wife Christine own the school, is a graduate of the brewing and distilling program from the famous Heriot-Watt University in Scotland with years and years of professional brewing experience both in the U.S. and the U.K.

Well, as of last week, I've completed the program! Well, almost. I'll explain momentarily. Last week found me in Windsor, VT at the Harpoon Brewery for an intense week of onsite learning. I finally met all my fellow classmates and faculty who, until last week, I've only communicated with via the school's online forums or email. It was a truly amazing week and I learned too many things to list here and made some new lifelong friends.

The final requirement of the school is to work for 5 weeks at a craft brewery. I will be working at one of our local breweries, Metropolitan Brewing. I've known the owners, Doug and Tracy Hurst, for a couple of years now and they've been kind enough to take part in the ABG program. I'll be working there from the last two weeks of December through most of January, 2012. At that time, I will have completed the entire ABG course and will be ready to begin the next phase...opening a brewery.

So, if you're one of the many homebrewers out there considering brewing school, I cannot recommend ABG enough. I feel I have all the tools I need to get started in my own brewery. Check out their website but be aware that classes are full through 2013. So get your application in now and be ready for 2014! Do it.