Wednesday, 5 January 2011

A Beer Fountain

Sounds exciting right? Suggests excitement, novelty and a little class? Rather thrilling in a similar manner to a chocolate fountain, or a champagne fountain?


Beer spewing out of the top of a tank under pressure and through a small tube is an impressive bubbly golden fountain, that's for sure. It is not however any of the following:
1) meant to happen
2) beer which is currently being consumed
3) beer which is ever going to be consumed
4) useful in any way, shape or form.

It is, however, all of the following:
1) an error
2) messy
3) cold
4) wasteful

I was transferring beer from a fermenter into two conditioning tanks, which is the last step before we fill the casks. The beer is conditioned in these tanks to make sure all the flavours develop fully, and any bits of protein and yeast are settled out to give a clear beer.

Now, we have 10 barrel conditioning tanks (1 brewers barrel = 36 gallons), and brew beer in batches of 20 or 30 barrels. The actual yield of beer after the fermentation is usually a bit lower than the original volume, so should easily fit into two or three conditioning tanks depending on the amount you brewed in the first place.

I was finishing the transfer of a 20 barrel brew into two conditioning tanks. Iain had started the job and filled one tank, but had to do something else after he'd started filling the second tank so asked me to keep and eye on it and stop it when it had finished. Normally, easy peasy lemon squeezy.

When the level of beer in the open topped fermenter (right) was nearing the bottom, I stood on the ladder and watched until it was all gone when I quickly switched off the pump which was moving it. You've got to make sure you don't let it transfer all the dead yeast and proteiny sludge which is at the bottom of the fermenter because this is not a tasty addition to beer. And the pump might not like it.

When transferring a volume of liquid into a closed tank (which conditioning tanks are), you've got to let the air pressure out otherwise it might damage the tank - eek!

Unfortunately, I'd not noticed that this particular batch was over 20 barrels and so shouldn't fit into two tanks. The consequence of allowing it all to be pumped into the conditioning tank was that beer was forced out of the top through the little valve which was open to let the air out, thus creating a lovely beery fountain.


To stop the fountain, I had to put the ladder against the tank - unfortunately disrupting the elegantly cascading pale rider, climb up it - head first into the beer, and close the valve.

Needless to say this rendered my spirits a little dampened, and made Matt's life a little harder as he had literally just finished hosing down the room to be spotless and beer free. Whoops.

The room pictured is the conditioning tank and racking room which is next to the fermenter room - hence not seeing the start of the fountain! It's a rubbish photo, but you can see Matt filling casks (racking) with beer from one of the tanks.

Note to self, must pay more attention when brewing.


  1. Whoops! Still, I'm sure you won't make the same mistake again!

  2. 'it's a rubbish photo' - act like David Bailey or prevent the mess getting bigger? I think you made the right choice :)

  3. Speedy thinking fixed it quickly and I certainly won't be making that mistake again!

  4. I've done something similar before, it was quite a mess. The usual trick is to have someone else watching the secondary while you watch the fermenter. But if I have to do it on my own I end up moving very quickly between the two rooms as the transfer approaches completion.

  5. I'd checked it just before and thought I'd be able to fit it in. Alas, not so. Matt was in the room hosing it down, he just didn't notice until too late :0( Oh well, another lesson learned!

  6. Not as bad as when someone in my brewery forgot to open the top valve, allowing pressure to build up so that the pipe at the bottom blew off. Not only did beer get pumped straight onto the floor, but half the conditioning tank emptied (5 barrels!) before we noticed. Beer swimming pool..

  7. Oh gosh that is really quite spectacular! We got a new conical FV at Kelham and forgot to open the top valve a couple of times, although no explosions occured so thankfuly no losses. By the way, which brewery is yous?