Four Days at Big Rig

When I first saw that there was a 4 week holiday break from school, I did a Snoopy happy dance. Four weeks to catch up on sleep and reacquaint myself with my beloved, my family and my friends! Then reality hit, and I ended up spending much of the break working when I could. I decided to take the last week and do something more educational than money-earning, and emailed Lon Ladell, the brewmaster at Big Rig, to see if I could come down and be a minion …. errr … intern for part of the week. He said sure, my friend Karen made room for me in her busy household, and so I found myself in Ottawa the day after an ice storm, during a cold snap.

Let me say first of all, that the folks at Big Rig are about the nicest people I have ever met. Even though he was busy with operations of the brewery, paperwork and the opening of another location, Lon was always available to talk with and answer my questions, no matter how small or silly. I never saw Chris, the brewer, without a smile on his face, and Steve and Brandon were cheerful and patient as I learned to bottle and can on their systems.

Day 1: Brewing

Monday was a single batch brew day, so I helped Chris with cleaning, brewing, and cleaning. And by helped, I mean followed him around and asked a zillion questions. The space is really new, they’ve only been up and running here since October; everything is shiny and there’s a tonne of room for expansion.

Best part of the day: talking to Chris about yeast, and chatting with the elk farmer.
Worst part: falling in the same place twice, and not being able to tell my right from left. Sigh.

Specific  Mechanical 30 barrel brewhouse
Cleaning out the spent grain, feed for a local elk farm
Nice arty shot during the CIP

 Day 2: Filtration

Tuesday was spent transferring beer from the fermenter to the brite tank. I got to find out what it feels like to stick one’s head too far into a CO2 saturated vessel (not good), what a carbonating stone actually looks like, how to run a 2-head automated bottle filler, and what is under the bell cover of a DE filter.

Lon took me down to the original brew pub location on Iris Street, and introduced me to Cody, who looks after the 10 barrel system there. We stayed for lunch, talking about the program and the state of craft beer in Ontario; easily the best part of the day. Cleaning out the DE filter is up there too, as I got incredibly dirty. As me dad would say, I don’t have fun unless I get dirty. And I had fun.

Beer going through the DE filter to brite tank

Days 3 & 4: Canning

It takes about a day and a half to transfer 70 hecs into 473 ml cans. And my job was to take each of the cold and wet filled cans off the conveyor and transfer them to flats to be shrink-wrapped. It didn’t take long for my hands to be chilled, and then to be near frozen. I happily wrecked my Dr. Who fingerless mitts by putting them over the rubber gloves and proved that even when wet, wool is the best for warmth.

I was uncomfortable for pretty much most of both days. It says a lot about my personality that I can be wet, cold, tired, sore and stiff, and still smile at the end of the day and say it was fun. And mean it. Of course, that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t happy to see the last can come down the conveyor on Thursday afternoon. I am sure it would be even more fun when it’s not -24 outside.

The canning line was pretty fascinating. The automation seems a bit hit-or-miss with the occasional can getting jammed or the plastic separators not lifting properly, but it is fairly new and they are still fine-tuning it. I sent a shot of my view to my social media networks resulting my friends wanting to know if I was Laverne or Shirley, and requesting a glove shot.

My view of the canning line
The requested Laverne & Shirley shot. It’s blurry because I was laughing so hard.

Huge thanks again to Lon, Chris and the guys for letting me hang out! I had a great time, and hope to do it again!

One Reply to “Four Days at Big Rig”

  1. Thank you for sharing your time with us Kat. Itwas wonderful having you with us. Your passion for craft beer is fantastic and the industry is lucky to have you.

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