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Iron Horse Brewery: The Case of the Missing Off-Gas Compression Tube

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For the sake of making my point more authentic, I usually say something like, “A brewery owner once told me…” But the fact of the matter is, these sage words of infinite wisdom are my own: The best part of the beer business is the beer, the worst part is the business.

Business is like anything else in life: stuff happens. The measure of company’s character is how they deal with that stuff when it does. Business is like anything else in life: it helps to have a sense of humor. A company can be responsible, earnest, efficient, and profitable with a smile on its face. This is especially true in the beer business, where a company’s core competency is making people happy.

Some of you may already be familiar with the story of the missing off-gas compression tube. Don’t worry, this story has a happy ending. Nobody got hurt. No harm was done at all. Not too long ago a piece of the bottling machine at Iron Horse Brewery went missing. Actually, “missing” is not be the right word. They knew, with some degree of certainty, exactly where the piece was hiding. It was in a bottle of beer.

By the time the off-gas compression tube’s absence was discovered, a lot of beer had moved down the line. In fact, they were not exactly sure when it went missing so they didn’t know how much beer had moved down the line, out the door, into distributor warehouses, and onto retails shelves. They knew the missing piece was sanitary and too large for human consumption. They knew that its absence had not negatively impacted any of the beer. That was the good news.

For a brewery, this is definitely an “oh shit” moment. Below is the story of how Iron Horse Brewery dealt with the issue. I think they handled the situation masterfully. Despite the best efforts of hard-working, skilled, diligent people, sometimes stuff happens. The most we can ask is that a company be honest when it does.

Sometimes this world makes you humble. When it does, bake a pie and eat it. One thing that is certain in life, there is plenty of humble pie to go around and sooner or later we all get to eat a piece.

From the Iron Horse Brewery Blog:

The Case of the Broken Bottler: A Lesson on Telling the Truth.

As you are most likely aware, we recently discovered an issue with our bottler, which deposited one 3 inch stainless steel off-gas compression tube into one of our 22oz bottles.

Upon discovering the sanitary piece of stainless was missing, we immediately analyzed the potential impact of having said artifact the size of Andre the Giant’s finger in one of our bottles.

Among the options were: do and say nothing, recall everything that we have had shipped, or be forthright and communicate to our fans and frenemies that there is a foreign object in one of our beers.

Because we had no way of truly knowing when that piece went missing, we went with option three.

Here’s how the conversation went:

============

9:05 am.

Tyson: Umm, so it looks like we’re missing a piece from our bottler.

Greg: Shit balls. Where is it?

Tyson: Most likely in a bottle of Irish Death, IPA, or Hefe.

Greg: Shit balls.

Jared: When do you think it went missing?

Tyson: Hard to say, but most likely this last session.

Jared: I’m going to ask three questions which will dictate our next course of action.

Is the object harmful? Will it compromise the sanitary nature of the beer? Is it possible to recover it without pouring and/or recalling?

Greg: Whoa, whoa hold up. Jared, somehow you are making it look like you are the responsible one in this dialogue, but we know that’s not the case.

Jared: Yes, well…damn it you’re right.

Greg: Here’s how it really went down.

=================

8:21 am

Greg: (inner voice) Man, it’s 8:21 and I’m the only one working right now, because I’m a committed person who likes bunnies and pancakes. The pleasure of sitting at my desk gratifies me. I better have some coffee and then work on my reprimand worksheets.

9:08 am

Tyson: Hello Boss.

Greg: Hello Head Brewer.

Tyson: We might have a wee problem.

Greg: Do tell.

Tyson: One of the off-gas compression tubes from the bottler is missing.

Greg: Well that is certainly not good. Where do you think it is?

Tyson: Most likely in a bottle of Irish Death, IPA or High Five Hefe.

Greg: Why did you link to those beers?

Tyson: Because this is a digital conversation and I figured our readers would appreciate quick links to learn more about the beer we make.

Greg: Smart and I appreciate you. Now, back to the matter at hand.

Jared: We need to call everyone and tell them immediately and we need to recall all the beer we’ve ever made ever. EVER! Wah, Wah!

Tyson: Um..hold on Greg. I’m fairly certain this is nothing like the conversation that took place.

Greg: Oh..really, bro?

Tyson: First of all. I’m not a bro. Second of all, this post is really off topic, so I’m just going to summarize what happened.

I told Greg that the bottler piece was missing. Then we examined where it might be. We concluded the most likely place was in a bottle of beer. We then walked through quite a few scenarios as to what we should do. Potential harm, options to address etc.

We determined that the object was so large that no one would actually be able to swallow it, let alone not notice it was clanking around in the bottle. We agreed that it was sanitary because the stainless steel tube actually goes in the bottle during bottling. After a few more conversations and figuring things out, we concluded that we should just leave it in the bottle and tell everyone that our bottler broke. That’s when Jared chimed in from across the hall…’let’s make it a contest, so at least it’s fun’. I thought he was joking. He apparently wasn’t. Does that summarize things so far?

Greg: Yes….bro.

Ross: Hi guys.

Greg: Oh, sorry were you on speaker this whole time?

Ross: Ye…

Greg: <click>

=================

As you can see by the fictitious, but rooted-in-truth dialogue, we asked all the questions we felt were important to make a proper decision.

We did blow it by not notifying our distributors that we were having a first-of-its kind contest at the same time that we started to contest, but we still feel pretty good about how we handled it. We promptly brought our distributors in to the loop when we realized that they were affected parties.

As you now know, after we posted the picture and details, one of our Facebook fans quickly revealed that he had the missing piece. The original Post is here

We were surprised by this, given the fact that we believed the beer bottle in question was in a distributor’s warehouse, or not quite on the shelves yet.

This had us scratching our heads. Time to do more digging.

Upon further investigation with the bottler manufacturer, information from the person who found the piece, and our own review of service documentation we now believe with that the stainless steel off-gas tube that was found, may have been missing for a little bit longer than originally believed, but was in fact found and the situation had been resolved.

Preventative Measures.

As a growing and maturing brewery, we have learned a couple of things and have immediately implemented additional procedures to prevent an issue like this coming up again.

-Audits are now being performed on an hourly basis to ensure that all bits and pieces of the bottler are intact and not in a bottle. This allows us to get through no more than 100 cases of beer before we check. While it is no excuse to have not done hourly audits before, the item in question is press-fit from the manufacturer leading us to believe it was not an area of concern. Mmmm, humble pie.

-We are planning the installation of a bottle sensor mechanism which prevents the circumstances that would lead to the loosening of the off-gas tube.

Great, so where’s the lesson?

As we outline in our company vision, telling the truth, even when it might hurt is paramount to our core business values. As such, we do not regret being forthright as soon as we became aware of the issue, but perhaps the method of execution could have been handled a little differently. We continue to believe that the risk presented was below the threshold of warranting a recall. We stand by our actions, but we acknowledge our communication should have been all inclusive, rather than Facebook exclusive. In our defense, it was revealed within about an hour or so that the piece had been found, which pushed us down a different path.

We appreciate your understanding and support and would like to further impress upon you that we are committed to doing the right thing, telling the truth, and constantly improving our processes so that we can continually provide quality beer in a timely fashion.

Any questions, please let us know.

 

3 Responses to Iron Horse Brewery: The Case of the Missing Off-Gas Compression Tube
  1. Matt Smith
    February 13, 2013 | 10:47 am

    The Iron Horse Guys exemplify the awesomeness of the craft beer industry. Well played Iron Horse, well played indeed.

  2. Martin
    February 13, 2013 | 10:54 am

    I think they handled this really well. Talk about making a problem into an opportunity!

  3. Jack Hatley
    February 13, 2013 | 10:57 am

    Naturally I expected nothing less than such a creative reaction from folks from Ellensburg. A contest to find it? Brilliant! While I hope that I never have such an event when my brewery is up and running and finally does begin bottling for sale I will remember this example. It is what makes Washington brewers such a fun crowd!