After almost two months of tackling Covid -19 there is a glimmer of hope for the future. If things go to plan our precious pubs may begin to open in July. So we all must be thinking of starting to brew again to meet the anticipated demand. Horray!!!

After our article on ways to shut down a brewery here are some thoughts and ideas on planning and beginning to brew again.

Firstly don’t jump in expecting the brewery to work straight away – because it won’t. Treat the whole exercise like you are commissioning the brewery again and dig out your HACCP plan as it will aid you to look out for any food safety issues pertaining to your kit.

Raw Materials

Check your malt for any rodent and insect infestation. Destroy any sacks which have evidence of contamination. If you store malt in silos, sweep these out as soon as they are empty as due to inactivity and the relatively warm weather, weevils could have been at work. Check also the malt for water damage as mould can produce deadly toxins.

If you use a malt conveyor to transfer malt – it may be a good idea to sacrifice a 25 Kg bag of pale ale malt to remove any material which may have been left in the system.

Hops should be OK, if stored well in cool conditions. but it is worthwhile just smelling open packets for oxidation aromas (Cheesy).

Check your stock levels against your anticipated demand and order as soon as you can. Like queues for the refuse tip/DIY stores/garden centres everyone will want to use them as soon as available. Don’t expect malt and hop suppliers to supply everyone at once, they will do their best, but it will help if you think ahead.

Yeast – I will cover in a separate section.

Liquor

If you have already done so – empty you liquor tanks and spray with a sterilisation agent such as PAA. Stagnant liquor can be source of contamination especially the deadly Legionella. Long stored liquor can also develop off-flavours.

If you have not been in the brewery at all, then the liquor supply main is likely to have been full of stagnant water for a long time. Run this water to drain until you are satisfied you have good brewing liquor. If it is clear and has a slight smell of chlorine (if mains water) then it will be good. Taste your water just to check there are no off-flavours.

If OK you can then start to fill your clean and sterilised liquor tanks. In the hot liquor tank fill to just above the heating elements and test to see these are indeed working. If all is OK you can safely fill the tank. Do the same for Cold liquor tanks (if you chill these) again to see if the cooling system is working. This way you can check your systems before committing to fill with valuable water.

It is a good idea to taste you liquor before you brew.

If you can, check the salts composition of your liquor, just in case it has changed. . The Pallin test kits can do this.

Testing Your Plant

Before you start to brew I suggest you test the kit before you commit with costly malt. Do this in good time to instigate any repairs, if necessary. Given the inactivity for a few months pump seals may have failed and valves may have started to leak. The best way of doing this is to put a caustic brew through. This will not only re-clean your equipment but caustic is a good material to dissolve any materials left after inactivity. Even a small amount of malt left in a mash tun will cause bacteria to produce ATNC, which is carcinogenic. Don’t forget to run caustic through your wort paraflow.

Check also that the heating elements on you copper are working.

During the whole process do not expect any temperature gauges to remain accurate so check these against a dependable thermometer.

Re-clean or PAA rinse all beer tanks just prior to use. Even if you have cleaned your FVs etc. at the beginning of shut down dust would have settled in the tanks so do not ignore  this important procedure.

Check fridges are also working as well as any other plant.

Oh, and don’t forget to rinse off the dust which will have collected on your vessels and floors.  An easy source for an early wort contamination.

Yeast

Yeast is a living organism so even if you have stored your yeast in good conditions then it is likely to be unusable. So you will have to get a good supply of yeast to brew with.

If you use packet yeast check the best before dates (BBD). If just beyond the BBD the yeast can be used but you may have to use more of it. If unsure then you may have to order more or take advice from your supplier.  Like malt they may be a rush, so plan ahead.

If you get your yeast from another brewer then they may well likely be in the same position as you and may not be willing to give you some.

If you get a third party to grow your yeast such as Brewlab, Murphy’s and Sons Ltd etc. then they will have a finite capability to grow yeast. In the scramble for everyone to get started then they may well indeed prioritise demand. So they key element here is to (again) plan ahead.

You may also be tempted to culture your own yeast, which given the right equipment is relatively straight forward. The one issue you have by doing this is if you are not checking the yeast and hygiene then you could be causing real issues later on. Culturing yeast badly will not only grow yeast but any contaminants such as wild yeast and bacteria which will magnify their way in to your beer. After the lockdown you will have one last opportunity to get the beer right so getting yeast quality right is vital.

Empty Casks/Kegs

Unless you have cleaned your containers after returning to the brewery then assume that they are heavily contaminated. Most would have been left open outside in relatively warm and dry weather. So any beer residues may have baked on to the side of the containers. Consider soaking these or double cleaning with careful inspection before filling with fresh beer.

Cask stocks may also include some from other breweries or leasing services so engage return services or local exchanges to repatriate.

Staff Safety

Finally don’t forget the safety of your staff.

Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, the minimum you must do is:

  • identify what could cause injury or illness in your business (hazards)
  • decide how likely it is that someone could be harmed and how seriously (the risk)
  • take action to eliminate the hazard, or if this isn’t possible, control the risk

Assessing risk is just one part of the overall process used to control risks in your workplace.

So you must protect people at work and perform a risk assessment for Covid-19.

Fortunately the government has published good guidelines and these can be found currently at this website.

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/5eb965d5d3bf7f5d3c74a2dd/working-safely-during-covid-19-factories-plants-warehouses-110520.pdf

Just a few tips for those working in breweries.

  • Don’t forget to sanitise hand rails and all working surfaces.
  • Only allow one person to operate each PC. Clean mouse and keyboard often.
  • Use what you should have already such as visors, gloves and face masks
  • Use alcohol spray to keep surfaces clean.
  • Sampling beers – avoid more than one person pulling a pint and, obviously, don’t share glasses.

Planning Production

Don’t go mad with brewing as much beer as you can. We are in a different world now with social distancing having a great effect on people’s behaviour. Pubs will be different places with fewer customers being allowed to be served. People may also just boycott pubs to avoid any possibility of catching the disease. We may also be forced into another lockdown as quickly as the last one. Pubs will, I expect, be cautious on ordering beer because of this and because of cash flow. So I would not be tempted to over brew. Brew your popular beers first and gradually build up supply if and when (I hope) things get back to normal.

Hopefully we can all get through this and forget what a disastrous year 2020 was and start again to be brewers.

Keep brewing and carry on!!!

Brewlab has put together 3 discounted analysis packages that can assist quality assurance standards during the restart: https://www.brewlab.co.uk/back-to-brewing-discounted-analysis-packages/

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