Brew Life

Bellwoods Brewery
Bellwoods Brewery

Sometimes beer lovers drop into the brewery during the day looking for a tour or simply to witness a bit of the action. On rare slow days we can spare the time to show them around, but more often than not we have to apologize for our lack of availability -- the brews and the bottler and the kegs and barrels have no pause button. The anxiety in knowing that demand outweighs supply hangs in our minds like an omnipresent ethereal being, and we deal with it the only way we know how: brew until our heads fall off.

For a while now I've been wanting to take you through an average day at Bellwoods. We get a ton of very specific questions about every conceivable aspect of our operation, and I'll be the first to admit that the small snapshots we reveal are often the most sensational. Special limited-run beer releases, expansion updates, or how we put together a batch of Motley Cru Anniversary Ale, these are noteworthy topics that make the cut. But we all know that it's the hard work of the team, on a regular ol' unglamorous day-to-day basis that really makes a brewery (or workplace in general) tick. Without spreadsheets, hand-labelling bottles one by one, and a lot of caustic washing, our beer would never see the light of day.

So jump on board the forklift (with your license, of course, and steal-toe boots, and safety glasses, and gloves), because we're going on a field trip. Let's take a look at the real behind the scenes: A Day In The Life Of A Bellwoods Brewer. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ 5:30-5:45am: Alarm goes off. Hit the snooze. Fall into a quick dream about bottling. Alarm goes off again. Get up for real this time.

6:00: Eat lots of carbs, potentially toasted, drink a cup of hot beverage. Attempt to read work emails and make a lunch.

6:30: Head into the ol' tank farm. The streets are always quiet at this time, but today I count 4, FOUR people jogging before 7am. That's insanity, even for someone who's used to waking up early. Think about joggers for the duration of the commute.

brewday 6
brewday 6

7:00: Unlock the door and do a super cool handshake with the other brewer. Start recirculating water in the hot liquor tank, set up the flow meter, and pump several hectolitres of hot water (mixed with a few litres of cold) into the mashtun. Calculate the appropriate strike temperature based on the day's brew. One brewer weighs out specialty malts as the other begins to lift skids (with a pump truck!) of empty bottles out of the work van.

brew day 7
brew day 7

7:30-7:45: Mash grain into hot water, jumping down from the brewhouse every minute of so to dump another bag of grain in the hopper. Second brewer is next door setting up the bottler and bringing kegs over to be washed.

8:00: Brew is resting (to allow starches to be converted into sugar), bottler is getting hooked up to multiple compressed air and CO2 lines like some sort of Frankensteinian monster. Get the fermenter hooked up to a pump and begin caustic wash.

brew day 10
brew day 10

8:03: Pump up the jams. Musical selections often turn into musical battles, and then musical jokes. Does this happen in your workplace? Do things just devolve into Remix To Ignition on Fridays?

8:07: Notice that the glycol chiller (that keeps the tanks appropriately cooled) is acting haywire. Glycol problems? Well I never! Curse glycol chillers and all that is holy in this world. Climb up, "address the problem".

coffee beer
coffee beer

8:39: Drink what will be the first of many coffees. Some like it to go, others bring a decorative mug and demand latte art. To each their own.

9:00: Get back to the fermenter and clean every nook and cranny. Check that it looks perfect after a rinse. It doesn't. Clean it again!

9:30: Carbonation on the beer is nearing the correct number of volumes. Smell and taste a small sample. Next door the wort is slowly running off into the kettle. Start washing kegs.

beer bottles
beer bottles

10:15: Beer is carbonated in the bright tank, bottler is sanitized and ready. Wrangle another body to help bottle, say a prayer to the bottle mechanic gods to bless the machine. Hit "GO"!

10:17: Scramble to find earplugs as the bottler roars into action. Why no foresight?! Next door the wort is still running off into the kettle.

bottling day
bottling day

10:30-12:00: Bottle like worker bees. Taste the beer to make sure carbonation and flavours are on the money. Take mind to happy place. Next door the wort is between 9 and 10 hectolitres high in the kettle. Check the specific gravity to make sure everything is on the right track. The gravity is a little high, run off slightly more wort. Check the gravity again. Looks good, double check it. Start draining the mash tun.

12:10: Now comes the fun part! Mashing out, AKA getting all the water-logged malt out of the mash tun and into green bins. Weigh a full green bin for shits and giggles. It's over 200 lbs! What are you doing? Get back to work. Rinse out the mash tun and fill it up with water again for brew #2 of the day. Brew #1 is boiling, add hops, make sure it doesn't boil over. Stand ready with a hose. Bottler is chugging along next door.

12:45: Mash in brew #2 and add 10 minute hops to the boil of brew #1. Can't do two things at once? Get lost! Take a skid of freshly bottled beer over to storage, retrieve full skid for the retail store. Receive frantic text from the retail store "MORE 4 PACK CARRIERS!!!". Grab 4 pack carriers. The boil for brew #1 is finished and the whirlpool begins (when proteins and hops are collected in a tidy tornado-like centre). Begin cooling and casting (that's when we send beer to the fermenter) shortly afterwards.

1:30: Brew #1 wort is still casting into a fermenter. Brew #2 is resting. Bottling is done. Keg lines are heat sterilized before being hooked up to the bright tank. Keg off the remaining beer that wasn't bottled. Run to the store for a can of diet Coke. Contemplate the 2 litre and associated shame. Decide that shame is temporary and diet Coke is the one true saviour forever. Return with 2-litre of diet Coke and bask in momentary glory/consume with coworkers. Resolve to quit (diet Coke, not job) tomorrow.

2:00: Repeat brewing process on brew #2. Finish kegging. Put on parka and head into the fridge to make room for the new beer. Feel chills, both literal and figurative after realizing that Toronto winters are both a) colder than beer fridges and b) on their way.

crushed barley
crushed barley

3:00: Start casting brew #2 into the fermenter, mash in brew #3. Experience dejá vu many times over. Third brewer arrives to finish the final brew of the day.

3:30: Answer work emails, drive to storage and collect malt for the next day. Receive frantic text from the retail store "BRING MORE WIZARD WOLF". Bring more Wizard Wolf. Arrive back at the brewery. Taste some Wizard Wolf for quality assurance purposes.

4:00-8:00: Morning brewers leave. Brew #3 is drawing to an end. Clean brewhouse and heat exchange.

8:00-11:00pm: Transfer new beer into the bright tank to package tomorrow. Begin carbonating, clean up. Taste Wizard Wolf for quality assurance purposes. Go home!

Tomorrow? Rinse, lather, and repeat.