My work; outside of beer, with just a little bit of it inside too.

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.

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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.

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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.

 

Reflection

I’ve been hammered at work for the last few months.  I don’t mean in the drinking sense, just physically and mentally.  Driving upwards of two hundred miles a day.  Sitting stationary on the motorway, whilst attempting to drive upwards of two hundred miles a day.  Carrying out a full days work, in-between attempting to drive upwards of two hundred miles a day.

I love my job and I don’t mind travelling for it either.  I’ve always done it, for the best part of twenty years I’ve been an engineer on the road, but when you leave Swindon at 4pm on a Friday and don’t make your presence known in Tiverton until over three hours later, well that really saps the fun out of it all.  Recently, this type of journey home hasn’t been unique either.

All of this consumption of time, over which I’ve had very little control, has been detrimental to the things I love.  I’ve barely written a thing over the last twelve months, mentally I haven’t been able to, and this has developed into feelings of resent.  Yes we’ve moved house, yes the renovations took their toll, but I’ve done the house thing before and I was prepared for exactly what that entailed.

Throw in fatigue, and frustration over the lack of creativity due to fatigue.  I’ve looked at beer in a different way recently, it’s probably looked back at me in a different way too, wondering what the hell is going on, or rather, what isn’t going on.  I’ve still drank the stuff, but more so to just chill and unwind; all creativity stops at this point.

Frustration builds, fatigue pinches and the tiredness becomes relentless; you can see where this is going.  I too saw where it was going, and decided to stop the morose cycle of depressing torment that my life was becoming.

We’re having a baby, our first human baby anyway.  We have two fur babies, Betty and Dot our West Highland terriers.  There is a metal baby too however, the 2cv.  Laura and I have been together for just over ten years, although our relationship began a little further back in the history books.  Browsing through family photos shortly after the parental introduction, we discovered that we attended the same play school.  That unbeknown closeness always remained present, as during high school we remained in touch.  We attended different high schools but shared friends outside and would often meet; little did we know that in our late twenties we would regain contact, and that contact would be for good.  We lost touch after our GCSE’s, but with the aid of Facebook we took control of our history and made it our present, and our future.

I digress, we’re having our first baby and I’m frustrated at the path my work is taking.  So I’ve made a change.  I’ve decided to put down my tools, leave life on the road and take an office based job in my home town of Exeter.  It’s still electrical, but it will be closer to home and my wife.  Both Laura and I grew up in Exeter and I spent eighteen years of my life working on Marsh Barton Industrial Estate.  I will now be returning and to start a job which will allow me to not only spend more time with my growing family, but will enable me to take back some of the control which has been out of my grasp for too long.

Having no control over your life, or the direction in which it is travelling, can have a huge impact.  It can be a whirlwind of pure delight as your ride the wave, or in my case, you can sink into the trough of insignificance and obscurity.  Obscurity, in terms of uniqueness can be a positive thing, but insignificance, or the mere thought of it, is depressing.  But fading away is not, and will never be an option.  Times get tough and shit drags you down, but you have to remember why you are doing this.

I’ve made this change because I could feel insignificance lurking and did not want it to take a hold of me.  I’d recently started to question my own relevance, not just in the world of beer, but generally.  Do I matter?  Do I really matter?  The answer is, of course I do.  But all that fatigue and frustration is pretty hard to shake off or get the better of.

We all matter, we all really matter.  We all make a difference in our own obscure way, and people love us for it.

I’m not about to hang up my blogging shoes and take a back seat while the world passes me by.  I’m taking steps to improve my life, my family’s life, regain control and fall back in love with the things I love doing.

It may not be the quickest thing I’ve ever done, but I know in the long run it will be for the best.

And you know what, that feeling of being in control is the best feeling you can ever have.