Nanobrewery Quality Control

For anyone interested in opening a nano, currently running one, or just interested in improving their homebrewing process, read this post.  It could save you hours of heartache.

In my previous posts, I had mentioned that quality control has been my greatest priority and struggle since I opened.  When I first opened the doors, I had my Belgian single and English pale ale on tap.  I had brewed them a week before, and they were the first beers I had made on the 1.5 BBL system.  Fortunately they turned out perfect, so opening weekend went well. This did not last very long, however.  Around batch number six, I started encountering some problems.  Acrid, overly bitter beers, green-tinted, plastic-y tasting paler beers, beers with apple cider flavors, and a pervasive smoky flavor in my beers.  Suddenly I started having to dump batches of beer left and right.  The first three things I always do when I encounter a problem is to research it myself, ask another brewer that I know, and post a question on probrewer.com.  With a little help, I quickly managed to solve the problems of cidery and smoky flavors–beers weren’t fully fermenting, leaving acetaldehyde, because my fermentation temperatures were too low.  Smoky flavors were coming from the electric coils in the boil kettle, which I wasn’t cleaning thoroughly, leading to charring of dried wort.  I addressed these issues and they went away. Infection with brett still remained a constant threat, though.  I was still losing a batch fairly often.  Fortunately, I can produce more than enough beer at the brewery to keep up with demand, so I was able to dump the bad beer and still keep good beer on tap.  Every so often, though, I’d be forced to put a batch on that had some off-flavors.  This was bad, not to mention the ingredients and hours of labor I was losing to infection. Over the months, though, I developed a few methods which have greatly helped

Yeast: Don’t reuse yeast.  Larger breweries reuse yeast fairly regularly, but without a lab tech and with a less-than-clean environment, reusing yeast is just way too risky.  I switched to mostly dry yeasts, which is pretty common for brew-pubs.  I still use liquid yeast for my Belgian ales because dry yeast won’t deliver the same results for those beers.  I use S-04 and US-05 for most of my non-Belgian beers now.  They are inexpensive to buy from my supplier at about $12 for a 40 gallon pitch.

Make sure you rehydrate properly first by mixing the yeast with 10 ml of sterile water per gram at between 90 and 110 degrees half an hour before pitching.  I use a butane stove for this.  It also works great for heating water for PBW.  Many commercial beers are still contaminated with wild yeast and bacteria.  Even when buying yeast, you can check the packaging for threshold populations of lacto, pedio, etc.  In low populations, they aren’t going to have much of a chance to alter the flavor.  However, through subsequent repitches the populations can increase to a level where they ruin your beer.  On a nano scale, your beer is never going to be that clean.  Your best bet is to clean as thoroughly as you can and only pitch new yeast, giving it a head-start over other microorganisms.

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Fermentation: Install thermowells.  Getting the temperature of the beer vs. ambient is just too unpredictable, and considering how inexpensive putting thermowells in your fermenters is, I really wish I had done it sooner.  I have a JC controller hooked up to a fan that pulls air from my cold room.

CIP: Clean as much as you can.  At a larger brewery, you have a lot more tools and chemicals at your disposal to clean and sanitize.  I’ve had to improvise a bit.  First, during a brew I leave some hot water in the HLT.  I will cut it with a bit of cold water to reach 120 degrees and 5 gallons of volume, and then add PBW.  I will recirculate the PBW through the entire system, minus the BK where the beer is currently boiling.  I put it through the heat exchanger forwards and backwards.  Then I will dump the PBW and run star-san through the system.  This has two effects.  Most importantly, it neutralizes the alkalinity of the PBW and rinses it off.  Second, it helps get things a bit cleaner.  Then, before I am ready to start chilling the beer, I run hot wort through the chiller at 170 degrees for one minute as extra insurance.

After the brew is done, everything gets cleaned and vacuumed out.  Your best friend in a nano other than PBW is a pressure washer.  I use a small electric model from Karcher.  It has worked pretty well for a few months and is inexpensive enough so that if it breaks it can easily be replaced.

For cleaning fermenters after packaging, I first will clean off surface dirt with the pressure washer.  Afterwards, I use a sump pump cleaner to wash them down with PBW.  One of these can easily be built with a sump pump, pvc pipe, and 1/2 inch ball sprayer.  I use a 1 HP sump pump, which provides more than enough power.  20 minutes of cleaning usually leaves the fermenter spotless.  I will then rinse with water.  Fittings and clamps go into a bucket with PBW overnight.  When it is time to transfer wort into the fermenter, I give it a good spray-down with star-san using a two-gallon sprayer.

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About crookedrunbrewing

Brewmaster
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3 Responses to Nanobrewery Quality Control

  1. Michael says:

    Lots of great information in this post! Could you maybe explain a bit on how you keep your kegs clean and sanitary? Is it a process similar to what the FV’s go through? Have you ever considered using returnable kegs or something like EVKegs?

    • Michael, I use a keg washer at a nearby local brewery (Lost Rhino). There isn’t a returnable keg service in my area, but fortunately the guys there are pretty nice and let me use their stuff.

  2. Ginny weinstock says:

    I had no idea making beer was so exquisite and complicated! awesome!

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