Posts by lachy

China Trips – Brewery Inspection

October 13th, 2016 Posted by Blog 0 thoughts on “China Trips – Brewery Inspection”

Over the last few months, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to take 2 trips to China to inspect our brewing equipment as it was being manufactured.  Having never traveled to China in the past, it was an eye opening experience. I visited Jinan, a small Chinese manufacturing city that you’ve probably never heard of, with a population of around 7 million people! It’s not very touristy and is pretty much full of factories and business people.

Some block asleep next to me on the plane.

China is an absolutely crazy place and what struck me most was the endless opportunities the country presents. You can find to purchase or have made virtually anything you can think of. Although I’m not personally about to buy or have anything manufactured in particular, I find the potential that exists incredibly exciting for some reason. Anyway…

When we first were looking for a brewery manufacturer we sent out our scope of works document to around half a dozen companies, Chinese and others, for quoting. We ended up choosing Tiantai who we had heard about as they were the same mob that the Black Hops blokes used. The reasons we chose Tiantai over the other companies were:

  • They had good technical knowledge.
  • They would respond to our emails generally within the same day.
  • They had very competitive pricing.
  • Their salesman wasn’t just a “yes” man, he worked hard to understand all of the specifics we had requested.
  • They were happy to custom build any piece of equipment that I wanted and would indulge my personal preferences for certain items.

I get the feeling that people are somewhat hesitant of purchasing brewing equipment out of China due to horror stories that are floating around and just general negative attitude towards the quality of work that is associated with the country. I believe this is down to a few reasons:

  • There are some dodgy manufactures out there that will cut corners,
  • Some people expect each manufacturer to have the same technical knowledge as other countries that have been building breweries for 1000’s of years and
  • If you aren’t specific about exactly what it is that you want them to build and to what standard, then it’s likely that they will build the brewery the way that they know but it isn’t necessarily going to be the way you would like it or are familiar with.
View from the hotel window

I personally think that if, as a customer, you are prepared to work closely with the manufacturer and are specific about what it is you want, then you are able to have equipment produced that is of a very high standard and comparable to equipment that is manufactured in western countries.

My first trip to the factory in August was mainly focussed around inspecting fermentation jacket welding and seeing their pressure testing method and reporting systems. I also spent a full day in their office in downtown Jinan designing and reviewing our brewhouse piping configurations with their in-house engineer. At this stage our brewhouse wasn’t really much more than being cylindrical pieces of stainless steel so there wasn’t much to inspect on this front.

The second trip in September was for inspecting our brewhouse before shipping. When I arrived on the first day after roughly 20hrs of travel from Brisbane we went straight to the factory. We spent the day going through all of the brewhouse pipe work. I ended up making around 20 changes to the pipework configuration, mainly for sanitation reasons or to make things easier for the operator. There were some bits of pipe that were too long which meant they were not able to be cleaned sufficiently, etc.

Although I brought it on myself, I also had the incredibly fun task of climbing into each and every one of the fermenters so that I could inspect the internal surface condition. I was glad I insisted on getting into every tank as some of the internals of the tanks were in pretty average condition. There was scratching, pitting and welding spatter in just about all of the tanks. Although Tiantai seemed to be a bit embarrassed, they were very open to going over every surface that I had circled with my permanent marker and re-polishing it.

On the final day we did a complete water brew, testing every valve pump and motor in the brewhouse. There were some small changes I made but these were mainly around touch screen visualisation. Naming things differently and having valves numbered and displayed differently, etc. I’m now confident that we will have a high quality efficiently functioning brewery when it arrives.

The biggest challenge I found when purchasing a brewery from China was completing an independent pressure vessel design verification. As Tiantai are a Chinese company, they don’t complete their vessel designs to AS1210 which is the Australian Pressure Vessel Standard. Luckily for us, WH&S in Australia do accept pressure vessels built to other standards including GB150 (the Chinese Standard). The biggest challenge here was finding a local Engineer who works with GB150 and then getting the correct information translated from Tiantai and in the correct format so that our local Engineer could verify the vessel designs against the standard. I began work on this process towards the end of May and only had it completed last Friday, 7th October.

The welding quality on the equipment was generally good and they were prepared to test and report on anything that I requested. The main downside has been the production time. We were originally quoted 80 days from payment of deposit to when it would be on a ship. It has now been well over 130 days and will likely still be another week and a half. But all in all, for our project, buying a brewery from China has worked pretty well, and the price of the equipment and flexibility in design has made it well worth-while.

Birds eye view of the brewhouse.

What I have learnt and would tell someone who is buying a brewery from China is:

  • Be specific and go into as much detail as you can about everything!
  • Don’t write-off ideas or suggestions that they have, some are good and can be better than what you have seen before.
  • Go over everything with a fine tooth comb. And then do it again.
  • Visit the factory during production (at least once but more if you can) and be involved with process as much as you can.
  • Stay in regular contact with supplier.
  • Get spares and lots of them. Spare seals, elements, everything you can think of and more than you think you’ll need. Having a critical spare in stock could be the difference between brewing and not brewing for weeks.
  • Build in redundancies. For example, we designed the pipework of the brewhouse so that both pumps can do any task. If one breaks, then we can still brew using the other.

I’ve done a very basic list of Pros & Con’s that I found from working with a Chinese Manufacturer.

Pros:

  • They worked very hard to get everything to the standard I wanted
  • Pricing is very good, potentially half what you’d pay elsewhere
  • Very flexible and will customise any bit of equipment

Cons:

  • Language Barrier
  • Experience is less than manufactures from other countries
  • Pressure Vessel Design Verification
  • Have to be very clear about exactly what you want
  • Production time blew out for us

Finally, here’s a very basic list of what we purchased from Tiantai.

3 Vessel 25HL Brewhouse – Including all pneumatic valves controlled by my PLC

  • Mash Tun/Wort Kettle
  • Lauter Tun
  • Whirlpool

75HL Hot Liquor Tank

50HL Cold Liquor Tank

25m2 Heat Exchanger

2 x 25HL Fermentation Tanks

4 x 50HL Fermentation Tanks

3 x 2HL Fermentation Tanks (for use with our pilot kit)

CIP Cart

2 Head Keg Cleaner

2 Head Keg Filler

Massive list of assorted spares for all pumps, manways and electrical elements. Also a heap of cellar gear, t-pieces, valves, elbow, hoses, clamps, sight glasses etc.

Cheers & Beers

Lachy

Beer Judging

September 11th, 2016 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “Beer Judging”

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks away from the brewery, out of my cold lonely office and in the real world rubbing shoulders with some of the best beer tasters in Australia. Although I do like to, I haven’t actually been massaging other brewers, rather I have been lucky enough to have been asked to officiate as an Associate Judge at the CBIA (Craft Beer Industry Association) beer awards and as a Judge at the PRBS (Perth Royal Beer Show).

From my understanding there are two reasons why we hold beer competitions. First and foremost, it is an opportunity for us to promote our industry to a wider audience and showcase the wonderful beers that we are producing. Secondly, it is an opportunity for professional and amateur brewers to gain expert feedback on the beers they are brewing and also to recognise and celebrate the excellent beers that are being produced by awarding those with medals and trophies.

beer-judgingAs a beer judge, you are judging that beer against written style guidelines and how well it meets the criteria (see example of style guidelines HERE) and not whether you personally like it or would drink more than one. (I often wonder whether the amount of any said beer you would drink is actually a good measure of quality). It’s easy to fall into the trap of being ultra-critical of a beer, going out of your way to find a problem with it. It is much harder to commit to liking something in front of your peers without hearing first what they thought. That’s one of the challenges of judging and I believe that it is our responsibility to give every beer the time and attention it deserves. A brewer or team of brewers have spent a shed load of time and effort making that beer and paid a fee to enter it. We need to look at it objectively and provide relevant feedback as to what was good or bad about that beer.

It’s important to understand that everybody’s palate is different and we are able to detect different flavour compounds at different concentrations. A flavour that I personally cannot taste at all may stick out like the proverbial to the person next to me. A good judge needs to understand their own abilities and limitations to be able to look at a beer objectively.

Having judged at PRBS a number of times in the past I always find that in the lead up to a comp I have to spend some time getting my head in the right place and really dial in my palate. Although I always intend to look at every beer I drink objectively, after working hard at the brewery it’s easy to slide into the pattern of drinking your own IPA every day and not think too much about it. What I’ll tend to do to get back into the swing of things is to grab a number of different beers of the same style and sit down with them over an evening. Not necessarily taking notes but making an effort to think about the beer, what’s good and/or bad about it etc.

There’s so much noise around the craft brewing scene saying that “good beer” needs to be full of big flavours and heavy on either hops or malt.

To the best of my knowledge the way most commercial beer competitions are structured in Australia is where by each beer is given a score out of 20. 20 being a perfect beer and 0 being unfermented creek water. The beers are then awarded either a Gold (>17), Silver (15.5-16.9), Bronze (14-15.4) or no medal (<14) depending on the score that they receive.

Gold – An outstanding, world class example of the style.
Silver – A very good example of the style.
Bronze – No major faults, but maybe has some element that doesn’t fit the style guidelines.
No Medal – Likely has some obvious fault or is wildly out of style.

Trophies are then awarded to the best beer in each class (i.e. Pale Ale) in one of two ways. At CBIA, all of the Gold medal beers in a class will then be re-judged by a completely new panel and the beer deemed to be the best of that flight is awarded the trophy. At PRBS, the trophy winning beers are the ones that scored the highest from the initial round of judging. This is different to the way in which the World Beer Cup in the US is structured where only one Gold, Silver and Bronze is awarded per category much like the Olympics.

I would like to say that I think it’s super exciting and a massive step forward for our community to see Little Creatures win the Champion Australian Craft Beer at CBIA with their Pilsner. There’s so much noise around the craft brewing scene saying that “good beer” needs to be full of big flavours and heavy on either hops or malt. I think we need to take a step back and try to appreciate the subtlety of beer and take notice of beers that are well balanced and expertly crafted. To have a clean, well balanced and easy drinking lager rise above all of the Imperial Stouts, Double IPA’s and other massive beers is a huge thumb’s up to hard work, world class quality standards and attention to detail. I’ll drink a Little Creatures any day.

perth-beer-show

I personally very much enjoy the process of beer judging as not only do you get the opportunity to drink some of Australia’s best beers but mainly because of the education opportunity it presents. I get to sit with and learn from the best beer tasters in the country and pick their brains about different ways to assess and taste beer. Brewers at small breweries are often not exposed to environments where we have formal taste training with repetitive fault finding from spiked samples and I personally find I learn more from judging one competition than I do in a year of drinking beer in any normal situation. I feel privileged every time I am asked to officiate and jump at every opportunity.

I believe we should all continue to promote, support and grow our competitions as they only benefit and promote our community.

Cheers and Beers

Lachy

CBIA Full List of Results: http://www.australiancraftbeer.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/CBA-2016-results.pdf

PRBS Full List of Results: http://www.perthroyalshow.com.au/competitions/competition-results-2016/

 

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