Paso Robles can at last enjoy the sweet smell of success.
“I cannot describe the weight this is off of our collective shoulders,” brewery co-owner Adam Firestone said Monday. “In my 30 years in the beverage business, this has been my professional low point.”
The rotten egg-like smell was the result of the brewery’s two new tank-rinse ponds at the back of its campus on the south end of town.
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According to Firestone, the ponds, which are designed to treat the water that rinses tanks used for making beer and are filled with organic matter such as yeast, began to smell after unseasonably warm temperatures hit the North County in early March. The situation worsened after the brewery added bacteria-filled sludge to help break down the organic matter in the water to get rid of the smell.
The smell prompted numerous complaints from upset citizens.
After it received 30 complaints by March 28, the San Luis Obispo County Air Pollution Control District issued a notice of violation against the brewery. Notices of violation typically require a monetary penalty, though how much the brewery will be required to pay is unknown, district engineering and compliance manager Gary Willey said Monday.
That amount will be determined in several months, once the district and the brewery have discussed what happened and what was done to fix it, Willey said.
As of Monday, the district had received a total of 41 complaints related to the brewery smell, he said.
The company scrambled to aerate the ponds and reduce the smell following the first complaints, but it “could only rush Mother Nature so far,” Firestone said.
“I just couldn’t bear to delay the community one day longer than we had to, so we tried everything,” Firestone said, noting that he spent “at least $1 million” on corrective measures.
These included trucking new waste to an undisclosed city facility outside San Luis Obispo County; buying portable wastewater treatment plants that arrived on multiple trailers to tie into the existing plumbing and help further the treatment process; adding liquid oxygen to the ponds and doubling the aeration of the water. The brewery also employed frost fans typically used in vineyards to circulate air and blow it away from neighbors.
The first pond reached its target aerobic status — the point at which enough oxygen was present in the water to neutralize the organic odors — on April 22, Firestone said.
“Almost our entire company was out there surrounding the pond at that moment, watching as it said it was producing oxygen again,” he said. “We were all relieved.”
The second pond followed soon afterward, and as of Monday, no smell remains at the brewery — beside the smell of beer, of course.
“This community has been incredibly patient,” Firestone said. “They were unbelievably supportive and encouraging, considering. That support was heartwarming.”