Saturday, June 30, 2007

Pink Boots at New Belgium

"It’s rather nice to think of oneself as a sailor bending over the map of one’s mind and deciding where to go and how to go." ~Katherine Mansfield

June 27: Met Grady Hull at 9:00 am, and he introduced me to Alex Dwoinen. Grady and Alex tag-teamed on giving me tours of various parts of New Belgium's extensive brewery. Then I sat in the nice air conditioned brewery control room (with six computer monitors!) and Mike Cothran showed me New Belgium's brewing control program with it's impressive graphics of all the systems.

I had watched the brewers work the control programs at Deschutes, Sierra Nevada, and Stone, but now finally my brain was catching up and I seemed to follow what the brewers were doing on screen better. Grady, Alex, Mike and Matt Gilliland came and went from the control room as needed, but we all managed to gather on the brewhouse floor for the photo above. (Left to right: Teri, Alex, Matt, Grady and Mike.) Note the mosaic tile around the base of the kettle near my boots.

Now, lest anyone think that the kettle above is only 3-feet high at the hip, please be assured that a 200-barrel kettle is much taller than it looks because it continues on down to the next floor.

New Belgium has lots of capacity built into their system. They have a 100-barrel brewhouse as well as this 200-barrel brewhouse, but they only use the 200-barrel system these days. However, once the hot and thirsty days of summer are truly upon us, they will no doubt fire up the "little" 100-barrel guy. They do not currently have a pilot brewery, but the brewers think about it often.

New Belgium only uses their 200-barrel brewery because of efficency, which means using the least amount of energy, resources and labor required to produce the most beer. It takes a lot of energy to heat up a big tank full of liquid, and if it's hot to begin with, that makes the job more efficient. The theory is, why heat up two kettles for 12 hours a day, if you can heat up one kettle for 24 hours per day? So that's what they do.

After spending the morning in the brewhouse, I spent part of the afternoon in the cellar with Mikey "P." Mikey says he used to work all over Michigan - at Bells, Atwater and other breweries. He quit the brewing business and moved to Colorado to be a ski bum. Perhaps the lift tickets were too spendy, but Mikey ended up working at a winery instead of skiing. His buddy told him of an opening at New Belgium, and he's been back in the brewing business ever since.

Mikey showed me some really nifty things that New Belgium does to recapture energy, including a heat exchanger that runs beer in both directions. Yup, you read that right. They don't rely on their glycol systems to cool beer or wort; the glycol systems are just to keep liquids cold. They use heat exchangers to cool or heat all liquids. Thus, one cold beer can be used to cool down another beer. Ask Mikey. He'll explain it.

One other nifty thing New Belgium does, is that they have a four-unit doser that can dose hop pellets (or spices) into a kettle without opening the manway. This is a much safer system as it avoids the possibility of injury and keeps the heat in. Mike Cothran showed me how the four units worked. I told him New Belgium should name the four units after the Beatles. After all, they are the Fab Four.

At the end of the day Alex lead us to the very crowded tasting room (known as the Liquid Center) where we tasted all their Belgian and sour beers (yum) and I met John Rich's wife, Ailey for the first time (please email me the correct spellings). Alex was kind enough to send us home with a bunch of goodies including a hoodie for me, a baseball hat for Jon, two mixed cases of beer, and a 750 ml bottle of Le Folie, because everybody needs to have a folly. Mine is spending money on gasoline. What is yours?

Jon and I spent a quiet evening sitting in our camp loveseat on the gravel back lot behind New Belgium. We watched some of the staff practice their volleyball shots in anticipation of tomorrow's big employee game. Jon read while I wrote "Thank You" post cards to the people at the breweries that had welcomed and hosted me during this trip. We enjoyed some cold New Belgium beer and I saw a red fox lurking about New Belgium's equipment bone yard. The cottonwood trees lost most of their cotton in the breeze. The wastewater treatment plant 's methane burner burped flames now and then. And the sun set slowly, leaving just a hint of pink in the darkening sky.

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