Have you ever been sitting at your house with nothing to do on a Saturday and you think to yourself "Man, I wish I could head over to New Belgium HQ and take the tour", but alas, you live thousands of miles away and work for a living, not to mention you don't have any good vacation time coming up. Well friends I have a treat for you, the new and (super) exciting series- "Let's go to the..." And today's installment, the Thunderdome. The Thunderdome is our name for the bottleing hall (it's called the Thunderdome because the folks that work over there were given the chance to name their own building, and they came up with "the Thunderdome" (I like it, it's charming, but also exudes an industrial aura)). It opened in 2007 and every bottle of Fat Tire (or otherwise) you have had since then was packaged here, in the Thunderdome. Anywho, let's go.
So that's the outside of 600 Linden. It does look quiet on this nice bluebird day, but inside there is some hustling and some bustling. But before we head in lets talk a few facts. Right now we run the Thunderdome 3 shifts a day, and 5 or 6 days a week. But come summer those 5 or 6 days turn into 7. It takes about 8 folks to run all of the machines per shift (including loading and unloading trucks with fork lifts), and each technician is trained to operate and repair the machine they are assigned to for their shift.
Once we walk in and get past the lobby and breakroom, and enter the packaging floor we walk accross the room to the de-palletizer:
All of our glass is made in a factory in Windsor about 15 minutes down the freeway. They (Owens Glass) loads their trucks with glass and sends it to our door. The fork lift operators unload the pallets and put them right on the line (as seen above). The machine cuts the bands and sweeps the layers of glass right on to the conveyor belt:
That whole bunch of bottles hits a piece of conveyor around the corner that is moving a little faster, this spreads them in to a single-file line and preps the for the filler:
From here they head into the filler. The filler first rinses the inside of the bottle by grabbing it, flipping it over, then rinsing it out. This rinse water is harvested to be used later. It then sends the bottle to the actual beer filler part of the machine. Here it is filled with delicious beer. Again, it flips the bottle over, purges the air out with CO2 and fills it on up, all the while flipping it back right side up, then, before crowning, it shoots a very tiny spritz of hot water into the beer to get the carbonation a blazing, this foamy-ness sends the last bit of oxygen out of the top and then the crown (cap) comes slamming down on top of it.
That there is the exchange (sorry it's a little blurry, but the safety glass in front of it all blurred everything up).
The water that was used to rinse the inside is then used to rinse the outside and the bottle leaves the filler. All of this happens at a rate of 700 bottles a minute. That is real fast, and hard to keep up with, but these operators are professionals.
Then onto the label-er. Here it is labeled (duh.) and batch/date coded and sent over for the cardboard. A bottle can be put into many different packages, but today it was these:
and all the while this little guy is watching over it all with his kitty wisdom:
After the exciting-ness that is the cardboarding, all the boxes are sent over to a giant robot who repallitizes everything (sidenote; the giant robot is awesome at Tetris) and gets it ready for the truck again. All in all, a bottle is on the line for about 35 minutes and is constantly moving (thank you Henry Ford), before a truck picks it back up and takes it out to you, the wonderful drinkers of beer around the world (or at least 26 states of this fine country). Like this guys for instance:
Look how excited he is.
So now you know the long (and pretty short) of it. But before I head out I wanted to introduce you to one of the fine people who help make all this happen:
That's the Professor looking busy (at least busy thinking), so if you see him, or any of his packaging co-workers say "thank you", because without them who knows what weird package the beer would come in (small paper cups?).
Alright then, thank you for reading this installment of "Let's go to the..." and I will see you next time.