Three words I have longed to hear for years, "In Today's Lineup". You might think I am talking about being part of a professional sports lineup, no I am talking about something much bigger. I made the bottling lineup at Kros Strain Brewing! For a storyteller and craft beer enthusiast, this is a dream come true. Having the opportunity to be part of the line that gets beer out to the public is so cool! I will take you through my experience of a being a first time bottler in one of the most impressive bottling lines I have ever seen.
Upon arrival at Kros Strain, the brewers Bobby Kros and Scott Strain were busy getting the bottling equipment all setup and ready. Scott's mom Twila greeted the group of helpers and showed us the first thing that needed to be accomplished which was putting the case boxes together. Next was to put the six pack containers together and put them in each case box.Twila had already been very busy that morning as there were several pallets stacked with the boxes. Now onto our next assignment!
The first beer to be bottled on this fine day was the Dark Paradise. This amber ale is not your typical amber. It is going to give you a little extra flavor with some chocolate and coffee notes. The label spools have been threaded into place. The ones shown here come in spools of about 1,000 labels.
The first critical person on the line is the one taking the bottles from the pallet and getting them into place so that they can go through and get a label put on them. Just a side note the designs used on the Kros Strain beer labels are incredible don't you think! Once the bottles have been labeled they are now ready to be filled.
Here is the heart and soul of the bottling line. The ABE GlassPak66 automates the process of:
- Rinsing the bottles
- Purging oxygen and replacing with CO2
- Filling the bottles with beer
- Capping the bottles
All of this can be done at a top speed of around 70 bottles per minute which is very impressive! To see a demonstration check out this video - GlassPak66
I don't know if there are any "Gold Rush" fans out there, but for those that have watched the show, you have an appreciation of what the wash plant is capable of doing. You also quickly learn how much care it takes to keep it running. The same goes for the bottling equipment. I watched that day as Scott Strain adjusted and monitored how the machine was performing. I would have never thought that a brewer would need to be so knowledgeable in the bottling equipment! The machine can run into a few issues here and there. For example, a bottle cap got stuck. It definitely takes some decent mechanic skills to be able to fix things on the fly an get the machine back up in running.
So here comes part that I got to do which was taking the bottles from the conveyor belt and putting them into the boxes. When working with Twila bottling, she said that the bottling can be a lot like an episode of "I Love Lucy". In that episode, if you substitute chocolate for beer that is what it feels like sometimes on the line as the bottles are coming at you rather quickly. You really have to be on your toes and be able to get a good rhythm going. Twila provided a great tip on grabbing 4 bottles at one time. That definitely seemed to be the most efficient way to do it. As quickly as the boxes were filled, they were taken, taped up, and put onto the pallet. Just think in about a minute, you can box up 3 cases of beer!
It is amazing how fast a pallet can fill up! I can definitely say it was a good workout keeping up with the pace that bottles come at you. That day we bottled 277 cases. For people who enjoy numbers that is 6,648 bottles and 79,776 ounces of beer.
You truly get a great appreciation for the amount of work that goes into each craft beer that you get to enjoy. Bobby Kros and Scott Strain work very hard at producing a quality product. This begins in the formulation of the recipes of each of the types of beers they produce and continue all of the way to point of consumption.
The quality definitely shows in all of the beers. I am so impressed with all of the different IPAs and hop variations being used at Kros Strain. You know that Bobby and Scott have spent many hours getting the beers just the way they want them. Take for instance the Fairy Nectar IPA. In a short period of time, it has become a huge favorite of craft beer drinkers in Nebraska. This IPA has great aroma and hop flavor without any hop bitterness. I have been to the taproom more than once with friends who claim they don't like "hoppy" beers. After I have them try a Fairy Nectar, they are so impressed with the flavor and how easy drinking it is. It is really fun getting to see people expand their craft beer horizons! Sorry went on a tangent but it is easy to when you are talking about such great brews.
Throughout the day I was able to see a well planned out brewery down to the smallest details. You can tell a big investment was made in the brewery equipment including the quality testing equipment. The picture below shows a piece of equipment that is a combined oxygen and CO2 meter. It is used to make sure the right level of oxygen and carbonation are going into the bottles. Without this testing, you could have batches that might turn out to be flat or go off like a geyser. Yes I have had a couple of experiences where over carbonated beer has shot out of the bottle!
The day ended with a celebrity visiting the brewery. Cousin Eddy from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation stopped in to help finish up the packaging and cleanup. Okay, so it really wasn't Cousin Eddy it was Scott's dad Tom. This was an awesome picture from the Christmas party the weekend before. It is great to see how much fun the Kros and Strain families have in helping out at the brewery!
I enjoyed the bottling experience and would definitely do it again. If you haven't been to Kros Strain, I highly recommend stopping in and trying out some of their wonderful beers. The taproom has amazing decor and a great view of the brewing equipment. For a closer look at the brewing equipment and to see how the beer is created, you need to take one of their tours. For more information about Kros Strain Brewery check out their website: https://krosstrainbrewing.com