Bringing Temperature Control into the Internet Age

It’s 2019 and we can, if we want to, control our heating when we’re not in the house, view CCTV of our homes or workplaces on our smartphone so what about being able to monitor and control temperature of the brewhouse?

As part of the brewery move from the taproom to the brewhouse, we are trialling a commercial version of the homebrew fermentation hardware / software, MyBrewbot. As part of the trial we have decided to log the findings on our blog.

MyBrewbot is an IoT (internet of things) device which is controlled from an app on a phone or tablet rather than traditional LCD temperature controllers. All you need is a smartphone and a wifi connection in the brewhouse (although ours is in the bar two units away) .

I first spoke to Jeremy Bullock, the inventor, when I was at Pig and Porter. I could see the appeal of remote monitoring and control of temperatures particularly because I lived a long distance from the brewery. Sometimes I would drive a 90 mile round trip to simply put the beer onto chill at the weekend.

Since I moved to Crewe, I’m now much closer to the brewery so it’s hardly an issue but I remained in touch with Jeremy who lives only 20 miles or so from me. We started talking about potential applications in a smaller commercial brewery and how that might turn out. There’s only one way to find that out really which led to the trial of a commercial version. 

The hardware connects to remote control wireless plugs, which I use to turn on and off recirc pumps to chill the fermenters. The software features, amongst other things, temperature graphs that can be exported to the brewsheets and also an alert for when the hardware loses connection with the router in the office, for example during a power outage. Anyone who has had to pour away a brew due to temperature racing after a power cut at the weekend will know just how heartbreaking this is.

The homebrewing version controls heating and cooling and is based on controlling a brewing fridge and a keezer, it also works with the Bluetooth enabled Tilt hydrometer. We only need cooling and I have a pathological fear of putting any foreign object in the FV so we’re just having a simple on-off for a cooling circuit.

At the moment we’re just using it to control two of our three FVs but when FV4 arrives next month Jeremy will be back to modify the hardware to run five probes. However, there is also the potential to control other brewery equipment like HLTs (Hot Liquor Tank) remotely which might appeal to breweries who have cheaper overnight electricity.

Before Christmas we used an “out of the box” MyBrewbot to see how we got on. It went well enough but it was clear a commercial version would need better cable management and more protection from the inherently wet and steamy environment that a commercial brewery brings. So the pro version comes in an ip65 rated box.

The other thing we noticed was that the hardware factory resets if the probe detects a temperature over 50°c which it obviously did the first time we did a CIP (Clean in Place). We managed this by remembering to temporarily disconnect the probe to the FV being cleaned but in the commercial version the parameter is set to 80°c.

The only other thing we observed in the homebrew version was the physical absence of the digital displays and the need to get your phone out of your pocket to check a temperature. Like most brewers, I guess we’re just used to looking up at a temperature gauge the minute a cooler kicks in, just as we’re highly attuned to the sound of a pump changing or the liquid dripping from somewhere it shouldn’t be. It’s a force of habit but we might consider having a tablet on the wall displaying the UI if we can’t get used to it.

The commercial trial version was installed yesterday and we’ll be updating our findings on here so keep checking back if you want to see the progress.

 

 

 

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Beer Quality (or why we do what we do)

I’ve had the pleasure of reading this blog from my good friend and, probably, the person who knows most about craft keg dispense in the UK, Yvan Seth of Jolly Good Beer.

His writings have inspired me to write my own blog on the matter because it chimes in with so much of what we’re about.  The thing I love about Yvan (aside from the swearing, he is Australian, after all, so swearing is not only de rigeur it’s practically a term of endearment) is his absolute refusal to compromise on quality.  Why is this important, it’s only beer right?

Let me put it another way; you’re a brewer, you’ve just spent a small fortune on the finest hops and yeast known to humankind to make, say, a New England style IPA.  If you’ve not got a decent cold room to keep that beer around 4°c the volatile hop flavour compounds are going to “burn” off much more quickly than if you have.  Don’t believe me? Go to your local bottle shop and buy two cans (or bottles) of a decent hoppy beer, put one in the fridge and put the other in the airing cupboard for a month. Then taste them side by side.

Reading thru Jolly Good Beer’s blog, you’ll see reference to direct draw dispense systems, I’m not going to go through the ins and outs of a direct draw system here (you can read that here if that’s your thing) but, suffice to say, it is a system designed to eliminate waste as much as possible whilst protecting the integrity and flavour of the beer.

There is a reason Jolly Good Beer has been commissioned to do the cellar installs for both of Cloudwater’s Manchester and London taprooms and, if they had the time, I’d ask them to come and do the install job at Tom’s Tap and Brewhouse for our refurb. As it happens Yvan shared the spec with me while I was building the Pig and Porter mobile bar this time last year so I’m confident we can build the new Tom’s bar to the specification that will allow us to serve the beer at the perfect serving temperature.

We’re expecting the work to start on the bar in early February and we’re hoping to be able to time the works in such a way that we won’t have to close, however that remains to be seen; in our experience these jobs are never as straightforward as we hope they’re going to be. Rest assured, though, that we will take the necessary steps to make sure the job is done properly.

The Next Move

When Jacqui, Tom and I bought Tom’s Tap and Brewhouse back in June we had a choice of closing for a couple of weeks to “make the place our own” or carry on opening and get to know our customers.

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Fortunately we chose the latter. We gradually took down the Offbeat branding replacing it with our own and, at the same time, forging a bond with our customers most of whom seem as equally invested as us in making it a success.

So, six months down the line, what have we learned?

We learned that, even in a heatwave, if it is going to rain, it will rain on a Friday evening when you have a band booked.  If it does rain, there isn’t enough room in the bar for everyone to sit comfortably.

WhatsApp Image 2018-06-28 at 09.05.03We learned that, due to the position of the bar,  we can’t see customers as they walk in when we’re behind it. Furthermore, if we need to change a keg on a busy Friday night we have to fight through crowds and past a band to get to the cold room, then come back carrying said keg before moving more customers when going through the line cleaning/rinsing and keg changing process.

We learned that the leaking plinth the brewery kits currently stands on wasn’t as big a pain in the bum as we’d anticipated but that malt dust gets everywhere on a brewday, including on the glassware.

We learned that the chiller in the cold room was considerably past its best and was going to cost £2500 to replace. Ouch.

We learned that supposedly competing businesses are actually great allies and that everyone we’ve spoken to in Crewe wants us to succeed, but also that our location means we have to reach out to people rather than wait for them to find us.

So with that knowledge safely stacked in the bank we were faced with some challenges but also an opportunity.

Last month we received the keys to unit 6, the unit that originally housed Offbeat brewery and that has the drainage already in place for a brewery to function well.

This will allow us to

  • Open the taproom while we are brewing
  • Increase seating capacity in the taproom
  • Secure the yard outside across all three units, particularly important in the summer months.
  • Build a direct draw cold room that will allow us to change kegs with minimal disruption as well as keep a wider choice of beer and serve it at its best.
  • Increase brewing capacity should we decide that we want to sell more beer outside the tap room next year.

Obviously it is a pretty exciting time for us and we hope that we will be able to do the bulk of it without closing the taproom but that rather depends on time and money. The support we’ve had from you, our customers, has been without parallel and it is clear to us that you share our vision of making the taproom the comfortable community-focused space we believe it could be.

Work starts this week with preparing the floor in Unit 6 but keep an eye on our socials for updates. We’ll be open during our normal winter hours (5-11 Thursday and Friday, 12-11 Saturday, 12-6 Sunday) throughout January so do come in and see the transformation develop.

 

Christmas Gift Ideas from Tom’s

We’ve been asked if we’re doing bottles and minikegs for Christmas and we’re glad to say, yes we are. We’ve been beavering away in the brewery all week (we even had some regulars come in for a couple of hours to label 500 bottles on Tuesday) to bring you a selection of beers in 500ml bottles and 5 litre minikegs.

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The minikegs should keep well for two to three months if kept cool but should be consumed within 5 days once opened. We have two available, a Session IPA called Primordial Sup (£27) and The Mighty Stout (£25).

By tomorrow (7th Dec) we will have four bottled beers which will be ready to consume at Christmas.

Mighty Stout £3

Baltic Porter with Morello Cherries £4

Chocolate Orange Porter £4

Coffee and Coconut Stout £4

We’ve also got a limited amount of three pack presentation boxes and if you buy three bottles you get £1 off.

Still stuck for ideas? Why not try our t-shirts or glassware.

Lastly we are taking orders for 20L bag in box beers, we’ve got a pale ale available to collect from next week. A reminder that all our beers are not only live but unfined and unfiltered so they won’t be clear and will need two to three days “settling”

 

Winter Opening Hours

The nights are drawing in, the days are getting colder and the brewery side of the business is getting busier. We’re now starting to get some of our beers outside the immediate environs of the taproom. You may have noticed this article floating around the interwebs; we’re experiencing quite a bit of demand for Mighty Stout as a result of this publicity.

We need to up the amount of work we do in the brewery and need to fit in extra brewing and packaging time as Christmas approaches. We can’t brew and have the taproom open at the same time for fairly obvious Health and Safety reasons. When we package, we need to be able to dedicate that time to packaging be that bottle, minikeg, keg or cask. So, for that reason we’ve decided to change our opening hours for the winter period.

We’re now going to open at 5pm on Friday instead of midday. Friday afternoons have always been the least busy sessions of the week for us so it makes sense to be able to fit in an extra brewday or racking session in that time.

We’re hoping, in time, to expand the brewery side of the business which will enable us to increase the amount and variety of the beer we produce as well as make some modifications to the bar. We hope to make an announcement about that in due course.