Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Narrowly avoided DISASTER

I've mentioned before that in addition to liking craft beer, I also brew my own.

Well, near disaster on that front this morning.

On Monday I brewed a cranberry witbier. (Sadly, probably too late for it to be ready for Christmas.)

For those who don't brew, the basics of the process go like this: you brew your unfermented beer, put it in a fermentation vessel, toss in your yeast, and it ferments. A week to several weeks later, you have beer. During the process it kicks out loads of carbon dioxide. The vessel will have an airlock or some other means by which the CO2 gases can escape. It generally looks like this (note the CO2 escaping via the tube and jar of water):

So I get up this morning and before I get in the shower my wife says, "You might want to check on your beer. It's hissing and the top of the bucket is bulging."

Oh shit. This could be bad.

And sure enough, the lid of this super-sturdy, mega-hardy, thick-as-hell bucket is bulging out at an incredible curve. Never saw anything like it. The fermentation had gotten so active overnight, it pushed gunk into the airlock and clogged it. All that CO2 being churned out by the fermentation had nowhere to go. It was now building up pressure inside the bucket.

Left unchecked, this is pretty much a bomb.

I only exaggerate a little when I say that. I ferment in buckets. With them, the lid will blow off and gunk will splash out as high as the ceiling. Messy as hell, but not dangerous unless your face is over the bucket when the lid blows off. However, many people ferment in glass carboys. If this happens with one of them, they can explode with tremendous force, force enough to push glass through sheetrock walls.

In my case, because of the location of my fermentation bucket, a blown lid would have ruined our living room furniture, possibly doused several bookcases in gunk, and scared our cat.

Oh, and it would really, really annoy my wife. Here is what a bucket disaster can look like. Avert your eyes if you hate a mess:

So yeah, I didn't want that. Problem is, there is already a lot of pressure built up inside this thing. I can't just pop off the airlock to relieve it without risking muck shooting out. I slide the bucket under a table to catch any spray, form a shield around it with towels, and take off the airlock, preparing for a gusher.


Huge expenditure of gases as if opening a gigantic bottle of shaken cola, but thankfully no gusher. Disaster avoided!

But it was close. If that hadn't been spotted before the family left for school and work, BOOM, a living room doused in half fermented beer and yeast!!!

Remember, folks, beer is only a little less dangerous than war.

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