Lightning Strikes New Belgium Brewery

One afternoon this August, while I was brewing, a thunderstorm blew in
suddenly. There was a clap of thunder so loud that I jumped. Pressing my
nose to the screens in the brew office windows, I sniffed the air for ozone.
I was frightened by the intensity of the thunderclap. It began raining. I
shrugged it off and kept brewing.

A little bit later, I took a look to see how the malt transporting was going
for the next brew. I thought it was odd that only 500KG of malt had been
moved when the program had been running for some time. I walked out to the
malt building to see what was up. When I opened the door, I was overwhelmed
by the hot electrical smell of overheated motors. Malt was falling from the
ceiling. Something was seriously wrong.

Trying hard not to panic, I ran to a computer and tried to shut the program
down. It didn’t respond. I tried turning motors off and closing valves, but
nothing happened. As a last resort, I hit the red emergency stop button,
cutting off power to the building. As the frantic whining of the motors
wound down, I stood in the dark with my heart pounding.

Little did I know, but lightning had touched down close enough to knock out
the controller in the malt building. Did it actually hit the building?
Perhaps. No one knows for sure. It could have hit the ground, a metal
dumpster, or one of those errant stainless steel chickens that live in the
back of the old brew house. Although the controller went down, everything
kept running. Pale malt from Silo #9 kept blowing into the hopper on top of
the wet mill in BH2. And it kept going. And going. And going. The hopper
filled up; then the pipe coming off the hopper; then the length of pipe
going across the North/South Bridge; then the combi-cleaner filled up. You
get the picture. The entire system was packed solid with Pale malt.

We ascertained that the entire system – from the silo to the wetmill – was
packed with pale malt. Solid. We brainstormed a plan of action.

To unclog the line we had to mash what was in the hopper. None of us knew
the exact volume of the hopper, and we weren’t sure it would all fit in the
mash tun. But we had to try. So I stood at the man way as the mash tun
reached capacity, radioing to Alex as the level crept dangerously close to
the door. We just squeaked it in, stopping about two feet away from messy
disaster. We gave it a 30-minute mash just like Fat Tire. Lautering went
fine. We hopped it identically to Fat Tire. Obviously, it’s not very Amber
Ale-ish. Kind of like a fortified Trippel without the psycho esters and
boatloads of Saaz hops. Once it was done fermenting, we added 7 gallons of
Everclear – errr, I mean it was filtered and carbonated.

Little did we know how fantastic it would turn out! Tasting it off the
fermenter after it reached terminal gravity, I couldn’t believe it. I poured
a few tasters and immediately took some to our brew master and his
assistant. They liked it better than Tandem. I half jokingly presented it to
Peter as the strong blonde he wanted to brew. No joke, he agreed.

So how does the story end? Drunkenly,’natch. After we had the White
Lightning brewing along, we had to deal with the rest of the cluster-
problem- thing. The line was still packed solid. Breaking the malt
transport line open on the North/South pipe fence just outside of the boiler
room, we turned on the blower (that’s the thing that blows the malt from the
silo into the brewhouse). Malt gushed out of that pipe like a snowmaking
machine. It was over ankle deep all over the back driveway that runs along
the back of brewhouse two. It took a couple hours of shoveling to get most
of it up, not to mention the hours of sweeping later that week. We blew
malt under all of the fermenters outside of the cellar West tunnel.
Everywhere. Then we broke the line apart in the malt building and did the
same thing. Then we disconnected the combi-cleaner and shoveled that thing
out. Miraculously, there was no damage to any of the equipment. Adam came
in and reset the controller, and the m alt building fired right back up.

I went home sometime after midnight with malt in my underwear.

This beer, now called Devil’s Advocate, can be sampled only in the tasting
room here at New Belgium. – Bill Hepp, brewer, New Belgium Brewing Company