It’s… ALIVE!

We begin today’s Enlightenment Ales update with actual footage from the brewery!

Actually,it sounded a bit more like this:

Well, mustaches and hot blonde assistants aside, the actually scene at the brewery yesterday looked VERY much like that.  Take my word for it.

After over two years of planning, hoping, procrastinating, and sketching diagrams on the back of coasters at CBC while bar tending, my home-made glycol cooling system has at last roared to fearsome life!  I’m sure you have many questions… What exactly IS a glycol cooling system?  Why is this in any way exciting? Don’t you have anything better to do with your time?

I’ll take a stab at addressing these deep and probing questions…  During fermentation temperature plays a huge factor in the flavors the yeast produce in the final beer. Nearly all fermenters used for commercial beer production have built in cooling jackets that allows the brewer to regulate the temperature of a fermentation. Once fermentation is complete, most beers go through an extended cold condition period (ofter referred to as “lagering”) where the temperature of the beer is greatly reduced. This causes much of the yeast to drop out of suspension and “flocculate” towards the bottom of the tank. Additionally this process helps to ‘cold-stabilize’ the beer, causing haze-forming proteins to drop out and helping the flavors mellow and mature. This temperature regulation and cold conditioning is achieved by circulating super cold food grade glycol through a series of tubes (not unlike the internet) that absorb heat from the beer and whisk it away, thus cooling the beer in the tank. The warmed coolant then returns home to the glycol chiller where it is cooled down again. Each tank is equiped with a temperature control and solenoid valve that allows coolant access to the cooling jacket when needed or closes off the jacket when the desired temperature is reached inside the tank.

Due to the fact that Enlightenment Ales has a much more “humble” start-up budget than most breweries I decided to construct my own cooling jackets and temperature regulations system for my tanks based on the simple theoretical design used on commercial fermenters. The inspiration came from this enterprising home brewer. This was done by wrapping 50 feet of 1/2″ copper tubing around the two conditioning tanks and securing it in place with four ratchet straps. Thanks to Peter August, Travis Wilson and Kyle Shearer for their help with this absurd part of the project. The copper coils were then cover with Styrofoam pipe insulation that was bent open to a 180 degree arc and secured to the tank thus creating four “cooling zones” around the tank.  Each of these was then wrapped and secured with bubble-wrap insulation to further focus the cooling power against the side of the tank.

Here’s the process:

The nearly naked BBT just after being wrapped with the copper coil.

Next, the pipe insulation is seured against the side of the tank.

The pipe insulation is then wrapped with bubble wrap insulation. WOW! I bet you can't wait to find out what happens next.

While the tanks will need to be further insulated before actual use, I wanted to test out the system to see if it would actually work. This required cleaning out the 15+ year old glycol chiller I acquired from Phill Bannatyne and Will Meyers at CBC, filling it with glycol, and building a test loop out of 1/2″ vinyl tubing.  Once I verified that the coolant was actually cooling down and that the pump actually still functioned it was time to test the system on the cooling jacket we had constructed. Two PVC valves were placed in line to help control the flow of the glycol and to purge air bubbles trapped in the 50 feet of copper tube.  After several hours of tightening, bending, cursing, slipping in glycol and pouring glycol into the jacket through a funnel the cooling jacket roared to life!

The glycol chiller sending coolant through the top of the copper coil, cooling the tank, and pulling the returning coolant back into the chiller.

As absurd as it sounds it’s a huge relief to know that the cooling sytem actually works! It’s a part of the brewery that is absolutely imperative to have, yet until yesterday, existed only as a theoretical design. However, there’s much more work to be done. The temperature controller and solenoid valve need to be hooked up to both tanks and included in the coolant loop.  The coolant lines then need to be insulated and secured to the wall.  Finally both tanks need to be fully insulated so as to maintain the cold temperatures produced by the jacket.

Don’t worry, I’ll post pictures of this exciting next step soon!

In other news Enlightenment Ales has been included in a Washington Post article about bière de champagne. No big deal.