Flossmoor Station Brewing Co. is one of my favorite breweries.  Yesterday, their brewer Bryan Shimkos sent out an SOS that he needed help ASAP on his bottling line.  Like a firefighter running to his truck, I was on my way.  He offered beer and lunch as a reward.  To be honest, I wanted material for the blog and a chance to pick the brain of a young brewer.  Bryan answered every question I asked him from the brewing process to beer trends.  I can honestly say I enjoyed my day.  Here is an in-depth look at bottling the Flossmoor way.

Bright Tank

Before I arrived, Bryan had already pumped the Pullman Brown Ale (Previous Review) over to a bright tank located in a basement cooler.  A bright tank is  where secondary fermentation occurs and can also serve as a serving tank.

Phil Connors

At this point, I should introduce you to Phil Connors.  Phil is a nice guy, but somewhat temperamental and has a slight handicap.  Oh, and by the way, Phil is the bottling machine.  Yes, like all good breweries Flossmoor named their bottling machine.  Phil Connors is the character Bill Murray played in the movie Groundhog Day.  He should be able to fill four bottles at once, but today was only able to handle three.  Before filling the bottles the bottling machine needed to be sterilized.  This is done by flushing it with sterilizer.  A very painless process.  To be honest I was expecting a little more dirt, grime and struggle here.

When Bryan was satisfied that Phil had bathed adequately we went over to Flossmoor’s other basement and hauled over a plastic wrapped pallet of boxes and empty bottles.  Flossmoor has their label screen-printed directly on the bottle.  I think this is classy.  The downside to being classy is not mentioning your age therefore no date codes exist on Flossmoor bottles.  Once the plastic is off the pallet we placed adhesive labels and stamped the date code on the boxes.  This date code is the only way to track a batch of beer back to the source.

We then set up the tables for bottling.  One table is for the rinsed bottles and a second is for packaging.  Bryan also set up the bottle rinser.  Now this is a fancy piece of equipment.  The bottle rinser is composed of a large trash can filled with sanitizer and a PVC tube grid laid across the top.  Twelve small pipes stick out of the PVC each with a hole drilled in the end.  Placing the bottles on the pipes and turning the pump on would squirt sanitizer to the bottom of the upside down bottle and rinse the sides on the as it ran down.  Each round of bottles are washed for two minutes.  The bottles are then moved to a rack where they wait upside down.

Hanging Bottles

Hanging the bottles upside down accomplishes two main goals.  First, the sanitizer drains.  Second, nothing can fall into an upside down bottle.  To ensure sanitation only 48 bottles are out at a time.  If sanitation is moving along faster than filing bottles with beer, it is temporarily stopped.

Phil has three available pucks that bottles are placed in.  The puck pulls the bottle back where the dispenser comes down.  Phil creates an airtight seal on the bottle and begins a multi-step process.

  1. Double evacuation of oxygen using two bursts of carbon dioxide
  2. Pressurization of the bottle
  3. Beer is pumped in through a tube that runs to the bottom of the bottle
Filling the bottles.

As Phil is filling bottles Bryan slid caps into the capper at the front of Phil.  After filled with beer the pucks push forward and the capper drops down to seal the bottle.  This is followed by a quick visual check of the fill level and cap placement and a quick dunk in sanitizer.  The first round of filled bottles are considered less than ideal.  These beers were our “quality control” bottles as we worked.  Yes, quality control in quotation marks means we drank them as we worked.  Additionally, bottle breakage is a danger.  As the bottles pressurize, damaged or defective bottles can explode.  In fact we had two.  One bottle had a quarter size piece blow out the side and another bottle had a full explosion.  In all reality, breakage can be dangerous.  Bryan recounted stories of how flying glass has pierced his shirt.  Finally, a second assitant packs the bottles into cases of 12 and stores in a cooler until picked up or sold to customers at the brewery.

Finished pallet with my case missing!
Bottling took the whole day.  I showed up about 10:30 and stayed until about 5:00.  A day in a dark cold basement is likely not the glamorous lifestyle we all think brewers have.  However, I did get to take a case home.  While I can not claim to be anymore than a cellarman I took pride in finishing my day with this beer at home.And what am I doing with my beer?  Well that is another post.



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  1. […] Station has been a favorite of mine for some time.  I even worked there for a day bottling beer.  However, a recent trip with my family was less than spectacular.  I knew the brewer had […]

  2. […] have been a fan of Bryan.  I was even able to help him bottle once.  He and I even kicked around the idea of me coming down and brewing a batch together so I […]

  3. […] decided on Flossmoor’s Pullman Brown.  To be honest I did get the beer for free from my bottling day, but Pullman Brown was under consideration prior to that.  This is my conversation starter.  I […]

  4. […]  Van Wyk currently of Oakshire Brewing, and formerly of Flossmoor Station Brewing Company where I bottled earlier this week is an excellent brewer.  Please stop go read his article here and come back. […]

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