Tuesday, August 2, 2011

I am (was) an Engineer…

Not sure I like the title of this post, but for my new Coloradan followers, this might help them understand my past a little better.   Last week I went back to Iowa to supervise our movers and bring back another load of things that they can’t haul like bleach, acid, and batteries.  While I was in town, I bumped into many familiar faces, as you do in a small town.  One person was from Pella Corporation, specifically from my old department, the Door Plant, in which I worked 4+ years.  She told me there were people in the plant reading this blog on a weekly basis….so, as an update to them, I’m dedicating this post to those at Pella Corp, specifically those in the Door Plant.

I liked my job as an engineer, some days I even loved my job and loved going to work.  When I quit my job to go back to school to become a professional brewer, I had doubts that I would enjoy brewing as much as I enjoyed engineering, or at least would miss trouble-shooting, problem solving, organizing and improving processes.  I didn’t need to be in my new role 8 weeks to be able to write these conclusions, but having done so, I can put more detail to this post.

Except for the fact that I get to taste beer throughout the day (if the task at hand requires it), being a head brewer is like being a engineer, continuous improvement technician, maintenance technician, stockroom keeper, scheduler, marketing coordinator, sales rep, water spider (see below), truck driver, accountant, quality technician, safety coordinator, admin assistant, and chef (final line employee) all in one.  Needless to say, my job keeps me busy, but is super-wicked-awesome-cool at the same time.  Maybe I should expand on these since not everybody reading this post knows what a water spider does….

Engineer: At the Yak and Yeti Brewpub, the management realizes I have the technical skills to assess problems and make logical decisions about how to proceed.  I also have had the opportunity to spec and quote new equipment like my wort/water heat exchanger.  Everyday I get to prioritize all my tasks at hand while keeping SQPD in mind (inside joke). 

Continuous Improvement (C.I.): I’m fortunate that the previous brewer left ample opportunity to improve my surroundings.  Just today I had a light installed in the stairwell so I can see better in the dungeon, err, I call it the fermentation cellar now.  My favorite C.I. improvement involves malt, but that will get its own blog post in a week or two.  It hasn’t been shadowed yet, but I did put up a peg board and have a lot of my fittings and quick-change parts hanging near point-of-use.

Maintenance technician: At the bigger craft breweries like New Belgium most of these roles have been specialized just like at Pella, but here I get to turn wrenches, fix leaks (like the CO2 leak and beer leak I fixed today), and troubleshoot pumps, coolers, temperature controllers, fans, valves and the like.   I have even used my multi-meter!  Maybe if brewing doesn’t work out I will become a maintenance tech at a big brewery, it’s a blast!  I guess another responsibility that falls under maintenance scheduler or engineer is hiring/resourcing sub-contractors to do jobs.  At Pella Corp this would have been MES, construction crew or central maintenance and here I have outside contractors that I hire for electrical, plumbing, heating/cooling, etc. Example: the electrician who hooked up my keg washer to 220V today (you remember Karla, don’t you?).

Stockroom Keeper: Well it is more like inventory management of malt, hops, chemicals, cleaners and other brewery things like fining agents, yeast nutrients and kettle additions.  I take a beer inventory and ingredient inventory every month.  As much as I’d like to Kanban and FIFO my chemicals, I don’t use them enough, so right now I just buy more when I’m around 1/4 left.

Scheduler:  This is probably my least favorite, but somebody has to be responsible when we run out of beer.  I would prefer to have enough bright tanks (serving tanks) so I could have 2 tanks for each flavor, so that I never run out.  That is wishful thinking and I just need to try to guess 4 weeks out what beer will run out next and then transfer it 3 days before I can physically tap it.   I guess like marketing people predicting sales figures.  Which is a segue to:

Marketing coordinator:  This is one of my favorite tasks.  I get to buy screen-printed glasses/mugs, coasters, labels for our growlers, business cards, consult on websites, Facebook and promote the brand in general.  I’ve put together table top advertisements and beer descriptions to enhance the customer’s experience.  I even get to write this blog!

Sales: Now that I have Karla, I need to get out to bars and restaurants and sell kegs of my product.  Dol (the owner) is actually going to do the brunt of this task for me, so I guess that makes me an assistant sales rep.

Water-Spider: Non-Pella people would be interested to know that this is a person who delivers parts to assembly line workers so employees do not have to leave their station.  Technically impossible since I leave my station to do this job task, but I do get a lot of my own supplies….all the time.  Up the stairs, down the stairs, oops, I forgot something, repeat!

Truck driver: same as water-spider, but Lowes and Home Depot (yes, I can shop at HD if I want to now!!!!) are only 1.3 miles away from the brewery.  Also refer to sales….those kegs can’t be faxed to Boulder, CO.

Accountant: The real accountant at the Yak is training me to do my own alcohol taxes with the state and federal governments.  I also have to save all my receipts for anything I purchase from Home Depot (LOL) with my own money for reimbursement. 

Quality technician:  I have the start of a lab.  I need some more supplies to get it rolling, but at some point my goal is to take yeast counts for batches of beer and to classify any undesirable microbes that I find or run across.  I clean the tap lines, kegs, bright tanks, fermentors, etc (I guess this would be a sanitation worker, but in the brewery business….this definitely falls under quality). This job also involves tasting, bummer.

Safety coordinator:  one of my first purchases was a set of goggles for handling the chemicals.  I already have several pair of heat and chemical resistant gloves, and a pair of brewing boots—brewer’s PPE!  There are some other tasks I need to do at some point too like printing out MSDS sheets and writing up some LOTO procedures.

Administrative Assistant:  The ink cartridge in our printer didn’t change itself, my table tents didn’t print themselves and my cell phone doesn’t answer itself (well with voice mail, it kinda does).

Chef (brewer): I correlate this to a final-line employee at Pella Corp as it is the job that does the most Value-added activities.  If you want to know more about these job tasks…..ask or become a homebrewer.  It might fall under Marketing, but I get to be creative and develop my own recipes, which actually involve a lot of formulas, so technically that falls under engineering too.

Even though I enjoy brewing, I have come to love all the other roles I am responsible for here at the brewery as much, if not more.  I guess I don’t need to stop being an engineer even though my title is “Head Brewer.”

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