Bonneuil: our new brewery

By February 7, 2017 Uncategorized @en No Comments

A few weeks ahead of our first “open day” in our second brewery in Bonneuil on March 18, Mike recounts the installation phase which kept us busy a good part of last year.

We got the keys to our new building on April 15, 2016, and bottled our first batch of beer on September 28th, 2016.

Before those milestones, however, we spent more than 6 months looking for the right spot. We visited about 20 sites in the Eastern suburbs of Paris, and gradually expanded the search geography away from our home base in Montreuil as we exhausted closer options. The search period was exciting as we could begin to visualize our future in new and different physical spaces, but in the end it also proved to be quite a challenge to find a space that fit all of our needs and hopes.

In the end we selected a building in an industrial park 15 km south and east of Montreuil, in Bonneuil-sur-Marne. We were immediately drawn to the shape and condition of the building and to the park itself, which had much more greenery than nearly any other site we visited. The building had a little too much office space, was a little expensive, but the large square shape with plenty of natural light was mesmerizing.

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For the bulk of the brewery purchase, we selected the Slovak producer Processing System Solutions, or PSS. They made a great impression on us when we met at the brewery trade show BrauBeviale in Germany the year before. They showed a bit more enthusiasm, professionalism, and willingness to go further than other makers in terms of providing a complete package. Most manufacturers would provide tanks, mills, and other basic necessities, but PSS, as a large producer of stainless steel products, was able to do more extensive and customized work with a much shorter lead time. They were also keen to take extra steps to subcontract other brewery elements and incorporate them into the overall project, greatly simplifying the project and installation.

The installation itself was at times exhilarating, and at others extremely frustrating.

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My rusty forklift skills were tested again and again as the 8 tractor trailers arrived in the first three days, with the Slovaks smoking cigarettes and chuckling as I slowly and carefully removed massive amounts of (expensive) stainless steel from the trucks. Much stressful improvising occurred as we found the forks of the forklift were not quite long enough to handle all of the skids. After everything was inside there was a strange moment where our empty 1000m2 actually looked like it was getting filled up.

While standing up the tanks and brewhouse, the lauter tun slipped and hit the ground. That was scary — but it was OK.

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We had between 3 and 6 technicians from PSS on the ground at any given moment for most of the month of August, including a father and son (family business). Communication was limited for the most part to gestures, pictures, and phrases from Google translate. There was no miscommunication about their fondness of beer, however, as nearly one case seemed to disappear each day.

After several weeks, when their seemingly endless supply of canned meat and fish must have run out, the technicians made the great discovery of the large nearby supermarket where they could each buy their own entire rotisserie chicken for lunch, which they seemed to do almost every day thereafter before the daily siesta. Around this time, they also discovered they could blast polka from their car radio.

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We had several crises as we needed to install a chimney at the last minute and also needed the gas company to inspect our new gas hook-up. Both tasks seemed nearly impossible at moments, complicated by the fact that we were in August, the month when everyone is on vacation.

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In the end, we began our first brew Friday around 3:30PM on the 9th of February (Mission Pale Ale of course), following several brews with only water, and a full cleaning program. For once everyone stopped their welding, grinding, or running electrical lines to turn to following the process and checking their work. We were able to have a nice moment as a team and open a magnum of our Anniversary IPA from earlier in the year. We would finish that night after midnight…

For bottling, we worked with a local re-seller and automation specialist, eventually purchasing most elements of the bottling line from Italy. In Montreuil, we chose an extremely basic solution for bottling, which requires two to three people to bottle about 100 liters per hour. Here, on the other hand, we opted for nearly as much automation as possible. With the same number of people now, we can bottle up to 1000 liters per hour. At the previous brewery I worked at, we needed four to five people to do the same work. We also selected an advanced bottle filler to minimize the amount of oxygen entering each bottle. Oxygen causes beer to age rapidly, so for freshness, the less oxygen the better!

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Every brewery expands in order to make more beer. In Montreuil, in order to produce more, we added more and larger tanks and brewed as much as possible, but with the limits of space and longer and longer bottling (and delivery) sessions, we became structurally limited and maxed out at a capacity around 700HL / year.  

In selecting our original brewery size for Montreuil, we intentionally wanted to start small in order to be able to sell the freshest beer possible with enough flexibility to offer many different beers at the same time. We accepted the inconveniences and inefficiencies that came along with such a small system. As we planned our new brewery, we recognized the needs to increase our efficiency in packaging, increase the quality of our packaged product, and to reduce our environmental impact, particularly in terms of our water and energy usage, but also with our effluents.

We gained some flexibility by brewing our Trouble #6 and Mission Pale Ale at Brasserie Rabourdin for the past year, which allowed us to brew more of our other beers and continue to make special beers in Montreuil. Now, we can take advantage of having two breweries of different scales to test new recipes, release new offerings, and make beer of a higher quality than ever. Just before the end of the year, we released our first one-off brew made in Montreuil, a rustic, dry-hopped pale ale hopped almost exclusively with German grown Cascade hops. Stay tuned for more limited edition offerings and possibly some new permanent offerings as we gradually transition our core beers to Bonneuil!