Tuesday, January 31, 2012

They Were Serious When They Said That Everyone Cleans the Lauter Tun

When I first interviewed with Jim for the position, he told me that everyone spends a week "rubber booting" in the brewery.  In my head, that meant that I would get to watch the well-trained employees throw hops into brew kettles and put bottles into boxes.  Little did I know that they would have me do the jobs myself.  This became apparent when I began sneezing French Farmhouse Ale out my nose.

The day started like a normal day.  I walked into the office and sat at my desk to answer emails.  Then Walter, Mr. Brewmaster, rolled in.  He told me to "boot up" because today was my day.  I laughed a little, and then realized that he was serious.  It was time to rubber boot.

The first job of the day involved getting the old yeast out of one of the fermentation tanks.  Because the tanks are shaped conically, the dead yeast settles to the bottom during the primary fermentation process.  To extract that yeast, one has to hook up a bunch of hoses to the base of the tank and hope that the pressure and gravity are enough to drive it out.  We had begun the process of removing the yeast from GiGi, our French Farmhouse Ale, right about the time that Walt began explaining that you can tell how a beer is progressing based on how it smells and the yeast feels.  I was running the yeast through my fingers (which is a really weird experience, it kind of feels like hair mousse and smells like bread) when Walt asked me if I could smell the cherry flavor in the beer. 

I can recall thinking in the back of my head "Don't do it. Don't smell the yeast.  He will smash it in your face."  But, as usual, I went against my better judgement.  Next thing I knew, I had Farmhouse Ale yeast all over my face, in my nose, and in my hair.  On the plus side, I don't have a beard like Walt, and when I retaliated, he ended up with yeast in his beard, hair, and shirt (And if I figure out which pair of boots are his, it will be there too).

Later in the day, shortly after lunch, Walt told me to boot up again.  It was time to clean the Lauter Tun (Insert foreboding music: dun dun DUN).  The lauter tun generally completes the third step in the brewing process.  It takes all of the grain and liquid from the mash mixer and uses the husks of the grain as a filtration bed to extract as many sugars as possibile from the wort.  It is then sparged with water at intervals to keep the grain wet.  After all of the fermentable sugars have been removed from the mixture, you are left with just a thick bed of grain at the bottom of the tank.  We give this grain to a local farmer.

So, there it was.  The LAUTER TUN.  A giant tank with no ladder and a device with feet in the middle that plows the grain.  We started on the brewing platform, hosing down the grain that was stuck to the sides of the the tank.  I made this part last as long as possible.  I like to think of it as killing time before being executed by continuing to order food for my last meal (Yes, I will have another pizza. Thank you for asking).  I have a fear of climbing into things because I don't know that I can climb out.  I can't even do a girl pushup.  Walt told me that I would be fine.  But he also once told me that I seemed like a cool person, so I already knew his judgement may be a little faulty.

I climbed into the Lauter Tun. It was how I imagine that a submarine would be (minus the sharks with lasers on their heads) with the addition of grain stuck to the walls.  Walt jumped in after me and handed me the hose and a squeegee. You have to clean in a counterclockwise direction, forcing the grain into a hole at the bottom.  I started with the squeegee and was able to force most of the grain into the opening.  Then I hosed down the false bottom of the tank.  It is divided into pie pieces, and you clean the first one, then clean your shoes, and then step onto the clean one as you work your way clockwise around the bottom of the tank.  It probably took me 15 minutes to get the tank cleaned in a "Walt Approved" manner.  He claims he can get it done in 8 minutes.  My competitive nature has kicked in.  Now I have to be able to do it in 7 minutes.

By the time I pulled myself out of the Lauter Tun, I was soaking wet.  Apparently people who are good at cleaning it don't get even slightly wet.  Consequently, I am in the process of getting them to change the name of the Lauter Tun to the "Wet T-Shirt Lauter Tun."  I think it sounds sexier and I hear people are into that.


  1. Sounds like fun! I'm sure the experience has made you a better person! :)

  2. This actually made me want to try this! I bet I could do it in 6 minutes and get even more soaked.