Saturday, December 26, 2009

Transformers: Not just robots eating pies...

"Will you update the blog for Jaysus sake, O Connor" has been the cry around Trouble Brewing headquarters for the last few weeks, and true to my procrastinating nature I put it off even after the threats of physical violence seemed earnest. This, I now admit, was a mistake. But now that I have some time on my hands due to being hospitalised for some totally and completely unrelated matter, and also not wanting Mr. Baseball Bat to be introduced to the second of the knee-cap twins too, I independently decided it was time to get cracking on the job...

Last time round there was some talk that we'd be booking a cheap €1 Ryanair flight (excluding optional charges) so we could take advantage of the abundant range of electrical transformers in the fine shopping facilities of Dublin Airport for the purposes of getting our boiler up and running. Alas, after some thorough investigation by a crack team of electrical experts we found out that it wasn't quite as straightforward as all that. Apparently those one's in the airport are good for the like of mobile phones, laptops and other such like gadgets of the modern age. Boilers, such as are used in the brewing process, apparently need their transformers to be bigger and more powerful. Being more than a touch naive about anything more sophisticated than wiring a plug, I did suggest that perhaps that 400 or so standard airport style transformers linked together might be an ideal solution, after the guffaws from the more knowledgeable people died down, we set about sourcing the genuine article.

Which is where we find ourselves now, trying to get our head around the amps, watts and frequencies of electrical supply and the making sure we get them right. And I thought the chemistry was going to be the big issue with commercial brewing and not the physics. Anyway we push on and continue to work away on getting the issue resolved, while dealing with the possibility that we might have tempted fate with our company name...

So having given lie to the old adage that no news is good news, we're hoping that if you're offering a toast this St. Stephen's Day, that the toast is offered to the patron saint of electrical conversion, whoever that might be, that they send good tidings our way. Though if you want to be particularly helpful, toast to the relevant powers of such matters that they sanction the initial creation of the overly specific title of "patron saint of electrical conversion" first.

Anyway until next time...

Monday, October 19, 2009

Some Assembly May Be Required

So another lesson has been learned from the discipline of brewery formation that can be transferred to stuff that might reasonably happen in the comforts of routine domesticity. The lesson being, that if you ever venture into the world of flat-pack furniture, then you only find the true value of the seemingly bizarre set of instructions, asking for cowl 4B to be inserted into slot F and so forth, in their absence. We learned this when we set about connecting the shiny brewing tanks by means of the various shiny hoses and clips, but alas there was no multi-lingual step-by-step guide sellotaped to the packaging. But as fortune favours those with the camera phones, as the updated version of that old phrase goes, we did have the advantage of the various pictures that had been taken of the brewery when it was a still an American resident. These were sprung from the bench as substitute for the instruction manual, and as fortune favours those with the foresight to print out in glorious technicolour the previously fortunately taken camera phone pictures, as that ultra-recently updated and peculiarly related to our particular situation, phrase goes.

Once again Bill was playing the part of our lovely assistant, which was a very happy occurrence as he is a man in possession of a good deal of practical knowledge and a variety of spanners and wrenches. Both of which were to be needed in abundance. So after quick reshuffle of the layout of the equipment, to better reflect the practicalities of the brewing process, we set to work. The first step, as anyone who's ever ventured into the world of extreme jigsawing well knows, is to lay out all the pieces and then start to see where they fit. Being ever the purists, we started working the fittings to mirror the beer production line. At each stage using the "so will this result in anyone sloshing about up to their ankles in beer?" rule of thumb to judge the accuracy of the component placement.

The brewing nomenclature was also out in full force, as there were numerous discussions as to whether "that twisty yoke fits onto the sticky-out bit, or do we need a bendy thing for the connection". The ins and outs of the mash tun seemed straight-forward, the ins and outs of the kettle and wort chiller, not quite so easy, being that there were many ins and many outs; much like cricket. We also had to rig up the pump that would be driving all this into the mix. Which was when we discovered a second pump, and hence the reason for the relative ease of the Mash Tun assembly became apparent. So with a bit more re-jigging the Mash Tun pump was hooked up too and hopefully a initial brewday embarrassment avoided.

The mini-triumph of having all the brewhouse components in place was tempered by the numerous pipes and fittings that we hadn't found a spot for. So suppressing the urge to dismiss these as "spares", and thus return to our previous self-satisfied sense of minor achievement, we figured them out as Cleaning-In-Place and overflow pipes and appropriate locations were found for these too. And thus our self-congratulations were fit to continue, personally I may have gone to far with this though, as when we took a quick spin to the local shops for tea and crumpet, (to continue the cricket theme), we found ourselves surrounded by numerous cars waving flags and beeping loudly. The lead car was even waving a trophy, so naturally I assumed the congregated masses were even more enthusiastic than ourselves about our successful assembly job just completed, which brought on some small worry, as I hadn't even prepared a speech. Or in fact even 'phoned ahead to say that we'd just finished; how had they all known? However, as some of the more realistic members of our crew pointed out, the celebrations were in fact for a cup winning team coming from the neighbouring GAA ground. Which I suppose in retrospect makes more sense...

Anyway we left the brewhouse that night, not with a trophy under our arm, but happy that one more step on our brewing journey has been taken.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Dear Santa, All I want for Christmas is a Forklift Truck.

For the last few weeks we've been like kids waiting for Christmas morning, knowing that big and shiny brewing equipment was traversing the ocean ready to be delivered to our rather bare looking unit. Though it's probably just as well for actual kids that one of Santa's less publicised magical powers include the ability to by-pass customs or there'd be rather a lot of upset children on Christmas morning being wholly unimpressed by assurances that, "As soon as the customs have their paperwork in order, your presents will be on their way". But being more stoical than the average present-hungry child we were able to bear a couple of days delay, well, stoically.

In the end, the stuff did arrive only few days overdue, on a chilly Monday night and the assembled crew set to work unloading it from the two large containers that arrived on our doorstep. (Or arrived on our slightly inclined ramp leading to the shutter, for accuracy fans.) Having never seen the brewery in-situ when it resided in America, I was keen to get my first glimpse of it in the flesh. My first impressions were, yes this is definitely a brewery, and secondly how are we going to move this definite brewery's many heavy looking components?

We'd roped Bill and Ger into service for the night to help with "Operation Unload Brewery" by saying that we wouldn't like them any more if they didn't help. And luckily enough that bit of emotional blackmail worked as the unloading proved to be a job for the full five-a-side team. We'd also roped into service, a sturdy looking pallet truck, who's services we'd secured by paying the appropriate fee to a company who hires out such items. We'd also picked up some ropes, that didn't need to be roped into anything, it being after all, the essence of their existence.

So after the few mandatory quips about how this might be "Trouble", we got to work. As the equipment had been previously-loved, as the salesman patter goes, we knew that we might see the residue of the brewery's previous life. We got a first-hand insight into what had been last brewed, as when we were dragging one of of the conditioning tanks it seemed particularly heavy, and speculated that the cause might just be an unsolicited beer delivery. So just to be sure, we popped the valve at the bottom and out poured what looked like what was once a dark ale. We emptied three or four tanks in this way and thus about 800 litres of very stale beer went running across the yard and down the drain. Normally the sight of that much beer being wasted would've been a source of anguish, we were just relieved that it made our lifting job that much easier.

The basic process, which I can relate from our full three hours of brewery moving experience, is: drop tank on it's side, gingerly lower it onto the ground and then on to a pallet again and hence into the unit. A process we repeated a considerable number of times in the course of the next three hours, the equipment being more plentiful and a lot heavier than I'd originally imagined. Next time I'm going to borrow a forklift truck and use that for moving stuff. I now have an insight into why they're popular with people in the pallet moving game.

Anyway at the end of a hard days work, that's one more hurdle cleared and we're one step closer to producing that first pint.

The next adventure will be converting Irish juice (as electricity is know in electrician's vernacular) in to American juice, to make the equipment work. Apparently it's not quite as straight-forward as buying one of those transformer plugs that are on sale in the airport...

Friday, September 18, 2009

Work in progress

It's not much to look at, but this dusty little unit will shortly be the home of Ireland's newest micro brewery. It needs a bit of a scrub and a lick of paint but everything will be in order for the arrival of our 10 US barrels (1175) litres) brew house next month. How long after that before you can try the tasty beer we will produce, I hear you ask? It's hard to say, financial pressure behoves us to get on it quick, but the beer itself won't be rushed. Quality beer takes time to mature and we won't be skipping any of the steps.

This project is two years in the planning. It took us time to get all the essential parts together, as well as deal with time wasting civil servants who held us up for months on the promise of a few quid towards our capital budget, and then refused to back us. But such is life in business and I doubt very much it will be the only time we deal with such unhelpful people.

We're still shuffling the vast amount of paperwork that is required to open a brewery in Ireland, but things are steadily coming together, including the equipment itself which will shortly set sail from Canada and roll the waves of the Atlantic for some two weeks before stopping off briefly in Liverpool, and then zigzagging back across the Irish Sea to Dublin.

We hope you'll come along with us on our journey to the realisation of our dream to produce quality, distinctive and flavourful beer for the people of Ireland initially, and the rest of the world in the future - it wouldn't be fair to keep it all to ourselves, now would it?

Stay tuned for future developments and that all important launch date in the coming months.