I’ve had to take a quick break from the blog with the sheer amount of work going on right now which we’ll catch up on later, but here we go on the main design.
With the most worrying part of our lack of design experience out of the way with the mash filter and wort separation sorted, it then got down to the tank design. Again, working on lots of different breweries to make our beer over the past few years helped us understand what we liked about some designs, and what didn’t work in practice for others. At this point good process theory was essential and it was time to get out the textbooks. I hadn’t realised this before going into it but this has been the most invaluable part of the process and has really forced us as an exercise to think about absolutely every part of the equipment. We’re better brewers already from the whole thing. This became a mammoth undertaking though.
The easiest part is the volume calculations of cylinders etc. Maths was never my strongest subject in school but I could do those calculations in my leaving cert. After that though the real fun began. We had to second guess and research everything from the levels of chromium and nickel in the stainless steel, what depth and materials to insulate the vessels, what size the sprayballs need to be to utilise the flow velocities and throughput, the polish level, the pipework size, the vent stack width size, the surface areas of the heat exchangers, reduction of shear forces and pipework velocities… the list seemed endless. I was committed to understanding all of these things well since I became a brewer so now was the time to do it. It all mattered right now so learn it, get it right or your livelihood is at risk. That would set a fire under the arse of any brewing student in a second. Not only that, but you have a new appreciation for the people who design breweries for a living.
Once all of this was generally calculated we got onto our pals MWCS who we’ve had the pleasure of working with for years now. MWCS installed their first automation system on a brewery we commissioned years back and they’re still some of the best people we’ve worked with in the Irish industry. They’re a small team with a reach in the Irish brewing and distilling industry that’s unrivalled, and they’re friends. We were in good hands. We got together a few times a week in their offices with their staff and drew up 3D drawings of each of the tanks on software. This process really made us ask some more questions of ourselves. Standing in an office with a pen, paper and a measuring tape we deffo didn’t look the part for pro brewery builders - but it worked for us.
You have to apply a good few principles to what you’re designing when drawing up brewing vessels. For heating tanks like a mash mixer or kettle you should air on the side of making them more narrow to utilise the heat rise better. For a good whirlpool – short and wide. Make sure pipework doesn’t aerate your wort of mash from silly inlet ports, make sure the pipes are the right size – no over or under. Calculate that stuff. Consider the mash volumes you’ll hit it with, your max boils etc. and make the goddam thing safe to work on, so no exposed steam pipes, hot wort lines or generally anything that someone could bump into on a busy day. Also - MWCS are a brewery automation company… which means yep, we’re putting in some automation.
I think when people imagine brewery automation they get the pretty un-romantic notion of a Homer Simpson type of character sitting behind a control panel and some screens just watching a brewery do its thing and taking notes. This is true of big macro breweries with loads of cash to burn, but when its done at a small level like we’re applying you understand how invaluable it really is to the whole thing. Doing a quick count you can realise that there’s a lot of valves to work with. Just doing a fast transfer back and forth between the mash and the decoction vessel you could be opening and closing 8 or 10 valves near simultaneously, and as I’ve said in its defence in the past, I’ve never tasted a beer that was better because a person opened the valve handle instead of computer.
So what’s the automation going to do? What we’ve applied to this is a half way arrangement between the brewer and the operating system. The brewer does all the heavy lifting of the malt and the hops, checks all the quality parameters like the mash conversion, pH and gravity and the computer does all the stuff you’d need an octopus to do like open 20 valves at once and check the temperatures and keep time for you.
The real value of all of this stuff is keeping your brewers sane. We’ll be brewing multiple times a day - and having automated help frees brewers up to focus that bit more on quality and constantly improving beer rather than swearing at a valve that doesn’t work every morning for years. Nobody’s coming on board for an easy ride but nobody’s taking people for a ride either. Understanding the value of providing yourself and your team with the right tools is part of respecting that this is where people will spend a good portion of their life and build their life’s work. It’s important to get that right for everyone involved.
Next week is Fidelity. It’s going to be the best brewery lineup Ireland has ever seen and an absolute joy to show so many of our friends Dublin city and Ireland for their first time. I know there’s no chance I’ll get a blog out on the build until this thing is over so we’ll be back to normal service in a couple of weeks on the brewery build blog. If you want to join us for the festival there’s some tickets left for the early session so head over to www.fidelity.beer for tickets. See you back here soon.