The cold shower. The hop bomb. The funky gunky. Taking a trub bath. Beerkakke. Bonging a beer turd. Booshed by the brew.
Nearly every craft brewer at some point in their career has been hit with some form of cold beer, yeast, hops, or trub (pronounced “troob”). It’s just a hazard of the job. It’s freezing, sticky, and usually disgusting. Murphy’s Law also dictates that it will usually happen either right at the beginning of your work shift so that you smell like craft beer all day long or right at the end so that the drive home is extra nerve-wracking. Trying to explain to a police officer at a traffic stop that you reek of beer but haven’t been drinking is not fun.
For the uninitiated folks who don’t know much about the magical effects yeast have in the brewing process, it looks like a nasty, foreign substance that has no business near food stuffs. Lots don’t even know what yeast is, let alone the fact that it is the key ingredient in brewing. Heck, the Germans even had to change their fancy, ancient beer law to accommodate for yeast when it was discovered. Yeast eats sugars and produces more yeast, CO2, yummy flavors, and alcohol.
So how does a brewer get showered in the good stuff? When the yeast gets done eating all the fermentable sugars that it is able to eat, the beer is considered finished fermenting. The beer itself has reached what we call “Terminal Gravity” or “Final Gravity.” Gravity is a measurement of remaining sugar content dissolved in the liquid that we use in an equation to figure out our overall alcohol content of the beer. When the yeast reaches a terminal gravity, most brewers will start to cold condition the beer to prepare it for yeast harvesting, dry hopping, transferring, lagering, aging, or filtering. When the beer temperature reaches a certain coldness, the yeast essentially goes into hibernation and falls out of suspension in the liquid to the bottom, conical part of the stainless steel tanks. We call this trub (one of many types) or “cold break.”
From this point the yeast separates into several layers of yeast with the dead and non-viable stuff dropping to the very bottom. Sometimes, the dead yeast cells and other waste compacts and hardens, and it can clog up the valve at the bottom of the tank. Then, it’s some unlucky person’s job to unclog that valve, and that is where the fun begins. Any brewer will tell you, even the most experienced hand can get caught by the yeast bath. You can never tell how much gunk is clogging a valve or how clogged it actually is.
Is it… is that… Let me just take a lo- BOOM! Face full of beer goop.
It’s not just the yeast, either. After dry-hopping, you can also encounter a clog, which arguably, can be even worse. You smell like hops, which is a small reward in itself; however, you find yourself covered in hops trub.
It’s a small price to pay and a fun story for your back pocket. It’s one of the small things we do as craft brewers that makes the brewing process intimate for the brewer. Small brewers care about the craft beer you drink so much so that we are willing to get doused in awfulness to make sure it is properly packaged.