Under Pressure

What happens when pressure builds up over months and months in a sealed homebrew bottle with no where to escape?

I spend a half hour cleaning sticky glass shards off every surface in my fridge.

They say it happens to every homebrewer who bottle conditions their beer eventually, but until a few days ago, I had managed to elude the dreaded “bottle bomb.”

Bottle conditioning is a method of carbonating beer in which a small amount of sugar solution (usually dextrose) is added to the already-fermented beer during bottling. Even though the beer has reached its terminal gravity, enough viable yeast remains to digest the sugar and produce CO2. Since the activity happens in a sealed bottle, the CO2 has no where to go except into the beer itself. After a couple weeks, voila: carbonation.

Of course, homebrewing isn’t an exact science, and as closely as I try to keep tabs on my process, sometimes one thing or another is off. In this case, it’s not clear whether I used too much bottling sugar, the beer in the bottle was infected with a wild (and therefore unpredictable) yeast strain, or primary fermentation hadn’t yet finished.

The ironic thing is that the beer (a non-so-good brown ale) was destined to be poured out. I had dumped a few bottles of the months-old batch the night before to geyser-like results. Not wanting to spray my kitchen in brown foam again, I stashed some of the remaining 22 oz. bottles in the chill chest so the carbonation would settle down. But only seconds after I closed the door, I heard the ominous popping sound of shattering glass.

A rite of passage? Maybe. A pain in the ass? Definitely.

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