Standing on Skipton Road at 6:15AM waiting on Oliver to pick me up, it was all becoming a reality now. I was finally in the UK. I was finally starting my first brewery job. And I had woken up at the god forsaken time of 5am. This was to be my schedule for the next 3 months. A slight change of schedule from what I had grown accustomed to in Chicago – starting work at 10am. Now by 10am almost half my work day would be over.
My expectations for the day were not very high. I expected to be doing basic labor for a while – cask washing, shoveling grain, cleaning, etc – but I was looking forward to getting past the uncomfortableness of being the new guy and contributing to the brewery in my own way.
Casks getting loaded on pallets to befilled with beer the next day.
We arrived at the brewery in about 15 minutes after Oliver picked me up. The drive from Harrogate to Knaresborough was surprisingly busy for such an hour – may be the English were earlier risers than Americans or maybe I just had no idea that people’s days started much earlier than mine typically had in the past. Oliver and I entered in the side door behind the massive stainless steel tanks while everyone else was waiting at the front where two large steel sliding doors opened the brewery up to the world. The brewery was housed in a large steel structure resembling an airplane hangar – a large half circle corrugated steel roof extending for nearly a football field’s length.
After I got introduced to everyone, and quickly forgot everyone’s name, everyone very promptly got to work. Kat fixed coffee and tea for everyone. Everyone had their own steel toe, waterproof boots and a locker to hold their stuff. It all operated like a well-oiled machine – everyone had their tasks for the day and it was just a matter of getting it done that determined the success of their job. As everyone started tackling their morning tasks, Oliver gave me a tour.
|The cask washer beside a wall of casks.|
The brewery was very orderly and very logically set up. Behind the two massive doors, the casks sat stacked 4 rows of 6 high. Stacked on pallets with trays placed between each row, the casks were able to be easily moved and rearranged as needed. There were 9 gallon casks, 11 gallon casks, and full 18 gallon casks. Beside the casks was two bathrooms and a large stainless steel utility sink and dishwasher. Behind the casks was the cask washer. Placed up against the wall, the cask washer was a 3 cask washer. A cask stand stood close to the cask washer with a large plastic tub positioned under the stand to catch the remaining contents of each cask as it was emptied and rinsed. Behind the cask washer on the right side of the building was a two story structure with the lower level having an enclosed laboratory making up one room and a supplies closet making up the other. The upper level was used for grain storage and for access to the top of the mash tun for loading the grain hopper. The 30 barrel brew house stood behind this with a hot liquor tank, a cold liquor tank, a CIP system, and another hot liquor tank. On the left side of the building stood a two story structure with the lower level having a small office for Oliver positioned adjacent to the kitchen and the upper level housed Tom’s office. Behind that was a closet for storing the canning system, filters, and pumps. Then more cask and can storage and then behind that stood CO2 tanks and O2 tanks beside a large bright tank for carbonating beer prior to kegging and canning. 6 large conical fermenters finished the remainder of the left side of the room across from the brew house. The fermenters were custom made by a local fabricator with a manway opening at the top for dryhopping. All of this composed the main area of the brewery. Behind the main area was a two story cold room. The lower level was held at cellar temperature for cask conditioning, while the upper level housed all of the hops at 2 deg C. Finally, behind the cold storage was a staging area for prepping cask orders for delivery.
|Research - Hales Pub, Harrogate's |
This is my world for the next three months. Day in and day out, opportunities will arise to make me become very familiar with every aspect of the brewery – but for now my main tasks are washing pallet after pallet of casks, making sure that they are absolutely spotless on the inside, and filling casks from the fermenters that stand 12 feet over my head in what seem like a tank of infinite capacity. Regardless of how menial the task, I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity. What can I complain about? I am in UK, working for an awesome brewery…spending my free time “researching” the drinking culture in the UK while sampling as many cask beers that I can get my hands on. Also, it doesn’t hurt that everyone I have met so far has been incredibly friendly and accommodating to me and very curious and supportive of our goals for Present Tense. 3 months is quite a while to be away, especially when I had to leave someone very special behind, but this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I am doing best to make the most of this experience and prepare myself to bring a little bit of the UK back to Chicago.