Beer Explosion and Other Cautionary Tales

Here’s an old message I sent to the Members of Barleyment brewclub mailing-list, a while ago.

——– Original Message ——–

Subject: Beer Explosion and Other Cautionary Tales
Date: Mon, 1 Mar 2004 09:04:41 -0400
From: Alexandre Enkerli <aenkerli@indiana.edu>
To: brewers@wort.ca
Got back from the in-laws this morning. The house smelled like beer.
Not really a good sign.
Had brewed a batch and bottled another one on Thursday. Left Friday
afternoon. Thought the yeasties didn't need their herder for the
weekend. The new Scotch Ale seemed happy, bubbling in a cool carboy
with blow-off tube. The bottles of Mep were all warm and cozy, didn't
seem to want to transform into little bottle bombs, yet.
Where's that smell coming from? Oh, well, people were in the house
during the weekend so if a catastrophe happened, they probably know
about it. But let's check the bottles, just to make sure. Snif.
Snif-snif. Sniffffffff... Nope, no b.o. (beer odour) here. Fine, then.
Talked a bit with SWMBO before she left for work. Thought about going
back to bed (got home before 7am). Hey, it's Spring Break for everyone,
right. But no /Girls Gone Wild/ shooting in perspective. Just this beer
smell...
Speaking of beer: how's the new batch coming? It's always cool to check
on a fermenting beer. Except, that...
OMG! What's that thing where the carboy used to be? Did someone put it
somewhere else? Looks like it. An empty beer pack isn't where it was on
Friday. But, wait. This is the t-shirt that served as a carboy-jacket.
Why's it all wet? And where's the Scotch Ale?
Hey, the blow-off tube's still here. So is the wine bottle at the end
of the blow-off tube...
Uh-oh!
Oops!
There you go. That's where the b.o.'s coming from. And that's where the
carboy morphed into a pile of shattered glass in a pool of wort. Smells
good, though.

Let's learn some lessons:
a) Murphy's Law applies to brewing
b) yeast can be mighty strong
c) a rubber stopper can stick to a carboy more strongly than the
carboy's walls themselves
d) a blow-off tube shouldn't be constricted
e) there's a reason to have a headspace above fermenting wort in a
primary
f) it's a good thing to have your fermenters in the basement
g) carboys break fairly cleanly
h) a 5 gallon carboy filled with about 4.8 gallons of wort might make a
mess of ca. 1.5m^2
i) New Brunswick's blue plastic bags for "dry" trash aren't really
sturdy
j) there are situations where beer odors don't smell so good
k) it's probably a good thing to open-ferment ales in primary

["Whoooooo are you? Who-Who? Who-Who?"]
Sara's surprisingly not in the mood for beer this early in the morning,
so Warrick's the one taking the pictures and sending the yeast to Greg
for DNA analysis. Al establishes time and cause of death: carboy
explosion. Grissom, using his in-depth knowledge of brewing,
establishes a timeline.  Lag time was probably around 9–10 hours,
blow-off tube was blocked after 30 to 48 hours, pression accumulated at
a rate of 2 PSI/hour, carboy exploded about 66 hours after pitch-in,
most of the wort dried off in the remaining 18 hours.
Stokes notices some mud-like substance on a fragment of glass. Analysis
comes back: precipitated protein, yeast sediment... Yup, it's trub. But
how did it get there?
Catherine tours brewpub to identify the victim. The brewmaster at the
pub: "Hey, it looks *somewhat* like Scotch Ale, but real Scotch Ale
would be maltier and bigger." A botched attempt at Scotch Ale? A
lagered Tripel? Maybe...

Ale-X, not in Vegas

References/Apologies to:
http://www.homebrewers.com/product/600671
http://www.hum.utah.edu/english/faculty/brunvand.html
http://www.acsu.buffalo.edu/~insrisg/nature/nw00/laFontaine.html
http://www.edwards.af.mil/history/docs_html/tidbits/murphy's_law.html
http://www.cbs.com/primetime/csi/main.shtml

I hope this might help others, if only as a funny anecdote.

About enkerli

French-speaking ethnographer, homeroaster, anthropologist, musician, coffee enthusiast. View all posts by enkerli

3 responses to “Beer Explosion and Other Cautionary Tales

  • enkerli

    Maybe I should be more worried but even though I did get a few bottle bombs, I wasn’t that worried about moving the remaining bottles about or even opening them and drinking them.
    Some people advise homebrewers with bottle bombs in their hands to put on some protective gear and uncap every bottle to take off the excess CO2.

    Blork: thanks for the comment. I tend to put these things in blockquote.

  • KevBrews

    I have some bottles in the basement that keep going off. I bottled a batch that apparently wasn’t fully attenuated. Frankly, I’m nervous about moving them, but I isolated the bottles within a box and am just waiting for them to gradually go off.

  • blork

    It’s hard to read the email because the last few words from each line are cut off. If you remove the [pre] tag from the HTML it will flow normally.

    (BTW, a similar thing happened to my friend. The beer explosion, I mean…)

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