You can imagine that life as a farm animal has few moments of spontaneous joy. It must be a Groundhog Day kind of existence – sleep, eat, poo, pee, ruminate. The lucky ones might get to engage in some reproductive activities, while those less fortunate might find themselves with a one-way ticket to oblivion and a dinner plate. I may be underestimating their quality of life and maybe it is a little more like those excellent Gary Larson cartoons where they drink, smoke and chat until they see a car or human approaching. Perhaps they are even plotting the downfall of mankind with plans to enslave us and take their revenge!
Returning to reality for a moment, the lives of these poor creatures do seem to be particularly dull. I would imagine therefore that one of the highlights of the day is feeding time. Most days it might just be hay, slop or commercially manufactured, tasteless dry feed. Nothing to get excited about there, but a meal is a meal – unless that meal has come from a brewery… Regular readers will know that our spent grain is taken away by farmers and used for animal feed. This stuff is natural, nutritious and really quite tasty. Sometimes, if it’s left open to the air for a bit, or not picked up promptly, some wild yeast can get in there…and you know what that means!
This natural fermentation phenomenon goes a long way to explaining the abnormal animal behaviours described by a farmer we encountered. He normally takes the dull, dry food out on a trailer pulled by his tractor. The animals raise a lazy eyelid, finish their conversations, shake the flies from their faces and slowly amble over to the feeding station where lunch awaits. However, when he delivers the tasty, spent grain, he happens to take his red pick-up truck. The animals are acutely aware of the different vehicle shape and noise (they’re colour blind), and know exactly what special treat is on its way.
We can’t be entirely sure if the response that follows is just down to having a welcome change of menu, a rather tastier repast or, more likely, the possibility that some wild yeast has done its work and created a mildly intoxicating foodstuff. Anyway, the farmer tells us that the moment his truck is within sight or sound of the herd, the response is exceptional. In the time it takes Usain Bolt to get upright out of the blocks, the animals have raised their heads, spat out the grass they were munching, turned to face the advancing meal on wheels and set off at a gallop that belies their less than aerodynamic build. Mud flies from their hooves, the wind drives sweat from their backs and their eyes bug out in a concentrated stare.
As yet there have been no reported incidents of injury to the farmer as he tries to shell out the food before being trampled by the alcohol-crazed herd. However, we understand that unless sufficient distribution is promptly made, enough to satisfy their lustful hunger, then things could get nasty. In the event of accidentally doling out greater quantities than intended, efforts to repatriate some proportion of the feed to the vehicle have resulted in minor injuries and a brief fracas. It warms my heart to know that our efforts to produce delicious beers for happy humans also provide a by-product that cheers the lives of these bored beasts normally subjected to a subsistence diet. I imagine they taste better when they get to that dinner plate too.
Back at Orbit Arches, the brewery is up and running. Our tanks presently hold one batch each of Ivo, Neu and Nico and we have already consigned a batch of Ivo to bottle and keg. We have a desk and chair, soon to be joined by a PC and printer. We have a lovely, big fridge to complement our kettle and toaster. Today, an alarm system is being fitted and we have already erected two paper towel dispensers and an electric fly killing apparatus. We have a supply of 98 t-shirts (Mario and I already took one each), tons of grain, a haul of hops, yeast, chemicals, kegs, bottles, boxes, tools, coffee, tea and snacks.
We decided that we would bottle onsite. So, one morning, with help from my friend Matt, we set up a bottling station. We started with 3,000 empty bottles, two rinsers, three bottle trees, one six-head siphon filler, one capping apparatus and 125 boxes. Each bottle was rinsed, dried on the tree, attached to the filler, filled, passed to the capper, capped and placed in a box. Caps and boxes had to be regularly restocked and the capper (me) got pretty wet as the caps sit in a sterilising fluid until plucked out to fulfil their destiny. Pulling down the capping machine lever 3,000 times has left me with a bruised hand, sore shoulder and mismatched biceps. However, after about 8 hours hard labour, an extended take away pizza lunch and only a few minor mishaps, we had 3,000 bottles of Ivo Pale – a noteworthy achievement.
Our plan was to condition the beer in the bottles (and the 12 kegs that we filled the next day) and then label them the following week. The whole labelling thing has however turned out to be a bit of a nightmare, with our labelling machine vendor letting us down and also having to change label supplier at the last minute. This is truly and utterly frustrating, as we can’t take unlabelled bottles out to trade, even as samples, without appearing like a bunch of home brewing amateurs. We’re pulling out all the stops to get this sorted, but it will delay our first sales by at least two weeks.
It’s becoming clear that, even with our spacious yard and external cold store, the space within the brewery is barely enough to contain all the equipment and storage needs. At some point we will want to add another vessel or two and increased production will of course require increased storage. It seems much too early to be thinking about expansion when we haven’t made a sale yet, but the bloke next door is planning to retire and his arch should be available from early 2015. It seems a bit mad, but we’re going to try and take it on. We’ve also applied for permission to run a bar and have plans to make the yard much prettier, including some laurel plants to cover the nasty fence. I know that laurel is evergreen, but is at also hardy?