Some words of wisdom

by Jamie Martin, Brewmaster, Dells Brewing Co.

Controlled Experiments - As a brewer you should always be learning and trying to improve your beer. Running a controlled experiment from time to time can give you situational knowledge specific to your equipment that you can’t get from a textbook or article. First and foremost make sure you have the basics of brewing down before you start to change things; you can only learn from experimentation if you understand the process and what normally happens. A few guidelines: Only change one thing per brew. This could be anything like using 2-Row Copeland instead of 2-Row Metcalfe barley, mashing a degree or two higher or lower than normal, or adding your hop addition 10 minutes sooner or later then normal. These incremental changes are small and subtle, usually only you will notice in the final product. If someone has a pint at your brewery and then comes back two months later, they shouldn’t be able to detect a change in the beer, but if they come back a year later, they should find your beer has improved 100%. Those subtle changes may not change the flavor profile much, but our goal should always be improving the overall quality of the entire beer.

Write everything down - Everything that happens in the brewery should be written down; the good the bad and the ugly! First of all it’s the law. We produce alcohol and need to have detailed account of the process and the materials involved in producing our beer. Second, if something goes wrong you’ll need to be able to research that particular batches process and material bill to locate where the problem occurred and correct it. Recording each step also creates a great reference library for you. If you document mistakes and your troubleshooting process, then later, if a similar problem arises, you’ll have a record of the steps and missteps you took previously and you can avoid wasted time and frustration. Your record can also be used as an invaluable training tool for your support staff.

Stay on top of your Taxation paperwork - It is equally important to stay on top of your tax paperwork and filings. Getting behind, not doing them, cheating on them, or doing them incorrectly can bring down a brewery faster than anything!

When building your brewery plan ahead - Don’t just build the brewery so it is comfortable for you to work in, make sure anybody can, big or small; if you are 6’2″ don’t make the connections for the CIP so high that someone who’s 5′ 2″ can’t reach them. You don’t want to be the only one who can physically work in your brewery or make it so uncomfortable that no one else will want to work there.

Equipment & Parts supplies - It is vitally important to back up all essential equipment; this means temperature controllers, pump rebuilding kits, beer pumps, CO2 tanks, anything vital to the brewing process that might take a day or two to replace. Because when it breaks, and it will break, it will happen when you’re in the middle of something very important! This is kind of a hard one for new owners to grasp at first because it means a fair amount of capital is tied up in equipment that is just sitting on the shelf not being used. But remember Murphy’s Law, “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong!” and then the brewer’s postscript “at the worst possible time!”

Due to the nature of our business, it is imperative to have the ability to fix equipment when it breaks, or at least have the part on hand for the repairman. Waiting a couple of days for parts can mean thousands of dollars in product lost. Isn’t that worse than forking out a couple hundred dollars to make sure the back up parts you need are always on hand?

New and Reassembled Equipment - Always test with water first when reassembling or receiving new equipment. This way you do not endanger product if there is a leak or malfunction.

Equipment Repair - Try and fix broken equipment yourself. (within reason, know what you are doing before tackling dangerous systems containing harmful gases or electrical dangers) You are probably better at this then you realize and it is the best way to learn. I am not a mechanic and I can fix about 50% of the things that break in my brewery and the percentage is getting better all the time. If you take a piece of equipment apart and try and fix it and it doesn’t work, well it was already broken so all you lost was a little time. When your repair person arrives to fix the problem, ask him to show you how to do it, take notes, maybe that way you can fix it yourself next time. You’re not just paying for a repair now; you’re paying for repair instruction.

Start a Tasting Panel - I know we all like to think we are our own worst critics but in reality we know how hard we have worked on a beer and what it should taste like; this can screw our perception of flavor. Starting a tasting panel will give you valuable outside opinions, suggestions, and insight to your beer. This can only make you a better brewer. It is imperative that the taste panel be blind. You don’t want a bunch of yes men that just tell you how wonderful your beer is in order to stay on your tasting panel. (It happens!) Blind tasting with beers other than yours is the only way to get real unbiased opinions on your beer. It is great to have people on the taste panel with different flavor thresholds than your own. I know I am not very sensitive to IBU’s (I find an 80 IBU beer enjoyable) but having input from of someone who is sensitive or has a separate style preference than my own is very helpful.

Don’t skimp on safety! – Bad backs and bad livers are the curse of brewers. Take care of yourself as well as you take care of your beer.
- Kegs – In my brewery I have a rule that no one lifts a keg alone; we team lift.
- CO2 Safety – CO2 is unbelievably dangerous and we are around it all day; take every precaution to minimize your exposure. Don’t stand in a cooler while a keg is filling or by a tank that is depressurizing.
- Chemicals – Since we work with chemicals all day it is very easy to become complacent around them. You need to always have your chemical gloves , rubber boots, safety goggles, and mask on when working with chemicals. Not only is it important for the immediate action (no on likes chemical burns) but these chemicals can pose a long term health risk from repeated exposure.
- Liver – Finally, yes most of our meetings and social events involve drinking; but don’t forget the water and drink in moderation. You and your liver are not invincible.