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Lightning Strikes New Belgium Brewery

Nov 10, 2004 - One afternoon this August, while I was brewing, a thunderstorm blew in

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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


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