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Tim Bissell Tim Bissell
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Three Pint Stance – A powerless brewery

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*blows out candle*

There. We don’t need that anymore. After about five days in the dark, the trees are off the lines and the power is back on at Gneiss Brewing Company. The rogue storm that took out power to more than 300,000 households and businesses across Maine on October 30 affected quite a few breweries as well.

From us fools out here in the woods (where we should expect to lose power) to places as urban as the Riverside Industrial Park in Portland (where they probably feel safe), breweries across Maine were forced to scramble to figure out what to do with their beer. Since my journalistic bona fides are quite lacking these days (Editor’s note: Tell me about it.), I didn’t reach out to any other brewer who was affected by the power outage, but I can assure you there are literally dozens of us out there.

How does a power outage affect a brewery specifically, you ask? (I know you didn’t, but I need to write about something this week, so humor me).

Speaking from the experience at Gneiss, our biggest loss was the use of our glycol chiller. A glycol chiller is essentially a large refrigeration unit that cools down a mixture of propylene glycol and water and then sends it through insulated pipes and into the chilling jacket of a stainless steel fermenter. Every fermentation and carbonation tank at a (properly equipped) brewery has one of these chilling jackets surrounding the inner tank; this allows brewers the ability to precisely control the temperature of the liquid inside. Without temperature control, ferments can rapidly go out of control and off flavors can be created, or conversely the beer could cool off too fast, shutting down fermentation too early and leaving the beer slightly unfermented (or under-attenuated). Both things are sub-optimal.

Another big job the glycol chiller does at Gneiss is run cold glycol into the trunk line that contains our 10 draft lines. This keeps the beer cold for its 25-foot journey from the kegs in the walk-in fridge to the taps in the tasting room. Without this chilly escort to the faucet, the beer warms up and the suspended CO2 comes out of solution and you end up with foam. Yuck!

Luckily, the act of dispensing beer from a keg is independent of electricity, so we were able to set up our jockey boxes (coolers with 50-ft stainless steel coils in them) that we use at brew festivals and were able to pour cold, tasty beer even though the power was out.

The last big hurdle when dealing with a power outage at a brewery is the lack of water - specifically hot water. Breweries, despite their best efforts to conserve, tend to use a lot of water. The industry standard is that is takes seven gallons of water to make a gallon of beer! A lot of this water is used in washing tanks and general cleaning. Needless to say, without a working well pump and water heater, we were sort of dead in the water. No brewing, no cleaning, no packaging.

How did we fare overall? Luckily, none of our tanks contained beer in active ferment, meaning we didn’t have to worry about any beer getting too warm during fermentation and ruining the flavor profile. We also had the good fortune of relatively cool temperatures during the outage, so the finished, chilled beer in our tanks was able to maintain a temp in the mid-40s, meaning there were no issues on that end. Lastly, the kegs in our fridge were also kept cold by the cool temps and the strategic use of our tiny generator to keep the temperature steady.

All in all, it could have been much worse. We have a lot to do this week to catch up, but we should be back to normal as of next week (barring any more overly destructive storms). Fingers crossed!

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