Swamp Head Brewery isn't big.

Music playing over the brewing floor, at 3140 SW 42nd Way, comes from an iPod unceremoniously plugged in at a cramped workshop corner that has been adorned with stickers like "Good beer, no shit."

The rest of the floor space is taken up by shiny copper "swamp vessels," which are the heart of the brewing process for the 16 to 18 types of beer it produces.

It was in one of these brewing tanks on Monday that head brewer Craig Birkmaier almost lost part of a batch of perfectly good Big Nose India Pale Ale.

Don't worry, though. They saved the beer.

On Monday, a fire two doors down caused the brew house - which happened to be on the same grid that officials say probably started the fire - to lose power.

Some essential systems of brewing, like the cooling structures, require more power than most buildings get. In their case, they are on a three-phase system, where each phase carries about 120 volts.

A normal house has 240 volts, Birkmaier said. He said he uses what works out to be about 308 volts.

On Monday, one of the three phases lay on the ground: a live wire.

The half-batch of beer sat in the second-to-last step of brewing, whirlpooling, for about an hour before he was able to persuade authorities to turn the power back on for them, Birkmaier said.

In whirlpooling, the beer-to-be circulates around the tank, forcing solids (e.g., hops) into a cone in the center.

The longer the beer, called wort in this stage of the process, sits with the hops, the bitterer it gets, and typically the beer only sits for about 15 minutes.

"It wouldn't be a question of losing beer, but it would have tasted bad or been too bitter," he said.

To compensate, Birkmaier made the other half batch scheduled for Tuesday less "hoppy" than it would have normally been.

Although Swamp Head Brewery was able to get the power back on in time to save the beer, one of its neighbors, Kinetic Concepts Inc., didn't have power restored until the next day.

 

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