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The Shifty, Episode 3: Brewing at B1, our original brewery, with Pat Tkacz and Chris Walsh

In the previous episode of The Shifty, we discussed brewing with Andy Farrell and Karli Small from our Comstock facility. We also spoke to Lucia Baker about her experiences as a Project Engineer at the B1 location.

Lucia gave us a great look at the mechanics of B1, which got us curious about the rest of what goes on there. Now,we’re giving you a brief look at the actual brewing that takes place in our original brewhouse. To do this, we spoke with Pat Tkacz and Chris Walsh about the brewing they do there.

This episode details everything from the day-to-day operations to the differences in the Comstock and downtown breweries. You’ll even get to learn about Pat and Chris’ introductions to brewing; processes that involved both the Czech Republic and a Coach purse.

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

Chris Walsh: In college, I didn't really drink beer much except for because beer pong existed.

Nick Lancaster: Hello everyone, and welcome to a special episode of The Shifty. In the last episode we spoke to Lucia Baker about her wok in B1, and we thought we would follow that up with a little extra content for you. So if you haven't listened to that episode you should go back and catch up. I'm Nick.

Maddie Parise: And I'm Maddie, and for this episode, we're showing you a deeper look at B1 itself through a conversation with some of the people who brew there. I guess a pretty simple question, Why did you guys come into work today?

Pat Tkacz: I came into work today, first and foremost, because I love beer, and I was a fan of Bell's Beer long before I worked here.

Nick: That's sour beer specialist, Pat Tkacz.

Pat: Getting to be the guy, or one of the guys, that makes the beer that I used to drink as a fan really gives me a reason to wake up in the morning. I mean I'm excited every morning when I get here at 6. I know most people aren't excited to get up that early, but I'm really ready and rearing to go, looking at my task board, figuring out what needs to be done for the day. That's what keeps me coming back. Knowing that the beer needs love and that the people need beer.

I got into brewing because my girlfriend at the time, now my fiancee, wanted a Coach purse for Christmas. I discovered how much Coach purses cost, and it was about the same amount as a home brew kit, which I had been eyeing up until that point. Little negotiation tactics on my hand I said “I'll get you the Coach purse if you'll get me the home brewing equipment,” and really the rest is history. The first beer that I brewed was a clone of Two Hearted Ale. A beer that I still hold near and dear to my heart. I've never looked back. I've probably brewed 75 batches at home and a couple thousand batches here at work.

Maddie: This is brewer Chris Walsh.

Chris: The reason why I'd be here is, I got started.. In college I didn't really drink beer much except because beer pong existed. It's something competitive to do, but I always really hated every macro-lager and all my friends Natural Lights and all the beer we drank back then. Then I had one of my uncle's home brews right before I went to a trip to Czech Republic and I was always under the assumption that from the, I think it was Keystone Light commercials that had the bitter beer face, that anything bitter is just a no-no in beer. I went to Czech Republic and just drank their Pilsners and discovered what the original Pilsners is supposed to taste like. A 30 IBU - 40 IBU beer and how it balanced everything is just magical to me. That is the week I came back from that trip with my uncle, we got right on him teaching me how to home brew.

I've been a fan of Bell's since like the week I got into craft beer. I woke up one morning at the house I had soon after, or when I was in college, from a party the night before there was ah Oberon bottle sitting next to me, I had no idea what it was. So I cracked into that, and that would have been my first exposure into American Craft Beer. I been working here for about four years, and it's exciting every day to come in and try to troubleshoot and try to figure out what we need to do to put out quality beer.

Maddie: That sounds like a real magical experience.

Chris: It's pretty awesome.

Nick: What does the average day look like for you guys?

Chris: It varies quite a bit. Being down here, we do a few more things than you'd expect in the production facility. We keg our own beer, we do our own inventory, we file all of our paperwork.

Pat: We do all the hot and cold side work to beer. So we are brewers, the cellar men, the packagers. We're the inventory people like he said.

Chris: Yup.

Pat: Occasionally we are housekeepers.

Nick: It sounds like from what we've talked to with Andy and Karli and Lucia about what goes on at Comstock; it sounds like what you guys are doing is a lot more hands on. You basically see through everything like hand putting in everything, and then just the whole processes. It's not automated.

Pat: No, there's nothing automated about what we do. The only computer program we use is called Excel. Maybe you've heard of it?

Maddie: That's that new thing from Microsoft, right?

Pat: Correct, it's new from Microsoft, a spreadsheet management software.

Nick: Its like a calculator you can type into.

Pat: Yes, correct.

Pat: I like to use the analog digital comparison. I tell people, Downtown is analog, Comstock is digital and neither one is better than the other. We just-

Nick: They function differently.

Pat: Yeah, they function different, exactly.

Nick: Huh, I like that. That's a good way to put it.

Pat: And I actually mean analog literally.

Nick: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Pat: We have analog flow meters. We have analog instruments out there. We have some digital, so I guess I'm cheating a little.

Chris: You've even got the vintage gear for the analog. It's like..

Pat: Yup, we really do.

Maddie: So you're working at a different system than there is at Comstock, so in that nature, how often are there problems that come up that you need to solve, that you weren't expecting?

Pat: I'm not going to call them problems, I will call them-

Chris: Learning experiences..

Pat: Learning experiences. Idiosyncrasies. I would say that a day without a idiosyncrasy at B1 is odd.

Chris: Yeah.

Pat: I'm not sure if Chris would agree. Sounds like it though

Chris: Little problems sneaking up from time to time, and as time goes on, you figure out how to manage dealing with those. But with everything being analog, you're going to knock out or going to use hot water through a flow meter where the dial's just jiggling back and forth. You might need to smack it with your finger a little bit; put it in its place and figure out how to get everything solved on the day to day.

Nick: Right, so-

Pat: It's a lot loser. We're cowboys.

Nick: Taming the wild west of brewing downtown.

Pat: Definitely.

Nick: So what's the most challenging part of what you have to do downtown? Unless you already answered that.

Pat: It's funny, it's not brewing related. Honestly, driving a forklift in the cellar in B1, is one of the scariest and hardest things I've ever had to do at any job ever, and I think Chris would corroborate that.

Chris: Yeah, it could be pretty scary. I mean the ceilings aren't super high, trying to move multiple stocks of-

Pat: Loaded barrels.

Chris: Couple thousand pounds of beer that if you successfully rack out of it, your gonna get a couple thousand dollars worth of profit. And the fear of dropping those, and the safety hazard-

Nick: Right.

Maddie: How often do you have to do that?

Chris: About a couple times a month maybe.

Pat: Couple times a month. We move barrels around, more lately because of construction, so we're doing a lot of moving while the three barrel is being built.

Chris: For sure.

Pat: Yeah, a couple times a month on average; as few times as possible really.

Maddie: Yeah

Nick: Interesting.

Maddie: So the other side of that is most challenging; what is the most rewarding thing about what you do?

Pat: Oh that's easy. Watching people enjoy the beer that you made; honestly the best feeling in the world to me is watching somebody sit and enjoy a beer. That's the ultimate payoff for me.

Chris: Yeah. Definitely the same answer for me. If you are down at the pub and you overhear somebody saying their enjoying a L’appel du Vide, or a Downtowner, or any of Bell's beers especially, but if it came from our hands, it's like you turn around and do a Tiger Woods fist pump real quick.

Maddie: Yeah, we had a conversation similar to this with Lucia about how it's always neat to see the work that you've put in actually has actual..

Pat: Worth

Maddie: Yeah, worth. You can actually see what you've done and how cool it is.

Nick: Right, and of course I mentioned Roundhouse, which is my favorite beer that we make, but B1 Roundhouse, you can't top it..

Chris: Yeah.

Nick: Like you mentioned Downtowner; I love that beer too. We have a lot of beers that you can get everywhere mostly. Like in Michigan, you can get most of our portfolio, but I feel like some of the magic is coming downtown, and seeing that huge draftboard, and being like “I didn't even know that they made that,” or like that variety of beer. Then you look at the little Eccentric Man and then it's like “okay, well it was brewed downtown.”

Pat: Yeah, it's pretty awesome. One of my favorite things I've heard customers say when they get here, in the vein of what you're talking about and perhaps I pay more attention to this because I'm the sour beer guy, but I hear people say "Oh Bell's makes sour beer. I didn't even know that." And they don't get to try them until they come down here at the pub, and that to me, of course being sour beer guy again, is just great to hear.

Maddie: So you're sour beer guy. Is sour beer your favorite beer?

Pat: Definitely my favorite beer to brew and my favorite beer to drink by far.

Maddie: Chris what's your favorite beer?

Chris: Oh that rotates. I would say that ever since I came down here, this guy got me a lot more into the sour's and I mean favorite to drink and favorite to produce is definitely a fruity sour or heavily dry hops, hoppy beer, IPA or I mean..

Nick: Awesome. Alright, I think that's really all we had for you today. Thanks for coming on and talking to us about what you guys do down at B1.

Chris: Our pleasure.

Nick: It's really important I think, so I'm glad you guys could make it out.

Pat: Thanks for thinking we are interesting enough to interview.

Nick: We hope you've enjoyed this bonus conversation with Pat and Chris, and have a better understanding of what goes down on the day to day to be one.

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