Beerban? Kanbeer? What?

In my office I have a large whiteboard that’s drawn up with lanes that correspond to various steps in the brewing process.  The first lane is labeled “Planned”, thusly named to indicate they are beers that I plan to brew.  A sticky note with the name of the beer is placed in this lane when I decide there’s a recipe I want or need to brew.  The color of the sticky tells me whether it’s a lager, a light ale or a dark ale.

Beer kanbanThe next lane is labeled “Primary”.  I move the sticky note from the “Planned” lane to this lane after I’ve pitched the yeast into a batch.  At this stage I create a sticky note for each vessel the beer fills.  If I brewed a 10 gallon batch and split it into two carboys for fermentation, I would modify the original sticky note and create a new one.  I include the name of the beer, the date it was brewed, the OG, and the name of the vessel in which it resides.

The “Primary Fermentation” lane is divided in two with a dotted line.  On the left side are the “IP”, or In Progress beers.  These are beers that are actively fermenting.  On the right side are the “Ready” beers, which are those that are done with primary fermentation and are awaiting transfer into the next carboy, or a dump of the yeast from the bottom of  a conical.

The next lane is called “Secondary”.  It also is divided in two. I move the sticky note from the “Primary/Ready” lane to the “IP” side of this lane when a brew has been racked into a new vessel or the yeast has been purged from a conical. I also write the transfer date and gravity onto the sticky.  When the beer is done with secondary and is ready to be kegged or carbonated the sticky is moved into the “Ready” side of the lane.

The next is called “Finish”, and it is split into two lanes called “Crash” and “Carbonate”.  If I feel I need to crash a beer before racking it into a new keg I will move the sticky into this single lane.  If I am just going to carbonate it before putting it on tap, I put the sticky in the other lane.

Finally, I have a lane called “Kegged” and it, too, is split into two lanes, one for Bottling and one for Serving.  If a keg is tapped, I’m “Serving” it.  If a keg is going to be bottled, guess where that sticky goes?

This methodology is called Kanban, and it is a system for metering and tracking work and resources.  It was originally embraced by Japansese manufacturers, and it works well when you have a limited number resources.  The concept is that the tickets are “pulled” from one column to the next only when a resource is available to do the work.  It helps in maintaining reasonable workloads and identifying bottlenecks in the work flow.

For me and the brewery, it helps keep track of what is going on.  It’s wonderful to be able to see at a glance where my beers are at in their process and to know where I might run up against a limitation.