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Geoff Fischer

Geoff is a former professional craft brewer with over 15 years’ experience supplying ingredients to both breweries and distilleries. He has taken brewing courses at UC Davis, Distilling courses at the  Siebel Institute and completed the IBD General Certificate in Distilling

Tim Roberts

Tim is a veteran of the brewing industry, having been a professional brewer for over twenty years. After working in pubs for a decade, he found his way to Yards Brewing Company as Head Brewer and Production Manager in 2008. There, he helped build two breweries and grow the brand from 5,000 to 45,000BBL/year, while garnering multiple GABF and World Beer Cup medals. Also active in the MBAA, serving as Membership Chair for District Philadelphia, he embarked on a new career path with the Country Malt Group in 2019 as Territory Manager in the mid-Atlantic.

CJ Penzone

CJ Penzone got his start in the brewing industry at age 19 working as a beer server and part-time packaging assistant for Fegley’s Brew Works. His brewing journey continued for 7 years including stops at Troegs Independent Brewing, The Siebel Institute of Technology, and as the founding Head Brewer at Wallenpaupack Brewing Company where he developed a Northeast Pennsylvania favorite “Paupack Cream Ale”. He is now an Inside Sales Representative for Country Malt Group covering the Mid-Atlantic region.

Zach Grossfeld

Zach Grossfeld is a sales representative for the smaller craft segment of CMG, happily helping support businesses navigate ingredient sourcing. He previously was a brewer in Portland, OR focusing on hop forward beers as well as lagers and barrel-aged products. He has an enthusiasm for all things food and drink and is usually spending time with his dog Moe.

John Egan

John Egan is an experienced brewer who hails from the craft beer mecca of San Diego, CA. His career in beer has been spent working in all areas of the brewery, from brewing and packaging to operations and management. John currently holds the position at Country Malt Group as territory sales manager for Southern California, Arizona, and Hawaii.

Grant Lawrence

Grant Lawrence holds a degree in Agricultural Economics from Louisiana State University and later studied Food Science there as part of LSU’s graduate program. As an avid homebrewer for over a decade, Grant became a BJCP Certified Beer Judge in 2013. He also has professional brewing experience with Saint Arnold Brewing Co in Houston, TX. Currently, Grant works as a Sales Manager for Country Malt Group covering the South Central areas of the United States. During his time at Country Malt, Grant earned his Certificate in Malting from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling. Grant also writes and co-hosts The Brew Deck podcast in addition to his technical sales role.












Tales From This Episode:

  • The Duct Tape Truck Driver: under pressure duct-taped hose to brewery’s downspout to fill the tank. 

  • All Problems (Man-made or Otherwise): Shattered glass, swaying tanks, and silver linings.  

  • The Safety Golden Rule: Priority, pressure, and procedures to do things right. Don’t make the same mistakes. 

  • Skittles and Lactose: Taste the beer, not the rain-bro after putting in one pack at a time. 

  • The Sticky Situation: Lesson learned to always check tank before starting any stout process. 

  • The Tale of the Missing Scrub Brush Mystery and how somebody’s building a brewery – piece by piece. 

  • Items in Tanks: Everything from birds and ball-point pens to flashlights and glasses. 

  • The Danger Zone: How distractions can lead to loss of beer and people possibly getting hurt. 

Transcript - Tales from the BrewDeck



[00:00:01] TT: Next up on stage here, Geoff Fischer, who’s been on the podcast before. Welcome back, Geoff. How are you?
[00:00:07] GF: Okay, I’m great, Toby. Thank you for having me again, especially on an interesting idea of some strange things that we’ve seen in our industry or come across.
[00:00:17] TT: Yeah. If you don’t remember, Geoff’s been on several times. He is our territory manager who covers Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia. Alongside with me again is my buddy, Grant Lawrence, who’s our South Central territory manager. Hey, Grant.
[00:00:32] GL: Hey, Toby. Glad to be on as always and to hear some spooky stories.
[00:00:37] TT: Yeah, Geoff. Thanks for jumping on a little teaser there about October. We thought about doing something unique and it’s Halloween and spooky stuff. We thought it’d be cool to reach out to some of our team members and talk to them about past experiences either in the brewhouse, or the taproom, or amongst the stainless, you name it, about just some strange or wild or crazy story. I’ve heard you got one. So, Geoff, it’s all you, buddy.
[00:00:59] GF: Oh, thanks again, Toby. I think the strangest and scariest story that I’ve ever really come across is when a brewery was receiving a load of bulk malt from a vendor. We’ll leave everybody nameless on this one. Apparently, it was a brand new driver. He had never delivered before, or at least on his own. He showed up early in the morning, about six o’clock, pulled this hose off, and went to hook it up to the silo.
When he went to the connection, he found that he couldn’t lock his end on it, and he tried a few different ways. Apparently, he still just didn’t […] lock that hose on. What did he do? He went to his truck and grabbed the universal connector—a big roll of duct tape—and he duct-taped this hose into a pipe. He went back, which seemed to hold, so he fired up his truck and started blowing malt.
Things went along smoothly for a little bit, and he noticed he was getting a lot of backpressure. He figured he just turned up the pressure on the truck and started blowing. It started moving again, and crank up the pressure, crank up the pressure. It seemed a little unusual to him but again, he didn’t seem to have a lot of experience. He kept ramping up the pressure until it basically plugged. He couldn’t get any more, and so he figured that he had filled the silo completely up. He plugged in the pipe, and he thought that maybe the silo hadn’t been empty. They told him it was going to be empty, but maybe it wasn’t.
He went, cut the duct tape, pulled it, and the malt started spilling out of the pipe. He finally goes to get someone from the brewery. They come out, and they realize that there’s a really big problem here. Apparently, he had duct-taped his hose to the downspout of the building, meaning they had a flat roof, and there were five or six collection drains up on the roof that fed to a central downspout, and the downspout runs between the two upright silos. There are two silos there, and it’s just a pipe coming out of the wall, and he duct-taped his thing to there. Up on the roof, there were five or six piles of malt where it blew up onto the roof. I don’t know how many thousands upon thousands of pounds went up.
[00:03:17] TT: It’s like a geyser. Nobody saw these clouds of malt exploding up on the rooftop?
[00:03:22] GF: Got stuff on the roof? Yeah.
[00:03:24] GL: Back up for a second. You said universal connector pretty early on in that story. Are you talking about one of those big Camlock fittings?
[00:03:36] GF: The universal connector of everything is duct tape. A giant roll of duct tape will connect anything to anything.
[00:03:45] TT: Oh, man. Geoff, are you serious, dude? Are you serious here?
[00:03:49] GF: This seriously happened.
[00:03:52] GL: The four-inch tube coming off the pneumatic truck is round, and I guess I tend to see square downspouts. I take it this was a round downspout?
[00:04:04] GF: Yeah. I think it was just a PVC pipe. They had all these different pipes that ran up and under the roof, and they connected to a central downspout. I’m fairly certain it was a four-inch PVC pipe basically coming out from the wall and would run the water somewhere else that he tied into that.
[00:04:21] TT: Yeah. Oh my gosh.
[00:04:25] GF: Needless to say, that driver was never requested back again. They had to get snakes and roto-route around all the piping and get the malt off the roof before it started causing structural issues.
[00:04:37] GL: You’re telling me there were 48,000 pounds of malt on the roof?
[00:04:42] GF: I don’t know that it was that much. I think it was at least half a truck. I think it was 15,000 or 20,000 pounds somewhere. Somewhere in that system, there was a lot of malt.
[00:04:52] TT: I can only envision that happening and watching somebody do that. You see the downspouts shaking tremendously on the side of the wall because of all the pressure blowing that malt up there. That is crazy.
What were the lessons here? You got number one; duct tape. First of all, if I got to duct tape anything, it’s half-assed. Duct tape is a cure for issues that you have no idea what you’re doing, or you just need a quick fix. Anytime you’re using duct tape, it’s probably you’re using it because it’s not the right application, right?
[00:05:22] GF: Pretty much, yeah. That’s why it’s the universal connector.
[00:05:28] GL: What happened after? They got up there; you said they roto-routed out; I’m guessing they have one of those kinds of snake auger things just like you clean out a drain pipe. I’m guessing that, but I’m sure they had to sweep it up.
[00:05:43] GF: Oh, yeah. Bucket lifted off. There were guys up on the roof because they had to shovel it and get it down. I didn’t see the complete cleanup. I heard about it and saw some pictures and the aftermath, but I know that they had to get a Roto-Rooter, like an industrial drain snaking company, put 100 feet of augering snake up, clear it out, and get the malt out of everything was my understanding, and that was taken care of. It’s always one of those urban legends, although I did see some photos of it. And I knew the people involved, the firsthand people. It wasn’t ‘I heard it from a guy who heard it from the guy.’
To me, the biggest lesson to take from that if anyone listening in our industry is if you get bulk malt or you’re thinking about getting bulk malt, each time there’s a delivery, have someone from the brewhouse or the company at least present when the guy begins to hook up to start his blow. Just make sure it’s going where it’s supposed to go.
[00:06:36] TT: I think the other thing is if you’re unsure—whether it’s driving bulk malt or it could be anything—just ask somebody, right?
[00:06:46] GF: Yeah.
[00:06:47] TT: Don’t make assumptions and just, I’ll hook this pipe up here. It’d be good.
[00:06:51] GF: Right, especially it’s different from what they taught me, but hey…
[00:06:56] GL: I think that inadvertently they created a whole new kind of malt. You’ve heard of floor malting.
[00:07:02] GF: Oh my God.
[00:07:04] GL: Now you’ve got roof malting.
[00:07:08] TT: Downspout pail.
[00:07:09] GF: That would have been a great idea. One-off of downspout pale malt, never mind the little taste of tar and grit in there.
[00:07:16 ]TT: Geoff, that is a great story, and I’m glad you shared it with us. I’m thinking at the end of these, with the rest of the team, Grant, we vote on which is the craziest, strangest story. I think Geoff, you’re up there for sure at this point.
[00:07:30] GL: It’s certainly an epic fail.
[00:07:32] GL: Well, thank you, gentlemen. I’ve been around at least enough time to see or hear some strange things, and when you told us you were looking for some strange, spooky stories, that was the first one that popped into my mind. It’s definitely one of the weirdest things I’ve ever come across.
[00:07:45] TT: And a good one it is. Geoff, I appreciate you sharing. Let’s go on to the next one. Geoff, have a fantastic rest of the day. We’ll chat soon. Okay, buddy.
[00:07:53] GF: Thanks, Toby. Thanks, Grant.
[00:07:54] GL: See you.
[00:07:57] TT: See you. All right, man. I’m loving this episode, Grant. The first one from Fisher was awesome, and I’m going to venture to guess Tim Roberts’ history in brewing, that he has some cray-cray stories as well as some strange stories. For those of you who don’t know, Tim Roberts joined us on the podcast before. He’s no stranger to us, and he’s actually a territory manager for Country Malt Group for Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, DC, Delaware, Connecticut, Rhode Island. Did I get that right?
[00:08:24] TR: You got it right.
[00:08:25] TT: Nice, the first time I’m right. Tim, thanks for joining us. I’m interested, and I’ll preface by asking this question to you and let the listeners know that Grant and I have no idea what you all are talking about. We simply invited some team members on to tell us some strange or crazy stories. We are hearing it for the first time like everybody else is, so it’s pretty exciting stuff.
[00:08:45] TR: I’ve unfortunately had a little bit too much excitement in my brewing career, and I’m happy to tell you a couple of stories for sure. No problem at all, Toby.
[00:08:54] TT: I’m ready. You ready, Grant?
[00:08:55] GL: I’m ready. Let’s do it.
[00:09:02] TR: I was kind of thinking about talking to an old co-worker, kind of looking back, and I would categorize them as all problems in general. I would call them man-made or otherwise. Let’s start with the otherwise category. Get off on the right foot, so I don’t look so bad right away.
I live in Philadelphia, and it’s not Texas, it’s not California; we don’t really have natural disasters up here. But oddly enough, in the same summer in 2011, there was both a hurricane and an earthquake in the Philadelphia area. The hurricane came first, which, probably not a hurricane by Texas or Kansas standard, but for us, it was pretty intense. In fact, we moved into this old brewery building that had these huge corrugated glass windows. There were those deals with half-inch thick glass. The windows themselves were steel-framed and probably about 12 feet by 15 feet.
When that hurricane came through, I was up in the office, and I heard just a boom, and sure enough, those huge panels came in. Those things must have easily weighed 300–400 pounds apiece, and thank God no one was underneath it. They shattered, and the good news – the silver lining – was we had the impetus to put proper windows in. It wasn’t all bad, especially in that no one was hurt.
Then later that summer, I was also sitting at my desk, and I was making schedules, or recipes, or whatever it was, and I felt a rattling. Again, I was in an earthquake once in Mexico, but I don’t ever expect this kind of stuff in Pennsylvania. Things are shaking; what’s going on? There was a window overlooking the brewery. I stood up, looked out, and I saw our shift brewer, Matt Holm, just running for dear life.
Again, I laugh now because no one was hurt. I talked to him about it, and he said he felt the earth moving a little bit, but the scary part (of course) was those tanks. There were 200 barrel fermenters at that point, so they were about 20–22 feet tall, something like that, just swaying and back and forth.
[00:10:53] GL: Oh wow.
[00:10:55] TR: Yeah, I know. That window would hurt you pretty badly, can kill you, but I know that tank would have killed him.
[00:11:02] TT: Gosh, that’s scary.
[00:11:02] TR: Yeah, we dodged the bullet for sure in that regard.
[00:11:05] TT: That’s interesting. You mentioned, Tim, both times you’re sitting at your desk, so maybe you shouldn’t sit at your desk?
[00:11:12] TR: Yeah, maybe bad things happen when I’m away, right?
[00:11:14] TT: When you’re working, yeah.
[00:11:15] TR: Yeah, right.
[00:11:16] GL: I never knew that there would be a hurricane and an earthquake in PA. That’s crazy. I mean the hurricane, the pressure differential thing, that certainly happens, but it’s not something anybody in PA is going to think about.
[00:11:29] GL: No, you don’t even think about it. I know when you buy tanks, you have to note if you’re in an earthquake-rated area, which we never bought tanks according to that kind of specs. That’s pretty unusual.
[00:11:41] GL: Whoa, all good, though. Nothing fell over, just swaying, and then chilled out?
[00:11:47] TR: Yeah. The glycol connections weren’t broken; nothing else was damaged. Thank God, I just saw some pictures of a domino kind of effect.
[00:11:57] TT: It was kind of scary.
[00:11:58] TR: All those tanks right next to each other.
[00:11:59] GL: If it had fallen, it would have burst.
[00:12:01] TR: Absolutely, it would have burst. God only knows what else. To me, a couple of these things, these stories that I might be able to tell, are scary. There’s a potential hazard, but at least in the 20 years that I was doing it, I never saw anyone or was never a witness to or working with anyone that was seriously hurt, which is always my biggest concern.
[00:12:22] GL: Oh, yeah. Luckily there.
[00:12:25] TT: So those are the ‘otherwise,’ I think that’s what you call those categories.
[00:12:27] TR: The man-made, I guess, how much am I to blame for all these things? I don’t know. My old co-workers would probably say 100%, and my kids would say 0%, probably in reality somewhere in between.
I don’t know if you guys have ever heard this, but one time I filled our water lines or supply lines with […], which sounds like a challenge. I’m always up for a challenge, and I achieved that challenge. What happened was we used a progressive cavity pump as our grain out pump, so it had to pump spent grain 20 feet straight up and about 120 feet back to a loading dock where our spent grain silos snap. You need some pressure to do that, so this progressive cavity pump and maybe those pumps in general, I guess I’d say they create between 180 and 200 psi.
[00:13:17] LG: They’re powerful for sure.
[00:13:18] TR: Yeah, that’ll do it. That’ll move the grain for sure, but we had water supply lines. I guess it was just one; it was just a city water supply line hooked up to it just to clean it out when you’re done. A brewer to be unnamed, left that valve open, so when the current shift brewer went to go grain out, unbeknownst to us—until the bottling crew came up running; I’ll get to that in a second—because the city water supplies at about 60 psi and that pump are about 180 or so—we all know who’s going to win that battle—and sure enough, as we’re graining out—I’m just picturing how slowly going through that, I guess it was just three-quarter-inch copper, moving, moving, moving—anytime anyone opened a valve anywhere it would move a little further down that line. Of course, we were also bottling and therefore rinsing. Of course, the rinse water goes through filters and blah-blah-blah. Sure enough, that spent grain, the bottling line guys came running over and was like, what is going on? We are clogging our […] with spent grain. It took me a couple of minutes to think about how that’s even possible, but yeah, sure enough. We got to clean it out and tried to sanitize all those lines again.
[00:14:24] GL: That’s wild.
[00:14:25] TR: Right, never heard of that one before, did you?
[00:14:28] GL: No, I didn’t think that was possible. When I was brewing, we had a similar thing, a big grain out thing, but we used CO2 to assist it if needed because it was kind of a long run to the spent grain tank, but no water lines hooked up to it.
[00:14:43] TR: It was not a pretty day.
[00:14:46] TT: How long did it take, Tim, to get that all cleaned up and back rolling for your packaging line?
[00:14:52] TR: If memory serves, we called it a day for the packaging line just because I think we might have just needed to push through whatever was in the line into kegs, just took our breath, took a step back, and clean those lines as best we could and resanitize them. Needless to say, none of those guys on those machines were all too happy with me. In that instance, we made one step forward that day with check valves.
[00:15:16] GL: That’s what I thought you were going to say was the check valve failed.
[00:15:20] TR: No, I wish I could have said it that day.
[00:15:23] TT: Probably for a bigger conversation, too. We talked to some of these; there are accidents, if you will. I mean, they happen, and I can imagine. I’m not a brewer by trade. You guys are, but there are so many different steps in the process and things that can happen along the way if SOPs aren’t followed.
Your story’s quite a bit. Anything can happen; it’s a matter of when and how. Just try to limit those by having those SOPs, this is what we do, this is the order we do them, and unfortunately, things can happen.
[00:15:55] TR: Going back again. At least no one was hurt, and a lot of those SOPs over the years, all of us have dealt with safety. Anyway, you’re kind of thinking do the best you can, but sometimes you can’t picture every scenario.
[00:16:09] GL: Were you able to isolate the water lines in the brewery, and flush them, and then somehow sanitize them or something?
[00:16:17] TR: We scorched earth, so we just opened everything that we could. Mercifully, the taproom was on a different supply line, so we didn’t have to worry about that. We were taking off […] and taking off everything. I just opened everything up and then filled it. I guess we just cleaned it with phos-nitric. We didn’t want caustic fluid, and that was that. I think we probably ran chlorinated water through all those lines, just in case also.
[00:16:38] GL: Interesting. It’s probably not very fun (I’m guessing) three days, two days?
[00:16:46] TR: No, it was about a day.
[00:16:47] GL: About a day, okay.
[00:16:48] TR: We’re bottling the next morning for sure. I guess we stopped brewing for a little bit, but beer waits for no man. I said earlier that I wasn’t sure who was to blame for this, but I’m looking over my list, which is, as I said, all too long.
I came upon one that it’s 100% my fault. What we did is we wanted to take our hot liquor tank—probably, Grant, you have some experiences, a lot of people listening might have experiences—where the steam jackets on tanks almost kind of the first place to go because of the heat stress and a stainless is pretty resistant to corrosion, but the heat stress is another thing altogether.
Jackets fail, and you get spider leaks, and then you know then what do you do? You try to weld those things; you’re just chasing your tail, in my opinion. What we did—it’s a good brewing tip, I think—is we put an external shell, a steam heat exchanger, and then a recirculation loop. It’s just a more efficient way to heat and a good salt. We can use this slightly damaged tank—no problem at all—with this external heat exchanger.
When we took everything apart, we took the spray ball out. As I said, beer doesn’t wait for anyone, so you kind of always rushing in production and production settings is my experience anyway. It should be functional, but then I’m looking at that tank, and the CIP arm is off a bit. Of course, there’s not really much use for it anymore. It’s kind of steaming. It’s not the end of the world. I was thinking I’m going to reduce that.
It was a big four-inch fitting on top to hold that assembly, and I said, we’re wasting too much energy, so I’m going to neck it down and put a tube to the ground. Obviously, I can’t seal it up, but I’m going to put a tube to the ground and kind of minimize that loss. I necked it right down from four-inch to an inch-and-a-half, ran a four-inch copper down to the ground, and it seems a little bit better off. Perfect, good job at the brewery, Tim Roberts. That’s a good day, mission accomplished, Until…
[00:18:36] GL: You’re talking about the CIP arm on the tanker; I guess the arm going to the top of the tank coming to the floor?
[00:18:43] TR: Well, it was an old brite beer tank, and so it has this sort of a standard CIP assembly that attaches the vessel with a four-inch clamp, then the spray ball, of course, went into it.
[00:18:54] GL: Oh, got it. Okay.
[00:18:55] TR: We took all that out because it was no longer being used as a brite tank. We kept it, and we would CIP it periodically, but I thought we didn’t need that. It’s only going to cause problems. So we took it.
[00:19:04] GL: Yeah, now I’m with you, okay. Just another place for gross things to hide and grow and things like that.
[00:19:09] TR: Yeah. Make your life easier, so we took it all off and just sealed it off for the most part. I ran the copper down to the ground, so it was still open to the atmosphere. The problem I learned, though, wasn’t quite […] to the atmosphere. Someone inevitably almost empties the hot liquor tank, and rather than getting the hot water from the wort chiller in the brewhouse, someone was cleaning, we’re using it up, so we had to refill it with cold water. I think I was brewing that, or at least I was on the floor. I hear this pop like gunshots. What was that?
[00:19:50] GL: Run, everybody run.
[00:19:51] TR: The steam part of it and the water that was in there already was at 190–200 degrees, something like that. When the cold city water in the winter hit it, it sucked it in. It sucked the tank, and because I had necked that down so much, it didn’t have enough vacuum relief.
The tank partially imploded, which […]. We learned our lesson and put another vent on there and the whole nine yards, but the terrible thing about it was, it was right in the path of the tours. Every tour I would do, inevitably, someone would say, why is that tanked in? Why is that? I would have to […] to it.
[00:20:28] TT: Keep on walking, nothing to see here.
[00:20:30] TR: Over and over again. In fact, a couple of years later, we had the CBC in Philadelphia. I swear to God, I think it’s true. I think I gave about 40 hours of tours that week or whatever those few days, just one after another hour tour after-hour tour. There was an egg on my face every hour, on the hour, the whole week.
00:20:49] GL: You had like a big sticker to put there.
[00:20:52] TT: Giant sign hanging up.
[00:20:56] RT: We even talked about blowing it out, putting pressure, and popping the jackets back out. I think that would have worked, but other than me working like an idiot, we didn’t have a whole lot to gain by that hazard.
[00:21:09]GL: Right, it’s kind of a risk even though it’s done pretty often by puffing it back out.
[00:21:16] TR: Yeah, exactly.
[00:21:17] GL: That’s crazy to think about a tank that big and still being open to the atmosphere, and you’re saying a one-inch line and still being able to implode. I’ve certainly heard of this, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard something like that happening, so I’m not too surprised, but just thinking of the physics of it kind of blows me away.
[00:21:32] TR: So Grant, you agree with me?
[00:21:32] GL: Yeah. You wouldn’t think that it would be possible because it’s like how much vacuum pressure would it take to do that to the tank? I mean, this is an engineering problem. It’s just impressive, really.
[00:21:49] TR: I always half-joked that the surest way to end your brewing career is to implode a tank. Fortunately, I’ve never done that, but I came pretty close.
[00:21:59] GL: That’s right. Go from brewing to living in a van down by the river.
[00:22:03] TT: With Chris Farley?
[00:22:03] GL: Yeah, exactly.
[00:22:08] TT: That’s a mess. Tim, how long have you been brewing prior to coming on board with CMG? How long has your brewing lasted?
[00:22:18] TR: Twenty-one years. I started like a lot of guys, cleaning kegs and volunteering (I guess) at the beginning of 98. I got my first part-time job; I think I was first paid as a brewer in 1998 and then stopped being paid as a brewer in 2019. About 21 years, and of course, there’s a certain symmetry to that.
[00:22:40] GL: Awesome.
[00:22:41] TR: Yeah, it’s a chance, a lot of great experiences, and some wacky ones as well.
[00:22:46] TT: Great, I love them. Anything else you can think of that might surprise us or baffle us?
[00:22:53] TR: Well, I have one more man-made issue that I’ll relate to quickly because I know there are a lot of people talking about this. We went out to an NBAA meeting. We were actually traveling to Boston Beer, and Philadelphia is not that close, so it was almost the whole brewery. We just went out as a big group. We’re really active in the NBAA […]. I think there were probably 12 of us, and there might have been all 12 of us at the time.
That day, what we were doing at the brewery was grinding holes through the roof in order to run the stack for a new kettle that we had installed. It didn’t go well. Sometimes, the end of the day—every brewer will know this—comes a little too fast sometimes when you’re under the gun for some kind of time thing.
We left, we put away the grinders, blah-blah-blah. We’ll tackle that, we’ll get some new grinding wheels the next day, and we’ll be good to go when we get there. We got home, and we went to the event with no problem. Then a few of us, about three in the morning, started to get phone calls from the fire marshal. What happened? Maybe lightning struck. Who knows? I don’t know. I have no clue. What happened was that grinder, especially as they stop effectively cutting, they create a lot of friction. And where the friction comes, there’s always heat behind friction.
It has sort of kind of started to smolder. No one could see it there, but it smoldered. Sure enough, when we came home, the fire marshal heard an alarm, and there was a huge fire on the roof. Some homeless guy had been living up there at some point, apparently, and mattresses up there. God only knows, but sure enough, it caught fire while we were at Boston Beer.
[00:24:20] GL: Wow. Just from an angle grinder, I’m guessing you’re angle grinding just through some kind of aluminum roof or something, and then it got the insulation, I’m guessing?
[00:24:35] TR: Yup, whatever the insulation was and however many layers of the roof had been put on over a year. The building itself was, I think, 120 years old or something like that.
[00:24:44] GL: Got it.
[00:24:45] TR: God only knows what people did to that building over the years.
[00:24:49] GL: Sure, multi-layers of TPO and all that.
[00:24:52] TT: Fire trucks have to come to wash? Did they have to come to spray it down?
[00:24:54] TR: Oh yeah. They had to break through the brewery. They had to get roof access, bring a hose through, spray it all.
[00:25:02] TT: Did you put in your notice that it’s okay, no one is hurt? […] your feelings, your pride?
[00:25:09] TR: What that one? Yeah, a little bit. The hot liquor tank was the worst one. That’s another brewery to […]. I can still go see my […] today.
[00:25:23] TT: You’re creating a legacy; you did.
[00:25:25] TR: Exactly.
[00:25:25] GL: Leaving your mark.
[00:25:27] TT: That’s right.
[00:25:28] TR: Right, no one’s going to forget Tim Roberts.
[00:25:32] TT: We certainly don’t. We know who you are, and we appreciate you. Really appreciate you jumping on, Tim.
[00:25:37] TR: Thanks for having me, guys. I really enjoyed it as always.
[00:25:38] TT: All right, bye. Talk to you soon.
[00:25:42] TR: Yup. Bye.
[00:25:42] TT: All right, all good stuff. Happy to have the next guest on who I believe is his first time on the podcast, so good to have him on. It’s CJ Penzone. He is our inside sales rep at Country Malt Group. Let me make sure I get all of this right, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, DC, Connecticut, Road Island, and Mas?
[00:26:00] CJ: Yes, sir.
[00:26:00] TT: Man, that’s awesome. We haven’t spent a lot of time together. You’re fairly new to Country Malt Group, but I know your background is pretty extensive in the industry. Happy to have you on this kind of Hail Mary episode here. We’re talking about strange, crazy, or weird things that have happened either in the brewhouse or taproom in the industry. I’ve heard you’ve got some pretty unique stories, huh?
[00:26:24] CJ: Yeah. I’ve worked in a few different types of breweries, so plenty of stories to go around.
[00:26:29] TT: All right, I’m ready. All ears.
[00:26:31] CJ: Cool. The first one that came to mind for me was at my first brewing gig. It was a little brew club, and I was 21 years old, so I was still getting used to not only a brewing gig but real-world work. That brewery was pretty tight. We will be brewing, assisting with filtration, and cleaning a tank on a typical day at the same time.
I remember I was late to work one day. I was behind on my stuff, and my boss came in screaming at me, get that hose off the tank, get things moving. In a panic, I ran over and accidentally took off the wrong clamp. Instead of taking the hose off the tank, I took off the entire valve.
Of course, this tank was our barrel-aged imperial stout, and there were 30 barrels of it. The tank was at 12 psi, and 30 barrels of barrel-aged imperial stout had just started pouring out. It knocked me over, and if you turn around, it just looks like a black sea going out and flooding our taproom.
I was sitting there trying to get the valve back on, and I couldn’t. My boss pushed me aside, and he was able to get it on. I wish I had the security footage, but he just sees me walk out, look left, look right. I was just defeated. I thought I was going to get fired that day. Luckily, I was able to get it cleaned up and dry before the taproom opened. That took pretty much all morning.
[00:27:56] TT: What did you learn from that mistake? To show up on time?
[00:28:01] CJ: One, show up on time, and two, always double-check which valve you’re taking off. That is something I took with me to every single place I worked afterward. That was a mistake you don’t make twice.
[00:28:12] TT: The other thing, too, is brewers are under a lot of pressure, a lot of speed, a lot of stuff going on. I think maybe that additional pressure and determination on the owner’s perspective probably didn’t help, either. You’re kind of in a panic; you’re new with the brewing gig, wanting to do things right, and in haste just did the wrong thing.
[00:28:31] CJ: Yeah, and that made it a lot tougher at that moment. When I actually had the opportunity to run a brewery and manage staff, I was a little laid back with them and just made sure that they knew that safety was a priority and followed the procedures. Speed comes later.
[00:28:48] TT: Great point.
[00:28:50] GL: I’d like to mention for anyone out there listening who’s not a pro brewer, doesn’t already know this, it is relatively easy to do that. The clamps are maybe two inches apart on opposite sides of the valve. So if you take off the back one and not the one at the hose, you take off the entire valve like you just described. They’re literally right next to each other. It is a tragic mistake, but that’s understandable.
[00:29:14] CJ: I think the last thing I took away from that was to always have a change of clothes.
[00:29:19] GL: Took a bath that day.
[00:29:21] CJ: I did, my boots were filled to the brim, and I was covered head to toe.
[00:29:24] GL: I bet it was good.
[00:29:26] TT: That was what I was going to say. If we had some footage, you’d be just like, huh, and then go grab your pint glass or something, just […] underneath the outcoming barrel-aged stout, start enjoying a beverage.
[00:29:37] CJ: Exactly, I could have been soaking in the lactose bear itself.
[00:29:44] GL: Oh, man. That’s a rough one.
[00:29:47] CJ: Yeah, so do you want to just keep going?
[00:29:49] TT: Yeah.
[00:29:49] GL: Yeah, let’s keep going.
[00:29:51] CJ: Cool, another one, this one is a little funnier. I was working at a brewery that contracted for other brands. I won’t name any names here, but one day we’re sitting there on the receiving dock, and a pallet of Skittles and a pallet of lactose shows up. I was hoping the Skittles would be in their whole form, and we could just dump them pretty quick, but no, it was in one-pound packs. I spent two days of my life adding Skittles to a tank one pack at a time.
[00:30:22] TT: Let me back up here. A full pallet, typically we’re sending 2200 pounds in a palette?
[00:30:28] CJ: It was a little bit less than that. It was probably a thousand pounds of Skittles, but it was still a full-size pallet.
[00:30:33] GL: Your first mistake was adding Skittles to beer.
[00:30:37] CJ: Exactly.
[00:30:39] GL: Halfway kidding.
[00:30:40] TT: CJ, after 80 bags of that or 20 for that matter, do you find some unique way to open those as opposed to just the normal like you would in a bag of chips or something?
[00:30:50] CJ: Oh, yeah. We were opening six at a time and dumping them that way.
[00:30:55] GL: Like big one-pound plastic bags?
[00:30:57] CJ: Yeah, it was kind of the family packs you can get at the grocery stores. It might even be one-and-a-half pounds, but it was minuscule compared to what needed to be added.
[00:31:07] TT: Next question here. What were you brewing with Skittles, and how did that beer turn out?
[00:31:14] CJ: This one actually surprised me. It was supposed to be a kettle sour with Skittles. It was called Taste the ReinBRO. We thought it was going to turn out like a brown money color from adding all the Skittles, but it actually turned out to be this really nice orange color. The lactose and Skittles balanced each other out, and the beer was drinkable.
[00:31:38] GL: Interesting.
[00:31:40] CJ: Not my cup of tea, but I see how people would enjoy it.
[00:31:42] TT: Hopefully, you only did that one time. Is this one brew?
[00:31:45] CJ: That was the only time I made that beer. I think that was the moment I realized beer was getting really weird because when I started, I worked at a pub where we filtered all of our beer. We had the Standard, Golden Ale, ESP, Porter, and then here I am dumping Skittles into a tank. It was a pretty wild moment in my career.
[00:32:07] GL: When you add those, you’re adding Skittles in the primary. Are they fermenting? Did you get gravity? It’s kind of hard to measure.
[00:32:16] CJ: It was hard to measure, but they did add a fermentable sugar in it. It kicked up the secondary fermentation. Some sugar extractivity the next day.
[00:32:25] GL: What was it like cleaning Skittles out of the bottom of that cone?
[00:32:28] CJ: Terrible. It was just no. They physically reach in and take the big clump out. The rest we were able to flush.
[00:32:35] GL: I would imagine it would just turn into a big brick at the bottom.
[00:32:39] TT: You should have packaged them as beer-soaked Skittles.
[00:32:43] CJ: There is a market for that, unfortunately.
[00:32:47] TT: It’s interesting you mentioned that because Grant, you remember talking to Remari, folks up in North Carolina about strange things in beers that they’ve used. They talked about all kinds of stuff they put in. Skittles, that’s the first I’ve heard of it.
[00:32:57] CJ: That was the first for me as well, and the last, thankfully.
[00:33:00] TT: Sorry you had to go through that, CJ.
[00:33:04] CJ: No, it’s okay. It wasn’t our beer, so it was a contract brand. I’m alright with that.
[00:33:08] GL: Got it.
[00:33:10] CJ: In that similar vein, I worked at Tröegs, and every year people loved the Mad Elf beer. It’s a Belgian Tripel made with cherries and honey. We had to add thousands of pounds of cherry puree per batch.
One year, the brewer was bringing the tote around, and he stumped the forks right through this giant tote of puree, and it started flooding out everywhere. For some reason, while this was happening, I decided let’s start saving some of these. We’re just standing there with buckets trying to catch cherry puree.
It wasn’t going to be used in this beer, but I had the wherewithal to call a buddy, see if his brewery can use it because they have […] and whatnot. Sure enough, he’s like, whenever I get a beer, [00:33:55]. How about you bring some of that cherry puree over?
[00:33:58] GL: That’s like gold.
[00:34:00] CJ: Exactly. Instead of seeing all of these go to waste, those buckets we were actually capturing up, going to another place’s beer.
[00:34:07] GL: You said a tote. One of those plastic whatever, the 285-gallon IBC totes?
[00:34:14] CJ: Yes.
[00:34:16] GL: That’s a lot of puree.
[00:34:18] CJ: Yeah, and at the same brewery, the tour path used to go right through the brewery. We also made a mango beer. The one time I was adding mangoes, the hose blew off because it was actually a plastic connection, not stainless steel. It wasn’t very tight, and a group of people on the tour just got hit with mangoes. The real brewery experience, right?
[00:34:41] GL: That’s right.
[00:34:43] TT: You’re welcome. Welcome to the brewery.
[00:34:48] […]: Mango sprayed.
[00:34:49] […]: Good stuff.
[00:34:51] GL: Was it the valve breaking at the bottom of the tote or something? Is that what you’re saying?
[00:34:55] CJ: Yes, it was a plastic valve, and we basically had to come up with a contraption that went from that to stainless steel. I don’t want to say homemade, we had a team of people who could handle that stuff, but it wasn’t a perfect connection. The pressure just blew it off when we tried to add it to the tank.
[00:35:14] GL: Got it. It’s like you thread in one of those, I guess it’s a sanitary fitting, and thread that into the ball valve at the bottom of it?
[00:35:22] CJ: Correct.
[00:35:23] GL: Got you.
[00:35:24] TT: The problem there, CJ, is you didn’t use duct tape.
[00:35:26] CJ: I should have thought of duct tape.
[00:35:27] TT: Yeah, we learned from Fisher that duct tape apparently solves anything.
[00:35:30] GL: Universal connector, I think that was the term.
[00:35:33] CJ: Duct tape […]. The last story I have was at the brewery I helped build and run. We were out there in the middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania. You pretty much had two styles of beer out there. It’ll be Yuengling Lager and Busch Light.
Oftentimes for the first six months, when we didn’t have beer to go yet, we had no cans, no bottles. We would just have cans and cans of Busch Light all over the parking lot. People were chugging these beers before they came into the restaurant. I know.
One day I got off my shift, and I happened to look out my window. There’s this whole group of people, there must have been 10 of them, and they’re just chugging Busch Light. At this point, we had just canned our first run of cans, and it was our pre-milled that we did. I just went to the cooler and brought out a case of beer. I was like, “Guys, if you’re going to chug beer, at least chug our beer.” We all sat there and chugged on the beer altogether. I saw them later on, and they did start purchasing the pre-milled.
[00:36:37] TT: Really good.
[00:36:39] GL: Pregaming before a visit to a brewery. That’s impressive.
[00:36:43] CJ: Exactly. I think they were afraid they weren’t going to like any of the beers. They’re like, “We’re going to drink this Busch Light before we go in there.”
[00:36:50] GL: It’s not the first time I’ve heard of that. I’ve heard of this happening in breweries before, but it’s always a head-scratcher for me.
[00:36:57] CJ: Exactly.
[00:36:58] GL: Shouldn’t you do it the other way around? Have the craft beer, enjoy it, and then go on to the other stuff?
[00:37:06] CJ: I agree with you. That’s really all I got, guys.
[00:37:10] TT: All goods stuff. CJ, thank you, buddy. I appreciate the insight—all good stuff. I wish sometimes, Grant, we had a dial-in because I can guarantee you people listening definitely have some odd or strange stories as well to share.
[00:37:28] GL: For sure.
[00:37:31] TT: We’ll try to figure out how to duct tape the cell phone to my microphone or something.
[00:37:34] GL: If you’re out there listening to our Treehouse of Horrors episode, please go ahead. If you feel like sharing, drop it on Instagram or something.
[00:37:44] TT: There you go. That’s a good idea. All right, CJ. Thanks, buddy. I’ll let you get back to it.
[00:37:48] CJ: Yeah, thanks, guys.
[00:37:49] TT: All right. Thanks.
[00:37:50] TT: We’re having an awesome time today. Again, for the listeners just jumping in. We are talking about; I wouldn’t call it strange, crazy things. I think it’s fitting for the month of October, and would you call it tales from the brewery? Grant, what was it that you mentioned yesterday?
[00:38:08] GL: Oh, geez. It was…
[00:38:11] TT: It was The Tale of the Tree House?
[00:38:11] GL: Yeah, the classic Simpsons episodes where they do the Treehouse of Horrors. It’ll just seem like a bunch of horror stories. I think that’s kind of what we’re going for in this episode.
[00:38:20] TT: There have been some fun ones and funny ones so far. We’re going to continue that with Zach Grossfeld, who’s been on the show before and is a contributor to the podcast in general. Obviously got a background in brewing and history in the industry. So excited to have him on. He’s the Country Malt Group inside sales rep. He covers Oregon, Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Kansas. Hey, Zach.
[00:38:43] ZG: Hey, guys. How’s it going?
[00:38:44] TT: Pretty good. I’m excited to hear what you got for us as far as strange, crazy stories in your history in the brewing industry. What you’d got?
[00:38:52] ZG: I have a couple of stories that make me smile, reminiscing about them. The first one I’ll bring up is probably the biggest mess I’ve had to clean up at the brewery. It was a day after the Oregon Beer Awards. If anyone’s out on the West Coast, having gone to them, we enjoyed a couple of beers the night before. Of course, we had to be back at the brewery bright and early to start cleaning tanks, bringing some beers, all that fun stuff.
One of my dear co-workers was having a rough morning and volunteered to do a CIP and just isolate himself in the corner. The morning’s going well, and he proceeds to go to the tank, starts blowing it down, and gets to the point of taking the bottom valve off the bottom of this fermenter and just goes for it. Just take the full valve off the bottom of this fermenter.
I guess I thought he or someone else had blown it down and emptied it, but all of a sudden, we see this really thick dark liquid shooting across the brewery. This is a 120-barrel tank, so there’s a lot of pressure and a lot of product in this tank. It was the darkest 10–20 barrels of beer just spraying across the floor. […] going on. It’s getting into everything.
That was a good lesson in checking your tank before you start any kind of process with it. It was an extremely sticky mess in the winter, and nice thick stout was just spraying everywhere.
[00:40:21] TT: Sounds like he was working that day with CJ, Grant? A very, very similar story of what was happening there with a barrel-aged stout just shooting everywhere and just all over the place. And it was our early morning as well. I think he was late to work, badgered by his employer at the time, and wouldn’t be paying a hell of a lot of attention, but 120 barrels all over the place. Did you guys cap it? Would did you do?
[00:40:47] ZG: Yeah, we learned a lesson that day to always have one of those tees with a valve on either side of it, so you can throw it on there and then shut them one by one. Just always have one of those sanitized ready to go.
[00:41:00] GL: That’s a good point.
[00:41:01] ZG: Yeah. We threw one of those on and were able to save most of the products. We were probably down 95–100 barrels or so, but it was a fun mess to clean up.
[00:41:11] GL: Why is it always, when this happens, it’s the 1020, 1015 finishing gravity big sticky style. It’s like the hardest stickiest one to clean up for sure.
[00:41:28] TT: Your buddy there that was responsible for that was having a rough morning. How do you feel about that? Was he still employed by the end of the day?
[00:41:36] ZG: Oh, yeah. We were reminiscing about this not too long ago, and he’s doing great at the company and has a lot of responsibility. I don’t think he’s ever made a mistake like that again. I think we all get one or two of those before the employer looks at our employment. He’s doing great. He’s a great brewer, just maybe a little bit too much the night before.
I have another similar one, and this one wasn’t quite as big of a mess. It’s a little bit similar. I’ve been working in the cellar for about six months at this point, so I was still kind of getting my feet underneath me, starting to feel confident, but we didn’t go all night brewing, but we ran our brews pretty late, like 11 or 12 at night.
This specific day was just myself in the brewer, and she was brewing our GABF batch of Pilsner, so really paying attention to cast out temperatures, all that fun stuff, and really involved in this process. I was just sweeping up the water and getting the cellar ready for us to go home. This is probably 11:30 at night.
The way our cellar was set up, we had the same brewery, so 120-barrel tanks, kind of in a tank farm. Then just because of the limitations of the facility, we had our wild barrel room in this repurpose office just off to the side of this tank farm, and right outside of it, we had a blending tank where we would blend our wild ales and package out of.
She’s casting out the GABF Pilsner, and all of a sudden, I hear this gunshot. It scares us half to death, but I walk around the corner, and this blending tank full of very wild beer is shooting up to the ceiling. This is like a warehouse, so this is many stories of just highly pressurized beer just jetting to the ceiling.
I had no idea what had happened. This brewer who does not want to touch anything wild while we’re casting out GABF Pilsner was like, “Hey, there’s a ruptured disc. It’s shot. It failed. We need to make it stop spraying wild beer as soon as possible.”
I didn’t know what to do, so I just diverted it until it eventually lost some pressure, and I was able to cap it off. That one was probably the highest pressure, and not enough people there to clean it up. I think we were there like two or three in the morning that night.
[00:43:49] GL: Wow, it just got over pressurized? Like in a brite tank? You said it was in a blending tank.
[00:43:55] ZG: Yeah, it was like a brite tank. It didn’t get over-pressurized; the ruptured disc just failed, so we held it probably around 15–20 psi, and usually, those are rated for 30 if not more. It just failed.
[00:44:08] GL: Absolutely. That’s the first time I’ve ever heard of that thing failing at 15 psi or something like that, crazy.
[00:44:17] ZG: Yeah, we started swapping out ruptured discs at that point. The PRV was still on top and hadn’t gone off or anything. It was just a ruptured disc.
[00:44:26] GL: The PRV is always set much lower than the… Wow, that’s just unfortunate.
[00:44:32] ZG: Yeah. My boss got in the next day, and I was like, hey, is this like a normal thing? He’s like, no. No, that’s not a normal thing. Do we need to reboot pils there? I was like, no, I think we’re good. I was pretty covered in it, and we got that all taken care of. It was a good baptism by far.
[00:44:47] TT: The common theme has been duct tape. I’m curious, what would you cap it off with? You’re speedy; how did you stop the leak?
[00:44:58] ZG: I’m not proud of this solution, but really just diverted the stream with a five-gallon bucket until I could force a cap on it. We probably lost more beer than we should have, and yeah, I think there were probably more elegant solutions to that.
[00:45:15] GL: It just had a plain old sanitary trichloro fitting burst disc on it.
[00:45:23] ZG: Exactly.
[00:45:23] GL: Okay, got you.
[00:45:24] ZG: I would say those are my two most memorable. I think those messes just really stick with you having to clean those up and the high pressure of not letting this touch the beer that we’re submitting to the competition. It’s pretty fun.
[00:45:37] TT: There’s nothing about the fantastic aroma of a pint of beer, but when you get all that stuff all over your clothes, your hair and stuff, it’s no longer appealing or appetizing that much, isn’t it?
[00:45:53] ZG: Yeah, that’s a pretty satisfying shower after a day of work like that.
[00:45:58] GL: Why do things like that always happen towards the beginning of a shift? Did you ask yourself that question?
[00:46:02] ZG: Yeah, just when you’re either going to have to sit in it or at 11:30 at night when I just want to go home. I already worked eight hours.
[00:46:12] TT: In situations like that for a couple of brewers, if you run into an issue and it’s in the last five minutes of your shift, do you just bolt and hand over the problems to the oncoming brew crew? Or you got to sit around expecting to help clean it up and solve the situation? I know what you want to do. Oh, look at the time.
[00:46:36] ZG: Oh, man, this happened in the middle of the night, right guys?
[00:46:38] TT: I didn’t see anything spewing up to the ceiling. What?
[00:46:41] GL: I would say the answer to that is to stay after for a reasonable amount of time, like an hour or two, just until it’s a little under control. I don’t know, that’s what I would do.
[00:46:54] ZG: […] and had to clean the outsides of all the other tanks that had all this wild yeast on it and all that fun stuff.
[00:47:00] GL: Especially if it’s completely your fault. If it’s an act of God or something, then that’s a little different. That’s like stuff happens.
[00:47:11] ZG: Yeah, an act of a poorly-made rupture disc.
[00:47:15] GL: Right.
[00:47:16] TT: Zach, I don’t know if you recall, that beer, that JBF Pils that you guys were brewing, that was for submission to JBF? Did they end up having a bit of a win, or was that a prior year winner, and you guys are just brewing it?
[00:47:29] ZG: No, I think at that point it had never […], but we were especially proud of it. It ended up tasting good. We still submitted it. We did everything in our power to test to see if it got infected, use some other breweries’ more advanced labs to really run that one through, but it turned out good, didn’t win any medals, but they tasted great.
[00:47:46] TT: Nice.
[00:47:46] GL: It’s good.
[00:47:48] TT: Absolutely. Well, all good stuff. Zach, I appreciate your time joining us again. I always appreciate your participation with Grant and me on these podcasts. I got a lot of the intel and expertise that you fold into these things every week, and I appreciate you jumping. I’m sure we’ll have you on again, so I appreciate it. Make it a great day, Zach. We’ll talk to you soon.
[00:48:05] ZG: Yeah, you as well. Thank you.
[00:48:07] TT: Yes, sir. On to the next one. Again, in this episode, we’re bringing in some team members to talk crazy weird, brewing taproom-type stories. I don’t think we could have a better guest to talk about because he’s well-seasoned in the brewing world, and he’s been on the podcast before and is a contributor as well. He’s John Egan, our Country Malt Group territory manager down in SoCal, who also looks after Hawaii and Arizona. What’s up, John?
[00:48:38] JE: Hey, what’s up, Toby? Thanks for having me.
[00:48:41] TT: No problem. I bet we could go, at least have a good hour, two hours to listen to some of your stories. I’m sure you have some great ones, but in 10–15, how about you throw some at us and see what happens?
[00:48:54] JE: Yeah, totally. As you said, I could go on forever and ever. I’ve got a few stories, but I thought about a few that might be the most entertaining or just kind of odd fun. One that always comes to mind is the tale of the missing scrub brush. I was a young brewer, and I won’t disclose which breweries these were just for their integrity and my own.
[00:49:19] TT: Understood.
[00:49:20] JE: I probably had been brewing professionally for six months, a year, or something, and part of our CIP program was tank inspection after a hot caustic rinse, inspect the tank. We had a couple of tanks that didn’t get cleaned that well with the spray ball by themselves, so we had this tank-specific scrub brush. It only was used in the inside tanks. If it ever got used anywhere else, we threw it away and bought a new one. It was on an extension pole, so I think it went out to maybe 10 feet or something. It was a nice scrub brush.
Anyway, one day I forgot who it was, it was me or who it was—there were only two or three of us that were shift brewers—and we couldn’t find this scrub brush. I asked the head brewer, and like, man, where’s the scrub brush? I went all around the brewery, no one could find it. We were kind of disturbed. We’re like, dude, who did somebody take this home? We had an ongoing joke about parts going missing that somebody is out there building a brewery piece by piece.
[00:50:25] TT: Over 40 years accumulating stuff?
[00:50:27] JE: Right. We’re like, where did that cross or tea go? And be like, well, somebody is building the brewery again.
[00:50:36] TT: You’re missing a tank one day, huh, nice.
[00:50:38] GL: Was this for the top of the dome in the fermenter? Because spray ball shadow basically is what you’re saying.
[00:50:47] JE: Yes and now. These were like 120-barrel fermenters, so you couldn’t really get all the way up there. In those instances, we usually pull out the pressure washer. They hit the dome, but this is for the walls, like the scum line, the crossing line.
Anyway, we’re like, is somebody building a brewery and they needed the scrub brush? It’s like, lame, come on. After a few days go by, I don’t know who had the idea, but they were like, okay, who was the last person confirmed to use the scrub brush? And it was this one guy.
The head brewer was trying to get to the bottom of it, and I think he kind of had this idea, like did that scrub brush get left in the tank by chance? Long story short, that’s exactly what happened. He used the scrub brush and then set it down in the tank to go do something else, pop the whirlpool or something, and he closed it up, and he sanitized the tank.
I’m sure he rinsed because we had a really good SOP program, but it didn’t include removing the scrub brush from the tank as part of the SOP, but that scrub brush lived in that fermenter during probably 12–14 day fermentation. We went and filtered the beer. We did everything. Of course, we kept everything sanitary and sanitized the brite tank, purged everything, and we filtered the beer.
When the filter was done, we opened a tank, aired it out, and opened it up. Sure enough, there was that scrub brush inside there. Mystery solved. The beer, obviously, we weren’t going to sell it. We probably had 100 barrels, maybe at least, but we ended up kegging all of it off, and then some of our employees were able to take some home. It was a Pale Ale, and I had it on my kegerator and went through the whole thing.
We kept it around for a few months to see if there were any issues from a sanitation perspective, and the beer never had. I don’t think we had a lab back then, so we couldn’t really do much micro, but the beer tasted great, and that was that. The scrub brush was found and put back—
[00:53:04] GL: Brush tale?
[00:53:06] JE: Yeah. That was a good one.
[00:53:10] TT: That’s pretty crazy. Did you keep the scrub brush? Continue to use it, or do you retire it?
[00:53:16] JE: No, it was a good scrub brush. It was one of those things where, with the guy that left it in the tank, he obviously felt horrible about it, but it was really fun because anytime you had the scrub brush, you could just turn and look at him and just not make any facial expressions. Just look at him while you’re holding the scrub brush, maybe wink. You’re sending him that vibe. That was a lot of fun.
[00:53:46] TT: I’ve heard stories about birds and stuff and mash tuns. It’s the first I’ve heard of an expandable 10-foot scrub brush. That’s good times right there.
[00:53:58] JE: A really good time.
[00:53:59] TT: That probably opens up the door to a conversation of all different types of items that were dropped into tanks while brewing. Grant, I’m sure you got a few of those. Like sunglasses or flashlights seem to be… there were glasses, right?
[00:54:14] JE: Yup.
[00:54:14] GL: I know a pen happened one time.
[00:54:18] TT: Like a ballpoint pen?
[00:54:19] GL: Yeah, just a ballpoint pen. Some person I worked with at the time was able to just get it off the top. Way back then, the tank we were using was pretty old, and the kettle didn’t have a sample port. I guess this was in the whirlpool, dropped in the whirlpool, and back then to take a gravity sample, we just had like a stainless steel pitcher on a rope and lowered in to get a sample of worth to measure the gravity. The brewer was fast enough to just grab that and then get the pen as it was like whirlpooling around, floating on the top. It was in for about 30 seconds.
[00:54:58] TT: I may be off base here, but I had this great idea for some sort of invention or swag. Have you ever used Croakies for your safety glasses?
[00:55:10] JE: Oh, yeah.
[00:55:10] TT: I mean, was it a requirement? You could make one out of duct tape, Grant.
[00:55:15] GL: I did not, but we didn’t use them. But duct tape, I mean, just in general, is a good idea, for sure.
[00:55:22] JE: Yeah, hanging around your neck when they’re not in use.
[00:55:25] TT: Also begs the question, how many listeners know what Croakies are, right?
[00:55:28] GL: Right.
[00:55:29] JE: Kind of an indication of the age group we’re in here, Toby.
[00:55:36] TT: Email us if you don’t know what Croakies is. If you’re curious, we’ll give out the email address later. I think we are developing one. We are so old and antiquated but yeah, let us know if you don’t know what Croakies are. I’ll definitely explain them. Nice, John, what else have you got?
[00:55:51] JE: Talking about stuff in the tank is a good segue to the next one. The same brewery, I think it was a tank right next to this one. We were doing this anniversary beer. It had an oak chip edition that was pretty massive and the first time we’ve done this. This wasn’t my idea. I’m just going to put that out there right off the bat. This was not my idea. I actually developed a workaround for later use, which I will also mention.
Anyway, we ended up sanitizing the brite tank through a bunch of oak chips; I want to say like 100 pounds, maybe not 100 pounds, but those big full-chip bags that CMG sells. They’re like 24×72 nylon full-chip bags. After the tank was sanitized, I believe we threw it in there, and we may have thrown some hot water in there to heat sanitize the oak chips, purge the tank, blah-blah-blah. We filtered the beer in there, and we started carbonating it. Then it’s time to pack, we go and open up the bottom valve to let the beer purge the kegging lines, and nothing’s coming out.
We’re like, what’s going on? Why isn’t it coming out? It was dribbling out, but it wasn’t blowing out like a fire hose as it should have. Well, because that big bag of oak chips plugged up the drain port on the bottom of the brite tank.
We’re like, dude, this is a special release anniversary beer. We can’t make it again; we are crunched for time. What are we going to do? We had this insane idea, and we made do. We did the best we could with the situation in front of us. We blew down the tank. There was a slide for the carved stone on the side of the tank. We took that carved stone out of the tank that was full of beer and attempted to get a valve there; it was a two-inch port. Luckily we had those rigid hard plastic gaskets, clamp gaskets.
[00:58:04] GL: The Teflon ones.
[00:58:06] JE: Yeah. It was the head brewer and me. I think he had the valve, and I had the gasket. I don’t remember, but when we pulled that carved stone out, beer shot across the brewery like 20 feet and just blasting it to the wall, and we jumped in there. I got to tell you, if you haven’t taken a beer bath with 34 degrees carbonated beer, very quickly you realize that number one, you’re frozen, and number two, all that CO2 in your eye, it turns to (I think) carbonic acid?
[00:58:41] GL: That’s right.
[00:58:42] JE: Yeah, it hurts. We’re freezing, we can’t see, and then our hands stop functioning because they’re so freezing while we’re trying to get this valve on there. That being said, we were completely covered in beer from head to toe, completely soaked, and freezing.
We managed to get the valve on there, but it wasn’t centered, so it was leaking. We pressurized the tank, accepted the loss, and packaged what we could. Luckily the beer turned out great. I know that there was a video taken of this that went down. I know for a fact, and I’ve never been able to see the video. I want to say this is like 2002–2003 maybe.
[00:59:32] GL: It’s terrible that somebody had a camcorder. It’s like straight potato quality on a flip phone.
[00:59:38] JE: It was from an old digital camera. The old first ones, but anyway, if you’re out there and you’ve got this video—you know who you are—send it my way. I’d love to see it.
[00:59:52] GL: You really rolled the dice there to rip a freaking valve off a pressurized tank; that’s hardcore.
[00:59:57] JE: Yeah. It was good times, as we used to say very frequently back then, good times.
[01:00:04] GL: Living the dream.
[01:00:06] TT: What was your workaround going forward? I don’t know. I can envision somebody with a fishing pole at the top with the catfish hook. We used to call it the treble hook. Scoop that thing down there. You probably ripped the bag.
[01:00:24] GL: Like blow it down and do it from the top of the tank.
[01:00:27] JE: Yeah.
[01:00:29] TT: Put some guy in a sailor’s hat and have him fishing.
[01:00:34] GL: I thought the direction you’re going with this as you’re going to say that you blasted CO2 in the bottom in the brite.
[01:00:40] JE: Oh, we tried it.
[01:00:41] GL: Yeah, I’m sure that was the first.
[01:00:44] JE: Yeah, we blasted CO2. We thought about blasting hot water in there to try to get it to float out and not contaminate it, like some really hot liquor, but the CO2 didn’t work, and the harebrained idea of removing the carved stone was the idea that won, and that was rough. That was a fun brewship showering all that beer off and continuing to brew that day.
[01:01:08] GL: For everyone out there listening, if your brite tank has a side port besides a carved stone side port.
[01:01:15] JE: Put a valve on it.
[01:01:15] GL: And you’ll never get in this situation.
[01:01:19] JE: The workaround is this piece of pipe may actually still be in a part of the tilt chest of this certain brewery. I had a standpipe made that basically had feet. It was inserted. It was a smaller diameter pipe that fits into the drainpipe inside the tank, and it had legs on it so that it would stay upright. The pipe, I think we made it to two or three feet long, so it stood up. It had a bunch of holes drilled into it from all the sides, so even if you put bags of material ingredients in that beer and they settled to the bottom at the drain port, it would never clog it. This pipe was open. It was always open. It was a standpipe, and that worked. We made some pretty gnarly ingredient additions to future beers with that pipe. I was pleased with my ingenuity.
[01:02:24] GL: That’s pretty brilliant, really for extra chunky stuff like wood. It’s a good way around that. I like it.
[01:02:35] JE: Totally.
[01:02:35] TT: Grant, you were mentioning at some point in one of our conversations, we’re talking about additions, and it came up quite a bit in our chats on this podcast, but something about one time you were brewing with cinnamon? I can only imagine. Was it cinnamon you’re brewing with? Just tell me just how.
[01:02:52] GL: Pumpkin pie spice cinnamon was one of the main ones, basically dry-hopping really but dry pumpkin spicing a big stout. Without signing up for it, I was basically forced to take the cinnamon challenge, if anybody remembers that old thing. It’s sitting on top of a 240-barrel fermenter with a big stainless funnel that could clamp onto the dry hot pot, which was nice for dry hopping and all that. You’re adding cinnamon in, but anyone who’s dry-hopped a tank before knows that CO2 bellows out slowly.
[01:03:33] JE: More than others.
[01:03:34] GL: Unfortunately, sometimes more than others, and putting cinnamon, powdered pumpkin pie spices into that, it just creates like a tornado of cinnamon that blows in your face. You definitely wear goggles and gloves. You find out real quickly that cinnamon in high quantities burns the skin.
[01:03:53] TT: Yeah, a hazmat uniform, cinnamon hazmat. One of those beekeepers’ masks.
[01:03:59] GL: At the time, I didn’t do all of that, but it came afterward. Anyways, put the cinnamon in, and it just blasts all over me. I was able to cap the tank, and it didn’t really spill much beer, but it caused a dry hop geyser, the same as the other unfortunate thing that can happen dry hopping. You can have a geyser as the pops cause nucleation points for the CO2 in the beer. That happened with cinnamon to me, and I was able to slap the cap on it, so it wasn’t that much beer lost, but it was just completely sprayed with cinnamon and big Imperial stout.
[01:04:36] JE: Awesome.
[01:04:37] TT: Yeah, that cinnamon pumpkin spice taste in your mouth for two weeks.
[01:04:41] GL: Yeah, it was in my pores. My wife now—fiancée at that time—could smell me as I walked through the door after the shift that day.
[01:04:52] TT: You were like smoking a cigar. You can’t get that taste out for weeks.
[01:04:57] GL: I smelled like pumpkin pie.
[01:04:59] TT: Good stuff, great stuff. John, anything else there? Anything else you want to…?
[01:04:58] JE: Yeah. There’s one other little fun one; I think the bowels coming off tanks are some of the most exciting times in the brewery. One day, I was on my way out the door for the day, five o’clock or so. I actually have brand new leather boots and as well some fresh double front […] on.
I had to set some fresh gear on, and as I was getting in my truck, I heard my co-worker yell my name. He said, John, John. I heard that yell, and I was just like, dammit, dammit. I was almost out of here, man. I was just like, what? He’s like, “you got to come in, you got to come in.”
We had these 600-barrel brite tanks, and one of them had 450 barrels of beer in it that was pressurized to 20 psi because it had just been carved and was getting ready to package. Somehow, the guy who had just sanitized the line from the tank to the filler—or maybe he just had been kegging—accidentally took off the clamp behind the valve rather than the clamp in front between the valve and his tee.
[01:06:23] GL: Classic.
[01:06:24] JE: This is a three-inch valve port. I walked in, and I watched this stellar area fill up with a foot of beer. Literally, I believe we had beer running out onto the street. I had been in these situations a couple of times before, obviously with my story a few minutes ago, but I just stood there, and I was like, I’m not jumping in. I see all these people here that have never done this before. It’s not like I’ve got a bunch of experience, and I’m good at it. No, you just have to get in there and take care of it.
I watched, I think, four or five people go in and try to get a valve back on that tank over the course of maybe 10 minutes of beer blowing out of there. Finally, it wasn’t until the packaging manager, who really wasn’t a production guy. He was just management, not much production experience if any. He ended up getting it on there, but we lost 150 barrels of beer that afternoon. That was quite the sight. It wasn’t the last time that happened by any means in that brewery, but that was a good one.
Note to self: before you ever undo the plant, always make sure you’re undoing the right one because it’s so easy to get caught up, get distracted, and make those mistakes. It can lead to not just loss of beer, but potentially people getting really hurt.
[01:07:55] TT: That’s a common theme. It’s been a common theme today while we’re chatting with folks.
[01:08:00] JE: Yeah, it definitely can be dangerous at times.
[01:08:05] TT: All good, man. Good stuff. I appreciate coming on, John.
[01:08:09] JE: Thanks for having me.
[01:08:10] TT: It’s been pretty awesome that we hear your stories. You got plenty more, and maybe at some point, we’ll pick your brain; you’re an interesting guy. But you’ve done a podcast with us, whirlpool, about some very interesting stuff you’ve done before, too. What was it?
[01:08:26] JE: Yeah, the biodiesel?
[01:08:27] TT: The biodiesel. If you haven’t listened to that, it’s floating around on our website, or Spotify, or somewhere. It’s a good one.
[01:08:34] GL: Season one.
[01:08:35] TT: Yeah, that’s right. Cool. Thanks for your time, John. I appreciate it.
[01:08:39] JE: Thanks for having me, guys. It’s a pleasure.
[01:08:42] TT: Yup. All right, guys, we’ll talk to you. Grant, you’ve just been a standby participant in these. I know that you potentially have some crazy stories or interesting stories to tell in your tenure. I’m going to put you on the spot here, buddy. What have you got?
[01:08:58] GL: I’m going to launch into the weirdest, most unique situation, the one that I could think of. I won’t name any names, but I was working an overnight shift. At the time, the brewery was just super busy, and we had stored a bunch of super sacks on the third floor of our building. We had a big freight elevator, and we brought the super sacks up one at a time to the top. When it was time to use them, we had to move them back down in our grain room. It was a very temporary thing for us.
[01:09:31] TT: Let me stop you there. When you’re moving them up on this elevator, it’s on a forklift, or how do you get out of that?
[01:09:36] GL: Yeah, you could forklift right up to the freight elevator. It’s a very old building, but a very stout-built building, the late 1800s, just a long time big factory building. You put on the freight elevator, one person forklift at the bottom, and then you could just scoot it on, and then at the top, there was a small forklift up there with the barrel room, and you could pull it off.
[01:09:55] TT: So it’s still on the pallet?
[01:09:57] GL: Correct.
[01:09:59] TT: Okay. All right, good.
[01:09:59] GL: Yup. Then we stored them, maybe 12 of them, on the third floor and we had to move them back down. Of course, it was in the middle of the night, somewhere around 1:00–2:00 AM on an overnight shift. I was pretty green at the time. I think it was maybe six months in, just not being a wizard at the forklift yet and not used to driving on the third floor, really. I go to put a super sack on from the top and the other brewers at the bottom waiting to unload as I send it down.
There’s a crack in the concrete right by the edge of the freight elevator, just not really a crack, but just a little bump. You had to push it a little bit harder to get it onto the elevator. When I did, the super sack tipped over on the freight elevator on the third floor—a super sack’s 2200 pounds. If you know a freight elevator, they don’t have doors. They just have the little wooden things that close, and it’s very old school. I was able to go over there and stop it real quick, but at the top of the super sack, it probably dumped out. I didn’t know at the time; it doesn’t sound like that much compared to 2200 pounds, but they’re probably 300 or 400 pounds of pils malt spilled down an elevator shaft.
[01:11:18] TT: Oh my gosh. Were you yelling at your co-worker like, hey? It’s raining malt, hallelujah.
[01:11:27] GL: He ran up the stairs, and we were able to tip it up pretty quick. In the scheme of things, 400 pounds of malt, it’s not fun, but for a large brewery, it’s not really that much. I’m not going to cry about it, but cleaning up the mess was awful because it had gone down on the second floor of the kitchen, and once barleyed, malt is really hard, and it kind of bounces. It made a mess on all three floors and then ended up in the bottom of the elevator shaft in the basement.
[01:11:59] TT: First of all, that’s scary. Anything can happen, but I can only imagine. Did you have to get in there with a shop-vac and grease up all the parts? What do you call that major elevator company? I forgot the name of it, but hey, come on out […].
[01:12:19] GL: Yeah. Pretty much just swept up every single floor. Swept up four floors and then got the elevator, cut the power to it, got all that, got in the bottom of the shaft, and there’s no one else in the building but then shop-vac out the rest. In total, probably to get it spotless as we like, it probably cost me 2–3 hours of labor, which sucked.
[01:12:45] TT: Yeah, that’s wild. That is wild. I’m glad that nobody was hurt. I can only imagine, again, we talked about having video or something like the sheer ‘oh no’ on your face as that thing you see slowly tipping over.
[01:13:02] GL: Oh, man. I think that cuts some years off into my life right there.
[01:13:09] TT: Not bad.
[01:13:11] GL: It ended up being okay. I don’t think many people can say they’ve spilled malt down an elevator shaft.
[01:13:17] TT: No, I’d say that’s the first I heard of it. That’s all good. You know the ins and outs of the elevator shaft pretty well.
[01:13:25] GL: Yes. I learned a lot about freight elevators that day.
[01:13:28] TT: Oh, man. Awesome, Grant. That was a good one. Very good. I appreciate your participation here.
[01:13:36] GL: Yeah, I got to help the team out a little bit. Make everybody feel good. Tell your own embarrassing story, right?
[01:13:42] TT: That’s right, and I’m glad you did. You knew I’d call you out, too. All right, Grant. I appreciate it, man. We will talk soon.
[01:13:50] GL: Yup.
[01:13:50] TT: All right, see you.