Adventures in Fermentation: Glycol Chiller Blues

Now that our first beer is out on tap, let us tell you a tale about the brew.

The only thing that kept us going through our 27 hour brew day was the awesome thought of creating a good tasting beer for people to enjoy. It’s the reason we we brew – to provide good beer to others.

But brewing doesn’t stop at the end of the brew day. There is the fermentation period where 1-2 degrees difference in temperature can change how the beer tastes. This is an important step that we were watching closely – hoping, praying nothing went wrong.

Now that the exposition is out of the way, let me tell you the tale. It is a tale of perseverance, bad fortune, witchcraft, love, revenge and awesomeness.

It all started on the Tuesday evening following our first brew. Captain Chris Enegren arrived at the brewery to find a large puddle of liquid on the floor. Having never fermented beer in a 6bbl fermentor, and seeing no beer on the floor, Chris thought to himself “Hmmmm, there is a lot more condensation on the floor than I would have thought. Oh well, everything looks good here, off to the hardware store.”

Chris, like anyone starting a small craft brewery, had to go to the hardware store yet again. (A recurring theme in this blog.) So off he went thinking sweet things about the brewery and the beer, unaware of the demons he’d be fighting later that night.

While at the hardware store, Commander Matt arrived at the brewery. Like the Captain, he saw a puddle of liquid on the floor. But he wasn’t as quick to rationalize it to condensation.

He walked up to it and touched it. “Slimy” he thought. The word mulled over in his head for a bit.

Slimy.

His mind raced as he traced back through all the different liquids in the brewery. Water, not slimy. Beer, not slimy. Yeast…

And then mid-thought it hit him like a ton of malt. He distinctly remembered Chief Joe slipping and nearly falling on some glycol he spilt while filling up the chiller.

Panic set in on his face as he immediately reached for his phone and dialed Chris while simultaneously running toward the glycol chiller.

“Hello Matthew” Chris answered.
“Uh Chris, I think the glycol chiller is leaking.”
“No, it’s just condensation.”
“No, it’s slippery,” Matt said. “I’m looking at the pump right now and glycol is spilling out of it”

Chris’ response can not be shared on this blog.

Chris hastily paid and left the hardware store, thinking only of beer. He’d later admit that after the teller checked him out and said “thank you” he muttered “beer” instead of “you’re welcome” as he ran toward the car.

glycol pump downMeanwhile Matt was furiously removing the 12 screws that held the panel over the pump. He finished just as Chis got home.

What ensued was a healthy mix of panic and chaos. Panic and chaos only one would understand if they had just spent the last year of their life building a brewery, then brewing for 27 straight hours, then realizing that your first batch might fail because of a busted pump.

But out of the disarray, out of the madness, one thought remained clear. We would not let this beer down.

Taking a step back, Chris remembered that he had the cell phone number for Jim, President and CEO of Pro Refrigeration, makers of our glycol chiller.

He called it.

“Jim, our glycol chiller pump is leaking all over the brewery. We have our first batch of beer in the fermentor. What do we do?”

“Calm down son” Jim replied “It’s probably a pump seal that needs replacing. We can fix you up first thing in the morning”

“Awesome” said Chris in response to this excellent customer service. “However, if we wanted to take apart the pump and try to fix it tonight by ourselves, would we void any warranty or anything?”

“Nope, go right ahead and try.”

They barely had said their goodbyes when Chris hung up the phone determined to take apart and rebuild the pump.

This turned out to be a mistake. They had to take off the impeller. The Impeller was glued tot he pump shaft. Removing it cut up both Chris and Matt’s hands. They spilled glycol everywhere and, though not toxic, it stung their cuts like rubbing alcohol. And despite taking apart and putting the pump back together several times, it continued to leak.

They went to bed at 1am defeated, frustrated. They were covered in glycol and worried something horrible would befoul the beer.

However, as promised, Chris got a call first thing in the morning from Pro Refrigeration. They called just about every pump repair service station in the area and found a place in Ventura able to fix the pump. Chris took a day off from work and drove there to get the pump repaired. pump repair storeThe place took it apart, commented that everything looked fine, replaced the mechanical seal and put it back together.

Chris hurried back to the brewery wishing he was an ambulance, police car or something with a siren.

It was a hot day in Ventura with temperatures pushing 95 degrees. The longer it took to get the pump back online, the warmer the beer would get. Time was of the essence.

Chris got to the brewery and literally sprinted from his car to the brewery. Had he not been driving, he probably would have attempted one of those tuck-and-roll stunts out of moving cars you see in the movies.

It was a good thing he was driving. Such antics could have damaged the pump.

Chris mounted the pump with great speed, wired it back in, connected the pipes and took a deep breath as he turned it on.

Leak. One big fat leak. Glycol spilling everywhere.

Once again, some things were said that can’t be repeated here.

Chris called Pro Refrigeration again and explained the issue. They made some phone calls and found that the same store Chris was just at could build a brand new pump right quick.

Chris ran back to his car and drove to Ventura, this time wishing he had some sort of rocket jet.

He got the pump, drove back to the brewery, wired the pump in, connected the pipes, took a deep breath and turned it on.

Leak. One big, huge, fat, gigantic glycol everywhere leak.

But wait a minute. WAIT A MINUTE. The leak was coming from a different area. The leak looked like it was coming from one of the drain nuts on the pump head.

Frantically Chris removed the nut. No gasket.

Luckily, thanks to our homebrew days we had extra corny keg gaskets. Chris found one, put it in, sealed the pump back together and turned her on.

Chris swears he watched it for 30 straight minutes to make sure, but there was no leak. The chiller was fixed.

When all was said and done, the beer temperature only increased 2 degrees. And now our beer is on tap and tastes pretty good if we do say so ourselves. We just hope we don’t have to repeat this process our next brew to get the same flavor.

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6 Responses to “Adventures in Fermentation: Glycol Chiller Blues”

  1. Salina says:

    Congrats on the first brew! When will the tasting room be open for pints and growlers?

  2. Our grand opening will be the weekend of July 29th. We will have tasters and growlers – unfortunately our Conditional Use Permit prevents us from selling pints.

  3. Fireman Dave says:

    Had the beer at Lemmo’s Bar and Grill with dinner on Brianne’s birthday. You could taste the love… and hops.

    You can check the “job well done” box.

  4. Joe says:

    This has been a very interesting journey you have shared with us all. I’m am proud to say I have been a part of it and I wish you the utmost success. I truly hope to find a way of finally enjoying some of it too.
    I look forward to many more of your interesting stories and adventures.

    Congratulations and Best of Luck!

  5. Mario says:

    Is your conditional use permit from the city, ABC or some other organization? Can it be changex in the future?

  6. Hi Mario,

    Our CUP is from the city. It can be changed in the future, but the city has to approve any changes.

    Cheers!
    EBC

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