When I sat down to write this post I intended to tell you how great Nashville Craft Beer Week 2014 was. Thousands of people drinking hundreds of beers over the span of 7 days was pretty awesome. From the Nashville Beer Distributor Kick Ball Challenge last Sunday to the Predators Foundation Festival Saturday evening there were so many events no one person could make them all (not saying I didn’t try…). New and rare beers, beer/food pairings, brewery bus tours, parties and movies, this week really had it all, but you already knew that.
What you might not have known is how this all works. How do all of these breweries get together and schedule something like this? How is it that night after night for an entire week the kind folks of Nashville and beyond get together with their favorite beer at their favorite watering hole with their favorite beer people? Do all these people really get along? How can that be?!
The best example of what it’s like in the beer business that I could think of didn’t have anything to do with Craft Beer Week, but it gives a clear example of how this industry works. I’d like to share that story with you now.
At the end of April 2013 we drove to Birmingham. We borrowed a friend’s truck and towed a trailer in the pounding rain. The windshield leaked from a central point right behind the rearview mirror. We had to stuff paper towels between the roof and the mirror to keep the water from dripping on the dash.
When we crossed the state line into Alabama the weather turned sunny and humid. By the time we hit Birmingham it was downright stifling.
We pulled into Good People Brewing Company just about lunch time. We were on a mission to pick up Good People’s old glycol chiller. A glycol chiller is a critical piece of equipment for a brewery. During fermentation, yeast consumes sugars and produces alcohol, CO2 and heat. Too much heat during fermentation can produce off flavors in the finished beer. Breweries commonly use fermenters with “jackets” around the outside. These jackets, or thin pockets of space between the outer and inner wall of the vessel, hold a glycol mixture that helps keep the fermenting liquid inside at a constant temperature. The chiller works just like an air conditioning unit works on air; it cools the glycol that is in turn pumped to these jackets when the tanks begin to warm up, keeping them cool.
Sun beating down, Jason, one of GP’s founders, loaded the palletized equipment onto the trailer. We lifted the glycol reservoir into the bed of the truck, strapped everything down and prepared to head on back to Nashville. Right before we left, Jason grabbed a couple of cardboard boxes and heaved them into the bed of the truck. “These are a couple of pumps that we no longer need. Please take them along, they will come in handy someday.”
We headed back to Nashville, leaving obliterating heat behind. By the time we crossed the Tennessee line, it was pouring rain again. Going as quickly as we dared, we hurried back to the brewery and unloaded our new chiller.
Fast forward; The Black Abbey is up and running, the glycol chiller works like a champ, things are going well.
Things take a sharp turn toward trouble one Friday night during a rain storm. We lost power at the brewery, as is prone to happen in Nashville from time to time. The lights flickered then went out, the emergency exit lamps came on, then the transformer on the pole behind the brewery exploded. The sound was like cannon-fire in the building.
The power surge burned out one of our process pumps that moves glycol from the reservoir to the chiller that Good People had sold us just 13 months before. We had beer in the fermenter and no way to keep it cold.
NES was quick to respond and we had power back on in a matter of hours, but there was a lot of beer in danger of spoiling.
The next morning our friends at United Mechanical were on site and got us back in business. They were able to repurpose one of those spare pumps that Jason had given us. No beer was harmed, and there was much rejoicing.
The next day as I reflected on the events of the evening, I remembered a picture I had taken back in May. Ben Lewellyn, the area sales rep for Good People, was in town and we had the good fortune to visit with him in our brewhouse. I snapped a picture of Ben with the spare pump that Jason had sent us and forwarded it back to Jason with a note “still waiting on someday”. Turns out “someday” was only 2 months away.
So why am I sharing all of this with you, friends? This story reminds me of what a great community we have in the craft beer industry. This past week we had the opportunity to showcase our craft side by side as friends and fellow artisans. It is not just lip service when I say that breweries care about each other. The craft beer industry here is strong, friendly, and exciting. From Birmingham to Sparta to Murfreesboro to Franklin; Nashville Craft Beer Week was a great example of how good it can be, how if we all stick together, there will continue to be great tales, like this one, to tell. Cheers!