Bottling Blunders

Owning a small business is not easy. Owning a small up and coming brewery is especially not easy. Tap lines can be finicky, kegs can mysteriously go bad, and entire batches can sometimes have to be tossed. Bottling is no exception to the rule, as I found out when I was recently allowed to help bottle a batch of Little Red Cap at Grimm Brothers Brewhouse. Grimm Bros. is located in a small industrial park in Loveland, at least a 35 minute drive from my house. I am always willing to make the trek, passing 8 other breweries on the way, for a fresh Snow Drop or a special seasonal. I showed up on a bright Wednesday afternoon to help in the Brewhouse. The taproom was recently moved across the parking lot to a bigger space. Michael, an employee, was busy sanitizing the bottling line. Grimm Bros. has only been bottling since March of last year, and only recently upgraded in December to an automatic machine that fills and caps 5 bottles at a time. Russell Fruits, Beer Evangelist for Grimm, explained to me that this was the first time they were feeding the bottles from the machine that fills and caps them, to one that will then label. Previously they had to pre-label the bottles before filling them, or the labels would fall off. Luckily, they found ones that will stick to the wet, cold bottles.

Now, bottles are an obviously necessary part of the bottling process, and unfortunately that day they never showed up. An hour after we were supposed to start bottling, we find out that the truck driver is still sitting in the warehouse inDenver, waiting to be loaded. Instead, we all went across the parking lot to the taproom, and made plans for Friday.

When I showed up Friday they had just began filling the bottles, and things were going about as well as Wednesday. Something was wrong with the machine, and the bottles were filling, just not quite filling enough to sell. Russell was standing in a sea of “e-beers”, ones he had pulled off the line that couldn’t be sold. The next hour went something like this; stop the line, tinker with what could be a solution, start again to see if the problem was fixed, pull bottles of the line, repeat. Eventually they found a solution that owner Don Chapman had once heard of from Funkwerks and now more beers were being labeled and boxed rather than having to be pulled off the line.

There were 8 of us along the bottling line. I moved bottles and boxes to various stations, helped box up “e-beers” and just got in the way, one of my strongest skills.

I moved boxes of empty bottles to Michael, who was racking them up to be sent through the machine.

Don was in the front of the machine, assuring the bottles were going in correctly and the machine functioning. Another employee was on the other side, filling a bin with caps and making sure things are working on his side.

Russell, working quality control, was checking every bottle that came through to see if it was full enough to be sold.

After getting labeled, it ended the line at someone who checked the label and put it back into a box (that I moved there). The box was then moved by another volunteer to be taped and stacked up.

The beer was now ready to be sold on liquor store shelves around the area. Even after they fixed the machine, it still wasn’t working at 100% and there were occasional “e-beers”. When the bottler was eventually shut off, Russell turned to walk away, saying, “Well, that was ugly!” Being their supposed worst bottling run in their history, nearly 2 dozen cases of a dozen-22 oz bombers were boxed up to be given away as “e-beers”, or sent straight to the garbage.  If your heart just broke at that last sentence, you’d be a good beer-friend to head to Grimm Brothers Brewhouse,623 Denver Ave, and enjoy a pint, or two. Just to show them that even when the bottler makes you lose a half batch of beer, we will still be there to enjoy more of the next round. While it is a huge loss, financially and maybe even emotionally, I am glad you have the attention and dedication to quality to only serve and sell the finest products.

Thanks to Grimm for allowing me to help out behind the scenes, and also for proving that I don’t even have to touch a technological piece of equipment for it to malfunction at my presence. Yeah, it was probably my fault, I would tell you to ask my phone and computer but you can’t because neither of them work properly. Also, thanks for the 2 cases of “e-beer”.

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