Wednesday, November 23, 2011

To much head can cause deadly explosions

Screw Up Beer's 5th rule of homebrewdynamics: A passionate homebrewer will always produce somewhat more beer than they have room to store. Example: A person in a tiny apartment with a one-gallon system will produce one six pack more than their dorm fridge will handle and a homebrewer with a personal storage cave will always have a truck load of beer they don't have room for.

Beer is a fickle bitch. It loves cool to cold temps, without a lot of light, temperature swings and movement. However, these kind of perfect conditions rarely exist for brewers.

I brewed a raspberry wheat beer while I was living in Missouri, at an elevation of about 800 feet above sea level. The beer was a little over carbonated anyway; but when I moved it to my new apartment in Rock Springs, Wyoming, elevation 6200 feet, I had beer gushing like a college kid having his first lap dance. It is a possibility I also had a small infection, like the college kid a week after his first lap dance. We had no air conditioning and the apartment was hotter than a hot wing poop.

I had the beer packed away in some 12 pack boxes next to the washing machine. Which was a location of constant vibration and agitation. So this is not a perfect beer storage solution.

One night, shortly after we had settled into bed, there was a sound like a gunshot right outside the bedroom. My first thought was, "I wonder if the neighbor has committed suicide?  Poor guy, maybe I should stop stealing his parking space."

I ran out of the bedroom and turned the light on. There was foam coming out of my stack of homebrew boxes like a science-fair volcano. The box had been partially shredded and glass was everywhere.
As luck would have it, the bottle in the middle of the half-rack had reached a terminal pressure level and exploded, which caused the bottles around it to explode.

Glass had embedded in the wall next to the boxes and we found a neck and cap across the living room, about 30 feet away.

I didn't screw around with this shit. I, gently, placed the remaining beers in the dumpster. This actually kind of spooked me. If one of those bottles had blown while I was holding it I could have had my damn arm torn off.

My advice to those brewing places without good storage: drink faster. As long as your beer is brewed well you can still get a few months out of it. Big temperature fluctuations will shorten the shelf life of your beer and can cause over carbonation problems if you have to much priming sugar or a little infection.

Do what you can. A basement or cellar works best but even an interior closet is better than nothing. A dedicated fridge is nice and I have heard of some brewers hacking an AC unit to make a walk in cooler but I would make sure you know something about wiring before you attempt the project.

A seriously over carbonated beer is a big danger and not something to screw around with. If your homebrew tastes funny it will make you hungover but there is no real danger, a bottle bomb can cause major damage.


hunter said...

I told you about that lap dance in secret.

flateric said...

I was helping out at a homebrew competition and witnessed someones bottle of homebrew explode.

I was standing above it.

5 stiches later, a couple of hours in the ER, I now have a persistent numb feeling in half of my upper lip. Had I been leaning over an extra couple inches I would've had glass embedded in my eye.

Watch those carbonation levels kids... please =)