Thursday, April 26, 2007

I still hate bottling

I bottled my Boston Lager clone tonight. It never did ferment at the right temp, but it will still be fine beer. It tasted pretty good before bottling.

Every time I bottle, I remember a story I have been meaning to post. I call it "the infamous bottle exploding incident of 1996."

I was a grad student at the University of Nebraska. Turned on to the superb flavor of beer found at Lincoln's own Crane River brewery (now defunct, RIP), I decided to give home brewing a try. Kirk at Kirk's Homebrew on Cornhusker highway set me up. I did a number of batches and was very pleased. Eventually, I decided to try a pilsner.

I brewed it up and fermented it. Everything went fine. Then I bottled it. Still everything was normal... sort of. I had run out of bottles and still had about 2L of beer left. I had an empty 1.75 Jim Beam bottle nearby. "Hmmm" I thought to myself, "I wonder if I could put beer in that?" I never answered myself. I just went ahead and did it.

I filled the bottle up and twisted that cap on really tight and that was that. I was smart enough to think about what would happen if the thing did crack. I didn't want a mess, so I set the bottle in my empty bottling bucket just in case.

Five days later, things changed. The Jim Beam bottle suffered a catastrophic loss of structural integrity.

I was living in a house with three other guys. The basement, where I stored all of the beer, was unfinished, but one roommate had made a room in the basement with "walls" of blankets. My brother was another roommate and he lived in the master bedroom directly above where I stored my beer.

It happened in the middle of the night, of course. The bottle exploded. It blew!!! It was loud too. Needless to say, it scared the crap out of my brother and roommate.

In the aftermath, I was glad I put in the bucket. Shards of glass embedded in the plastic. I was amazing. I ended up ditching the bucket. Too make scratches.

But wait, that's not all. As it turns out, bottling beer in a whiskey bottle was not really the problem. Apparently, I either added to much priming sugar or I bottled too early.

During the next few days, at random times, bottles started exploding! It made the same sound as slapping two 2x4s together as hard as you can.

After about a half-case exploded, I and my roommates had had enough. Feeling like a bomb squad technician, I transported the remaining bottles to a utility sink full of water and submerged them. I opened the bottles underwater to prevent a huge mess and to absorb the force of any explosion. I dumped the beer :(

I learned a valuable lesson that week.


A-non-y-mous said...

Funny story, sad, but funny.

This is why I always check the specific gravity.

Matt Jenks said...

I had a similar thing happen to me once. It made realize "Oh...unpasteurized beers can go boom if left in a warm room for several weeks..."

I can imagine how frightening the explosions would be in the middle of the night. When my delicious Ruby Red Raspberry Wheats went up, it scared the hell out of my wife, and that was in another building completely. I can't imagine sleeping next to it.

Chemgeek said...


Some things just can't be learned without experience. I knew better before, but now I understand.

Now I always check the SG following the 3 day-no change rule.

My popularity in the house that had been improved by my supply of good beer also decreased as a result of my beer. Ironic.

I never mentioned that my downstairs roommate was an avid hunter and the first thing he did after the middle-of-the-night whiskey bottle explosion was to jump out of bed and grab his gun.

A-non-y-mous said...

I re-use my yeast, so I knew from the first two batches that it would ferment down to about 1.012. When I checked my brown ale before bottling it was at 1.015. Not a big deal I though, and chalked it up to the different grains used (I mini-mash ~4 pounds of grain). End result = severe overcarbonation.

I should have known better, bottling 1 week after brewing, but I was in a hurry. The results aren't quite as dramatic as yours, but in my beer mug I get 4 inches of head to 1 inch of beer.

I should have known better, too. This was 1 month ago. Ten years and ~100 batches later.

ElderChemGeek said...

To add some validity to this story, I was sleeping in the room directly over this "disaster". To this day I tell the story of the night the bottles exploded, although I describe the sound as 2x4's dropping onto concrete. Great loss of beer...

Anonymous said...

I too mourn the loss of Crane River. But you can still go down to the Hay Market and visit Lazlo's, where they have a bunch of locally-brewed barley pops.

Anonymous said...

Hey this story made me laugh.. I do think I'm going to always keep adhering to that 3-day rule!

Thanks for the laugh. I'm sure you'll be able to tell that story to your grandkids for years to come! You rock!!!

Joel said...

Crain River brewery was an important component of my undergraduate education (1996-2000). I visited on one of their $2 pint nights (wednesday?), and from thereon i didn't bother with the regular college swill (busch light).

It is sad to hear they went out of business. Wasn't this place owned by 3 Profs from the Biology department?

There was Boulder Pale Ale at O'Roarkes. Hopalluia at Duffys. I liked these too.