For over twenty years I have worked as an electrical engineer within the water pump industry, working with all sorts of pumps from domestic shower pumps right up to large industrial applications. The work wasn’t just limited to pumps though, it was all types of rotating electrical plant; if you can think of a piece of equipment containing an electric motor, I’ve probably worked on it.
The largest of which was on board HMS Ocean whilst it was docked in Devonport. We replaced bearings on the motors that powered the ships gun compressors. These motors were huge, 265kw and weighing nearly a ton each. The bearings were pretty hefty too, I could easily put my leg through the centre of one!
In amongst all this heavy industrial work, I’ve kept a few brewery pumps running too. The first brewery I can recall visiting for work was O’Hanlons. There have been a fair few others along the way, but it all started here.
Prior to becoming just Hanlons and its relocation to Half Moon, the brewery was based on a farm just outside Whimple. It was pretty rustic to say the least, the track that led to the brewery skirted a field and would have been the ideal playground for someone like Petter Solberg or Marcus Gronholm, but for me in my van it was ridiculous. When you eventually reached the brewery you were often greeted by a large boar that pretty much roamed free, but it was fine, you just accepted it and got on with it.
Fighting through the cigarette smoke in the office, you’d check in and find out what needed doing. The brewery itself was served by a borehole and a well, each having their own pumps and water treatment. The equipment had a hard life and breakdowns were inevitable, regular servicing was required too. Even though I got to know the equipment very well, you just never knew where the next failure would be. But the one thing I did know, was that without water, there would be no beer, so the pressure was always on to get things working again.
Once the job was finished, I’d often leave with a few bottles of Yellow Hammer. This was the Yellow Hammer I loved, bottle conditioned and slightly hazy, I could drink bucket loads of this golden fruity delight, and did too! It was just a beautiful beer.
Back then, the thought of being self employed never even crossed my mind, I had no reason to be self employed, so why would I be? But, like everything, I had to change. The driving force behind this change was the arrival of our baby, Ace, and for the last seven months I have been self employed and doing what I have always done, working with electrics, pumps and water.
The brewery work has continued too, I was approached by Two Drifters shortly before Christmas and asked if I would install some water filtration plant in their new brewery. How could I say no? A new local brewery, promising new beers, with strong ethics in sustainability and carbon negativity; this was going to be a slightly different challenge, but one I was up for.
In late 2018, Gemma & Russ Wakeham began the massive task of setting up their brewery on the outskirts of Exeter. Located near the airport and powered by 100% zero emission energy, everything about the brewery had to be managed and controlled with sustainability in mind. Their plans were big too.
The finished product was to be delivered locally in the brewery’s own electrically powered van, which would only be charged at the brewery by their zero emission electricity. The use of carbon neutral couriers would enable the products to venture a little further too.
To go beyond carbon neutrality and become carbon negative, the brewery will be working in partnership with Climeworks to remove CO2 from the air. By using direct air capture, more CO2 is removed from the atmosphere than is produced in the emissions from the production, manufacturing and transportation of the ingredients that are used for brewing.
This technique will enable Russ and Gemma to create what they believe to be, the world’s first carbon negative brewery and distillery.
The plan for my work was to install a water softener, reverse osmosis unit and an ultraviolet steriliser, along with a pump and some plumbing around the brewery. With this equipment in place, the incoming water would be completely stripped of its chemical and bacteriological load and later remineralised to suit any style of beer. Various tappings were installed throughout the brewery to give the option of using raw, softened or RO water. These different waters could then be used for different processes in the brewery, depending on the requirements of the process. A mechanical seal cooling system for the brewery pumps was also plumbed in.
The RO water was also piped over to the distillery to be used in the production of rum. The six stills all required a water flow and return, with individual isolation and flow controls. I modified an underfloor heating manifold to provide exactly this. Each still has its own isolation valve and manual flow regulator, giving complete control of the distilling process. The return water is not wasted either, it’s collected or passed back to the brewery for further use.
Following on from this, I was asked to install the chiller system for the four fermenting vessels and cold liquor tank. This was a big job for one man, with over seventy metres of pipe to snake around the brewery and into each vessel, along with solenoid valves, pressure regulators and commissioning valves. A continuous circuit had to be achieved and the flow through each vessel balanced. It had to look good too. With this pipework being constantly on show, the angles had to be just so. Being predominantly solvent weld ABS, you only get one shot at getting the final assembly correct, so there’s no place for any inaccurate measurements. But when finished, it was incredibly satisfying to take a step back and just admire those angles.
Shortly after completion and commissioning, the beer entered the fermenting vessels for the first time to do its thing. Drifters Gold was the beer of choice, a light golden beer with the right attributes for some summer drinking. Swiftly followed by Sunrise, a peach infused pale, generously hopped to amplify the adjunct.
Both beers were due to be canned and the contract canning company had been booked weeks in advance, way before I’d even started to install the chilling equipment! The pressure to complete in time was immense, but it all came together in the end and both Drifters Gold and Sunrise made it into cans, nestled in biodegradable can holders.
Seeing both of these beers, and the rum, available to buy in local outlets, and directly from the brewery itself, was incredibly satisfying. After all of the work I’d put in, which totalled well over 100 hours of labour, it was really quite overwhelming.