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Beer boom bolsters biofuel

Installing the new tanks in the old Nelson Brewing Company building on Latimer Street was a challenge.

From brewing beer to making biofuel: three vats from the Nelson Brewing Company have a new lease on life. 

With business booming, the brewery recently replaced three stainless steel tanks with units twice as big — and found a new home for the old ones with a Winlaw couple trying to expand their biofuel company.

“Paul and Clare [Kelly] are customers of ours because they also own the Cedar Creek Café and support our product,” explains brewery marketing manager Al Mcleod. “We did a project where they used some of the spent grains here to produce bread, and we became friends.”

About a year ago, the Kellys mentioned if the brewery ever needed to get rid of any tanks, they would be interested in buying them — a scenario that came to pass this month.

“The tanks give them the opportunity to raise their volume, and we’ve done an expansion,” Mcleod says.  

As the brewery celebrated its 20th anniversary, it posted record sales, necessitating the delivery of three 40-hectolitre tanks. They’re double the volume of the ones they replaced and are used for both fermenting and conditioning. 

Moving them into position, however, was a real chore.

The brewery — one of the oldest commercial buildings in town — was never designed to accommodate them. The supplier, a small business in the Okanagan, sent them over on a flatbed, and then it was all hands on deck.

“We usually have everybody here, so there’s about eight of us working it,” says brewery co-owner Tim Pollock. “It makes for good teamwork. We have a forklift and hydraulic system, but it’s still grunt work. We’re like slaves building the pyramids.”

This was actually their second delivery of the new-style tanks, and things went smoother than last summer when they had to expand a hole in a concrete wall to let them through. The clearances ranged from about a foot to as little as four inches.

“That hole was actually put through the foundation wall 18 years ago,” Pollock says. “Whenever we’ve had to go through a wall, it’s always been a mining job. You cut the hole and take all the debris out.”

Having crammed tanks through that passageway before, “we were mentally prepared for it. The second three were a little easier because we knew what we were up against. We had a better system.” 

In fact, the tanks were unloaded and set up by mid-afternoon. 

Pollock says they’re willing to put up with such hassles to stay in the “funky old building” on Latimer Street. 

“Ideally we should have a nice big, shiny open space, but we’re prepared to [make do] because we like being here,” he says. “It’s who we are. Without it, we wouldn’t be the Nelson Brewing Company. To us, it’s important to stay here.

“Although,” he adds with a laugh, “when we’re halfway through putting a tank in, it’s like ‘Why are we doing this?’”

The tanks they swapped out last year also found a new use.

“The farmer we give our grain to took one and uses it as a water tank for the cows. So it’s a bit of a closed circle.”

They plan to eventually replace all of their tanks with the new, larger style.