A few years ago, when Justin, Brian and I were cranking out one (less than superb but ultimately fun and enjoyable) short film after the next, I caught a documentary on IFC that a guy made about his own journey to make a film.
Much like many wanna-be filmmakers, including us at one time, he had documented the making of his movie, probably with some thought of including a behind-the-scenes extra on the DVDs he would give out to friends and family. Because who wouldn’t want to watch a crappy 15 minute documentary about what it took to make an even crappier feature?
On that note, my sincerest thanks to all our friends and family for suffering through some of our past cinematic endeavors with a smile. We had a lot of fun making them, and we would eventually get better, but damn…those early films are almost painful to watch now.
But in this one case…the documentary extra became a much better movie than the film it was documenting. The actual film project was a disaster. Everything that could go wrong did. The guy made the biggest rookie filmmaker mistake in the book. He enlisted friends to be his actors and crew and as a result, he had to do almost all the lighting, shooting, sound work and editing himself. Not a fun way to make a film. I felt for this guy. I had been in those shoes. I had made these same mistakes in the past. Doing everything yourself, particularly when it is supposed to be a team effort, will suck the fun out of a project. Even more so, when your supposed “crew” are doing nothing more than taking up space on whatever nearby furniture they can find and begging to take a break for lunch. Right. Because I’m sure that you worked up quite the appetite while taking that 45 minute nap.
But his passion and his desire carried him through to the end. He gritted it out, and made the best movie he could make.
When he wrapped up his editing, he dropped one kernel of wisdom that is applicable to almost anything in life.
“Films are never finished…they are just abandoned.”
It’s true. You can tinker and tweak until you turn blue, but at some point you reach the brink of diminishing returns. At some point along the way, you have to look at your project and say to yourself…”sure, I could keep on tweaking…but why?”
Simply put, it’s just good enough.
“I know I can play, but I don’t think I want to.”
There comes a point in most ventures where the extra work is no longer worth it. You have invested all that you have to invest into it, and it’s just time to walk away. Or in the case of Mr. Fav-ruh…walk away…then walk away again….then walk away one more time for good measure.
So what does this have to do with Regular Guy Brewing?
Not a damn thing. Not even by a long shot.
We at Regular Guy Brewing have set our sights on a goal. We want to become a professional brewery. We want to make that tasty beer that you buy at your local watering hole on a Saturday night.
But we know we aren’t there yet. We are each putting in our own time, in our own ways to get there, but we know we still have a long road to hoe before that day comes.
In the meanwhile, good enough is not really in our collective vocabulary. I will continue to work on recipes and equipment. Justin will continue to tackle our marketing and sanitation. Brian will continue to bridge relationships. We are going to make many, many, many mistakes along the way and will probably have more failures than successes, but we will learn from them. We will make our tweaks and improvements and continue to do so up til, and long after we open our doors to the world.
Brewing beer and building a business go very much hand in hand. They both are just as much of an art as they are a science. There is no 100% right or wrong way to do anything. There is just what works for you and what doesn’t. There is just what you like, and what you don’t. These are lessons that have to be learned the hard way. Sure you could read a book, on any myriad of topics, and get a basic idea…but until those ideas are put into action they really can’t be fleshed out and perfected (or even good enough-ed).
One such idea…which started strong, but still needs some additional modification…is our Thermal Interchange Manifold (TIM for short, or TIM the Enchanter if you are a Monty Python fan, or Ms. Jackson if you’re nasty).
Okay. You’re back. Or did you ever leave? No matter…
We were able to put TIM into action a couple weeks ago for the first time during a brewing of our Hot Blonde. As is our standard procedure, we left our grist in the tun completely undisturbed for the first 30 minutes of mashing. After that, we flipped the switch to our HERMS control, and began 30 minutes of constant recirculation. At the start, TIM performed brilliantly. The solenoids were constantly clicking, and watching the temperature readout, the inflow of wort never fluctuated more than a degree or so. It was running great. A second temperature probe that we placed within the grain bed was holding right at our target temp with very little variance. Everything was working exactly as I had imagined it would. Twenty minutes later though…and that story would change.
Our “waterproof” thermometer probe, apparently wasn’t that waterproof. Suddenly, I noticed that our temperature readout had jumped almost 50 degrees. Of course there was no way our wort had gotten that hot. Given that our Hot Liquor Tank is held at a temperature of about 175 during the mash (we cool it down to 168 for sparging), there was simply no possible way that wort going through the heat exchanger could have heated up to nearly 200 degrees. Regardless, our HERMS system responded as it should, if we in fact had boiling hot wort coursing through its lines, and shut down the flow to the heat exchanger. We were just recirculating. No additional heat was being added to the cycling wort, and as it passed through several feet of uninsulated silicone tubing, it began to cool.
Thankfully, the probe we had in the mash tun had the same kind of NTC thermistor as the probe installed in the TIM. As such, I was able to quickly rewire things so the HERMS control was reading the temp in the grain bed instead of the temp of the wort passing through the TIM. In the end it all worked out, and our mash efficiency finished exactly the same as it had the previous brewing of the Hot Blonde.
But I don’t want the same. I want better. Good enough is not good enough. Not yet.
So, between brews, I went back to the drawing board. I came up with a revision to the TIM design that will hopefully work out for the better.
Instead of placing the temperature probe directly in the wort flow, we will now be placing the probe in a thermowell which the wort will flow around as it passes through the manifold.
This was how our temperature assembly was put together before:
This is how it goes together now:
For those who are curious about such things, the thermowell came from Duda Energy and was purchased via Amazon for less than $10 including shipping. It is meant for use with a solar heater water tank, but it should fit our needs just fine, and at a fraction of the price of other thermowells I have seen. The one we purchased is copper, but for those with hard-ons for stainless steel, you can go that route for the same price. We opted for copper though, as it is a much better thermal conductor than stainless, so the temperature readings our probe picks up through it should be much faster with less lag. And since TIMs operation is dependent upon current real-time conditions, copper just made more sense. The threads are 1/2″ NPT and if it works out, I think we will be purchasing several more for use on other projects around the brewery.
To help our probe pick up readings from the metal well faster, we will be adding a temperature conductive gel to fill the space within the thermowell.
It’s a very technical and advanced substance, that you have probably never heard of…unless you are a parent:
We will be using a diaper rash cream for our thermal grease. Don’t worry. It won’t be going in our beer, just inside a tiny sealed pipe that our beer will pass around.
So why diaper rash cream? If you look at the tube, you will notice two little words. Not “Rapid Relief.” Just to the right. That’s right…”Zinc Oxide.”
Zinc oxide is an excellent thermal conductor and is used for this reason in a wide variety of commercial applications. Professional grade thermal grease also utilizes zinc oxide, so we have that going for us. The only real difference is that the pro grade stuff is silicone based, where Desitin is petroleum based…but we can live with that difference as it shouldn’t create any issues at the temperature ranges we work with.
And if this works out, maybe…just maybe…we will say “good enough” to the TIM project, and just let it roll as is. Though I doubt it. I know me.
Regardless, we do have a few other projects in the works. Most at this point are still rough sketches in my notebook, but one in particular is beginning to move beyond that stage. It’s still in planning, but it has progressed beyond sloppy pencil on college ruled paper. That project is our soon to be constructed brew stand.
Since we started brewing, we have transferred our fluids from point to point using silicone tubing. It has worked, but it has added time to the set up and tear down processes. And since we don’t start our brew sessions until after family obligations are met and the kiddos are in bed, it’s not unusual for us to just get started at 10PM. This makes for a long and late night. Even shaving a few minutes off the process will be hugely advantageous.
To help expedite things, we plan to construct a stand for our mash tun and grant that will allow us to transition to hard-lines for much of our plumbing. Only the lines running to and from the kettle and HLT will still need to be soft tubing. I am still figuring out how exactly to run the pipe through and around the stand for optimum efficiency, but I am fairly confident that we will be able to re-purpose most of the valves and connections that we are currently using in our soft-line set-up which will greatly lower the cost of this project.
Two other projects very early in the works, are the construction of a new half-barrel fermenter and a half-barrel mash-tun. Thanks to some generous gifts for birthday and father’s day, much of the materials for these projects have already been acquired. Gotta love Amazon gift cards. So little that you can’t find on that site.
That all said, Regular Guy Brewing is nowhere close to “good enough” and the tinkerer in me hopes that we never will be. There is much to do and many goals to be met. Once those goals are met, we will be on to the next ones.