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THE SHIFTY, EPISODE 2: Engineering and Brewing with Andy Farrell, Karli Small and Lucia Baker

In the second episode of “The Shifty,” we discuss the brewing process with some of the folks who oversee it. First, we speak to Andy Farrell, brewing innovation manager at Bell’s, and Karli Small, brewing manager. They give us a break down of their day to day, and how their work relates to the rest of the company.

Lucia Baker, a project engineer for the new pilot system being installed at Brewery 1 (or B1, as we like to call it).

The Shifty can be found on iTunes, Google Play and Spotify. We’re hoping this series will give you a fun look at Bell’s that you’ve never had before, and you might even learn a thing or two along the way.

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Transcript

Karli Small: But I think the thing that gets me to work is the team, so it’s lovely to hang out with everybody all day and talk about beer.

Andy Farrell: Kinda made me sound like an asshole Karli.

Maddie Parise: Hello, and welcome to the Shifty. The show where we share our post shift beer with Bell's employees and talk about their experiences with the brewery. I'm Maddie Parise.

Nick Lancaster: I'm Nick Lancaster. Today we're talking about all things related to brewing. First we're going to talk to brewing innovation manager, Andy Farrell, and brewing manager, Karli Small, about their experiences at the Comstock location.

Maddie: So, why did you come into work today?

Andy: That's an interesting question, I guess first and foremost my boss' expectation is that I would be at work today, also I work every day. So... It's just part of what I do and I came in certainly with the mindset that I was going to accomplish certain tasks and be productive. I guess that's why... Karli over to you.

Karli: I will say healthy expectation, but I think the thing that gets me to work is the team, so it’s lovely to hang out with everybody all day and talk about beer.

Nick: Excellent.

Andy: Kinda made me sound like an asshole Karli.

Karli: Good cop. Bad cop. That’s how this works, we've done this before. We mix it up every now and then.

Andy: That's alright.

Nick: So for our audience, the people that are listening to this, I guess just give us a brief, or as brief as you want to, explanation of, I guess, day to day operations of what you guys do down out Comstock.

Andy: Boy oh boy.

Karli: Well...

Andy: So my responsibilities tend to be varied, you know a lot of what I do day to day, first of all I have responsibilities in Comstock like I do have some responsibilities down at the original brewing location as well, so the brewing manager there, Zeke, reports up through my group. He's certainly autonomous, in fact I was just down here for a meeting with him. I have a weekly meeting with him every week, so I spend some time down here.

Day and day on Comstock I mean it depends ... We do a fair amount of ... My job is that of a lot of communicating, making sure I'm on the same page with variety of different teams. Recently have been commissioning a pilot brewery, so that certainly has been taking up a fair amount of my time working with I have a small team out at the other brewery as well that I work on with that and-

Maddie: Could you explain the pilot brewery? A little bit for people who don't know what that is.

Andy: Sure. Yeah. So we recently purchased and installed a new brewing system. A new brew house, which is a 15 hectoliters, so it's about 13 barrels, so about a quarter of the size of 50 barrel brew house that we have in Comstock. The idea of this pilot brewery that, there, there's a few ideas. Certainly, one of the ideas is for, you know, with new product development, the ability to scale recipes. So we've put in from a mechanical standpoint and an equipment standpoint, the automation we put in, um, equipment that very much parallels the equipment in the larger brew houses on Comstock. So the idea will be, you know, scalable new products as well as optimization current brand portfolio. Also some research and development projects as well.

Maddie: Cool. Um, so Karli, what is it that you do everyday?

Karli: So I'm the brewing manager. I'm based out at Comstock and so that means I get to hang out with all the brewers being brewers, assistant brewers, technical brewers, and then you've got brewing personnel manager as well. So my main responsibilities I guess is making sure that we deliver beer to our packaging department. So we get to do a lot of seasonal releases and get them out the door on time and within great quality, um, but we also do a fair amount of meetings on a daily basis.

Andy: For sure. Yeah, there's a lot of, there's a lot of communication.

Karli: Yeah. It's amazing- a

Andy: Amongst disparate groups to be sure.

Karli: Yeah. So, so to get all these things done. You have to spend a lot of time in meetings talking to everyone about getting these things done.

Maddie: Yeah. So what is the history both of you have with brewing?

Andy: Sure. So, so my history is solely at this brewery actually, so I started working here in 2000. I started here as a 22 year old, came in at an entry level position working in the packaging department. I mean I was a keg washer and worked my way up through a number, you know, obviously I've been here going on 18 years now, just about 18 years. I've worked, you know, throughout the brewery. Spent about a year and a half in packaging, worked in fermentation for a number of years, worked my way into brewing and then ultimately to brew house manager, which is a position that no longer exists in the company as well as, now what was that one job I had called process improvement manager, you remember that? And that was when you came in, um, head brewer. And so my role is of sort of evolved into, into where I currently sit, which is brewing innovation manager. I guess I should've said what my job was. I suck at podcast. Sorry.

Nick: It's all good. It's all good.

Maddie: We all know who you are. You're a big deal, right?

Andy: Right. What about you Karli? What's your history?

Karli: So I started into the brewing industry, as a sensory scientist. So before that I was a flavor scientist for a flavor house. So I was in Australia working for a brewery called Western Brewery and started doing their sensory panel and then rotated all through the lab roles, so microbiologist, shift chemist, data analysts and all that stuff. Then I got pretty excited by brewing. So I started doing some ongoing studies and then rotated through into packaging for a little bit as a leader, I really wanted to get back into the brewing side of things. So did brewing team leader and then technical brewer and then eventually decide, decided to make the move to the US and convinced Bell's Brewery to hire me. I've had a couple of roles here. I started off being a project coordinator, which is essentially whatever projects, things that are happening at the time, no job description there and worked with the engineers on process support and the tech brewers. And then now is, my role as Brewing Manager, which is by far my favorite role.

Maddie: I'm just curious, what are the main differences between working in a brewery in Australia and working in a brewery in America? Is it really that different?

Karli: Americans talk funny. Yes and no. So the brewery was, it was a larger brewery I think it's more like the company structure less than the actual differences in the breweries. So that was more of a corporate structure and then coming over here is like Bell's brewery. He's just a really big craft brewery. So the technologies are a little bit different. The systems and the procedures are a bit different, but mainly it's the culture stuff like Australians and Americans are very different apparently.

Maddie: Karli later added that when she moved to the US, she was amazed by how experimental US craft breweries and their techniques are. She said the diverse ingredients and innovative practices at Bell’s were part of why she made the move from Australia.

Nick: What does it take to keep a such a large operation running? Because I understand like the history, a little bit of the history of Bell's, like from the beginning to where we are now, I would imagine it's a little easier than it was back in the day or maybe not. I don't know.

Andy: So that's an interesting question. I'm sure we both have have opinions. So I think if you look at historically that what it takes to keep a place like this running is, and this is true today, there's a term that's used in manufacturing, it's called constant improvement, there has always been a interest in getting better here. Always. As the brewery gained success, the money has always been reinvested into the brewery and into getting better. So I think that staying open and I'm recognizing where your opportunities are and reinvesting in the brewery from a technology standpoint, from bringing in personnel, people like Karli, from the outside who can lend their expertise to help us get better as well as, you know, the most important thing is keeping people happy and keeping it a great place to work. You know, in a lot of ways I think.

Karli: Yeah, I think the most keeping the brewery running is we're pretty lucky to have quite an engaged team. So I'm very proud of the brewing department in keeping everything running. I always know that they always do their best job making sure that the quality's there that we'll work together. So I think we need, it's up to us to set them up for success so they know the vision, the intent, the plan, and then off we go and deliver it. So certainly with so many people now we need like good systems and communication, which is always something that we always try to get better.

Nick: Hoping to learn more about Bell's brewery? Check out the action firsthand with a tour at our Comstock or downtown Kalamazoo locations. Tours are available Wednesdays through Sundays. Learn more about tour times, and reserve your spot today at bellsbeer.com/tours.

Maddie: Comstock isn't the only place that we do our brewing. Bell's Brewery began downtown at B1. A brewery we sat down with project engineer, Lucia Baker, to learn more about.

Nick: So. Okay. Real quick. What is for our, for our audience is B1 One because I think as employees we say one and we just sort of know what that is, but I think to maybe the common person. What is B1?

Lucia Baker: Yeah. So B2 is just the nickname a brewing one for the original brewing site which is in the downtown brewery. So that's currently where are 15 barrel system lives that we brew on for our beers at the Eccentric Cafe and we are adding a really cool new three barrel system that will live on the same brewing flat form, that the 15 barrel system exists on now.

Maddie: So what exactly do you do for B1?

Lucia: So it's engineering support. It's talking to the breweries out there and asking what they need, figuring out a game plan for how we're going to get that built or designed and then stepping them through a project management process, getting plans put together for all the components we'll need, all the people we'll need involved, getting a budget put together and then like, kind of setting out a timeline for the execution of the different phases of our project

Nick: I guess just I guess in some of, somewhat of a broader sense, do you know, like give us a little history rundown of B1 if you don't mind, if that's possible.

Lucia: I knew the general timeline of it that it was the original brewing site for the brewery. I was told it was like an old garage like repair shop and like a plumbing supply store back in the day. Then eventually when Larry was graduating from the 15 gallon soup kettle up to an actual brewing system, that was the location that it lived in and yeah, it's a served us pretty well since then and we have a 15 barrel that still lives out there, and there used to be a few 30 barrel components when we were brewing all of our production beers out of that space.

Maddie: So what do you think is B1's role in the overall culture of Bell's and just the idea of keeping true to our spirit of innovation?

Lucia: I'd say a pretty critical component. It's very much brewing to the true style of the original brewing that was done. Like it's still very old school out there, which is cool. It's a very classic brewing, I think is a good way to put it. And there's a lot of room for versatility. There's a lot of room for cool creativity in the beers that we're putting out and you can see it on the tap out in the Eccentric Cafe. We've got the little indicator, the Eccentric Guy. Hey, this was brewed in our 15 barrel system right in the back room.

Nick: Right. And I feel like that sort of gets to the essence of home brewing to, cause, it's basically, I mean it basically is home brewing but with, you know, more better equipment, but it's the home brewing ethos where it's like, Hey, I want to make something, you know, I want to try this, I want to try it out. And it's like you've got a small enough batch like system where you know, you can try things out and if it doesn't shake out then I guess it doesn't. But it's,, I feel like there's something special about being able to drink something that was brewed, you know, downtown on the original system.

Maddie: Yeah. It's, it's cool that we have so many beers that are so popular and we know are going to do well, but then we're still taking the time to create new products.

Lucia: Yeah. Oh yeah. Yep. It's a, it's a cool homage to the home brewing community that Larry fostered a dog the whole time he's been here and even still with the home brewing equipment we have in the store and yeah, it's a cool, I think tip of the hat to that tradition and it's, it's great for the public to get, to also have the opportunity to try like one off, like, Oh wow, like I'm may never have this again, but it might be really good and there's something kind of fun about that. Like, oh cool. That was like a fun thing to try. And maybe we'll expose you to something you never would have tried otherwise. It'd be like, that looks wacky and fun. I've never had one of those before, which is really cool. And then you may stumble onto something that people just really vibe with and then it becomes a new town favorite or a new employee favorite and then maybe you're going to try some variations off of that style, which is pretty cool.

Nick: You can say Roundhouse. It's okay.

Lucia: It's so true. I didn't, I didn't want to name it but Roundhouse is a great example of that. Like it's, it's a cult classic among employees and like, I can't say enough good things about that beer. It's one of my favorites that we make. Really outstanding brew.

Nick: I love whenever roundhouse from B1 is on tap downtown. That's like, well, I know what I'm getting for my shift for the next however long it's on tap.

Lucia: Oh yeah, same here. Yeah.

Nick: Yeah. So I, I guess this is another broad question. How do our, other brewing locations influenced like what happens at B1?

Lucia: We get a lot of support from Comstock, the brewery right outside of town. But there is no dedicated engineer for B1. So I kind of float around Comstock doing various engineering projects and then the door was open. I'd have an opportunity to do something out downtown. So that's kinda been my only exposure to it, but I know because we do share so many resources, say they need maintenance support or they need an engineer to come help design the new system. That does play a part, it's not necessarily the brewing part of it, so to speak, but, the vessels that were installing for this three barrel system, we actually designed out a Comstock. We have an educational series that we do on Wednesdays that Kevin Stuchell runs and we decided that we wanted to start talking about a pilot system and then John Mallett and Andy sort of ran with that one and had a sort of a lecture about designing brewing systems, but also an interactive one where it's like, okay, now we're going to talk about how you would design the ratio for this vessel or we'll talk about the heat transfer area needed or we'll talk about why it's important you need freeboard on this vessel.

So it became really interactive and a cool like, oh, hey, you remember all that math you didn't think you're going to use. This is a practical application for it. So all of a lot of our brewers, it was well attended. A lot of our brewers showed up for it. We're really engaged. We're really excited to be a part of the process. And that was before they even knew that was going to for sure turn into a physical brewing set.

So now that it's installed, I'm hoping to do another educational session where I bring pictures and talk about the beers were making on it and kind of bring it full circle like, hey, you were a part of this like you're the reason this thing is here. Like we all worked together and did the math and thought through our plan and now we have this sweet brewing system that we're going to make stuff on. Like that to me is super awesome. So that way Comstock was very influential on B1, but at the same time like that, I think that innovative spirit that started downtown definitely still influences Comstock to this day. I'm definitely that spirit of innovation, that spirit of what's what, what if we tried this? What if it was a little bit of that are a little bit of this, which I think is super cool.

Maddie: It's cool that there's so much education involved in the work you're doing to try and make sure everyone's aware of what's going on. You know, it's neat that it's not just like stick to what you do and then know what you do and then that's it. It's like, you know, we want everyone to be understanding what's going on here and how they can be a part of it.

Lucia: Yeah. I think it's really valuable and of course I'm biased since I'm an engineer. I like to understand the whole and the parts that make up the whole, but it's really useful when you can see all of that and get more knowledge outside of maybe your particular specialty or get exposed to something that's a little bit new. You can, you can learn something and sometimes a different perspective is really, really valuable. Especially when working in big teams like this. It's a pretty cool process, and it's a fun opportunity for folks who never would have tried their hand at designing something, say a brewing system to finally get this kind of step into the ring with some, some helping hands and talk about it and talk about the logic behind it and do some simple calculations. “Bucket Engineering” as John Mallett calls it and make a brewing system.

Maddie: What would you say your favorite part is about what you do?

Lucia: Hmm. I like that it's very hands-on engineering. A lot of what I studied in school was pretty math heavy, which I like, but it's cool getting to do the applied engineering, like, Oh yeah, I'm doing this math or I'm, I'm reading about all these concepts because it's something now that I can physically install. It's something I can put together and like watch it run and watch people interact with it and see how it actually works. I think that's super cool.

Maddie: Yeah, that's definitely. I mean, just like the work I've been doing in communications is. That's one of my favorite parts about it is you can put in all this work and you can actually see the finished product, but you can see people's reactions online. You can see how people respond to it and it's very cool to like put in time and then have a finished product and like point out I'd be like, this is where all the hard work went and it looks great.

Lucia: Yeah. Yeah. And it's a little harder when it's behind the scenes, like, not that I'm out to like sing to everyone, hey, that was my thing at all, but it is kind of cool to see things change around the brewery and be like, yeah, I helped with whatever I designed for that or I helped with planning for that or I was engineering support when such and such thing kept breaking. That's, that's pretty rewarding,

Nick: Right like the path from on paper, like theoretical to like actually putting hands on it and applying it and like finishing the product is, it can be very satisfying and it's cool to see, you know, I guess being there from conception to completion, that's kind of rare I think.

Lucia: Yeah. Yeah. It's, it's something you don't ever really get experience in an educational setting doing that unless you have very particular lab set up for it or if you have more hands on internships. So it's been really, really cool to actually get to do that. Like, cool. I have to come up with an eye, I see a problem or a talk to people and hear about something that's going on, or I hear about this cool new thing we want. Okay, figure it out, figure out what we want, put it together, get through a project, and then provide support on it so we feel really confident in it and confident in our skills. Like that's pretty damn cool.

Nick: Thank you to our guests, Andy, Karli and Lucia for taking the time to speak with us about brewing at Bell's. I'm Nick.

Maddie: And I'm Maddie. Thank you for listening to The Shifty. Cheers.

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