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A Series of Unfortunate Brewing Accidents

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A Series of Unfortunate Brewing Accidents
It happens multiple times throughout a homebrewers career. You do your best to prevent mishaps large and small, but at the end of the day, human error is judge jury and executioner. Usually no one actually gets hurt in these accidents, and looking back, you can sometimes share a laugh with some friends about it down the road. I'm going to take this time to go over some of my finest hours in royally screwing up homebrew. Enjoy at my expense, and maybe learn how not to do things.
The Strawberry Lemon Explosion.
What a great evening for making some mead. Not unlike many nights, I felt like whipping up a batch of mead. This batch in particular, was based off the Joe's Ancient Orange Mead, but with strawberries and lemon. I purposely left plenty of headroom for some serious fermentation. I don't know if it was the acid boost from the lemon or the rapid rising properties of the bread yeast, but this ferment was like nothing I've ever seen.
The next morning there was several inches of foam just barely getting to the top of the neck of the carboy. Great I thought, usually the foamiest my batches get is overnight. I was sure I was safe to leave it while I went to work. When I came home to check on the batch (which was in the pantry with lots of food and pans around it), The airlock had foam leaking out the top. I cleaned the minor mess up, thankful that it didn't shoot the airlock all over the pantry spraying foam all over the pots, pans and food...
It didn't do that until the next morning.
The batch finally calmed down and I was happy that I didn't have to worry about it ever again after bottling it.

Expect The Unexpected
Nucleation Points 101.
Any mead maker practicing staggered nutrient additions has gone and thrown a tsp of dry yeast nutrient into a fermenting batch. They surely found out that it creates a lot of foam. Maybe they found out that it makes enough foam to evacuate the fermenter like a 3rd grade baking soda and vinegar volcano. When I was making my first set of lambic meads, I came to the conclusion that I needed to add Maltodextrin to the batches. I already knew that I needed to dissolve it before adding it in to avoid such an issue.
What I didn't know is that this stuff is a serious pain to dissolve fully, especially if you don't have enough liquid to do it (I didn't want to dilute my batch after all). What I saw in my measuring cup were some wet globs of Maltodextrin. I thought that it was soaked all the way through. I thought so, so wrong. There was a thin layer of wet powder encasing a lot of dry powder. When all that power hit the CO2 loaded mead, oh my god, you'll never see anything like it. The ensuing eruption beat any diet coke Mentos video on YouTube. The kicker was that it was that it took place in my kitchen and not a parking lot. The best part is that my wife was so used to me making an utter mess of the kitchen, that she didn't even turn from the couch to see what the sound of a city water fountain splattering water over concrete was.
A note to anyone who moved into my apartment: You can probably run a true open fermentor cool ship right in the kitchen with the amount of yeast and bugs I've plastered all over the walls and floor.

Be Sure To Read The Fine Print
The Dry Hopped Peppercorn Catastrophe.
This whole batch was a series of awful decisions front to back. This tale delves into those times when you try to do too much with a batch. This one in particular was supposed to be a peppercorn Saison mead. The recipe included honey and wheat DME. I was originally going to boil hops with some DME for that part of it. Unfortunately I forgot to boil, so I decided to dry hop them instead.
The mead fermented very nicely. It was an outstanding mead. I should have bottled it straight. But I had a plan, and I was going to stick with it. It was time to add the peppercorns. The peppercorns added spice very quickly. After a few days, I had found it to be acceptable so I added the dry hop. This is when it really starts to hit the fan. In that dry hop time the pepper had become dominating, and vomit inducing. Just awful. Seriously, if you're going to use black peppercorns, use like 3-4 corns, not 1.5 teaspoons of them. Well I knew that I could age the peppercorns out. I transferred to a secondary to find that the hops didn't really settle out (I didn't use a hop bag, another oops). They were just floating around in solution. Whatever, I'll try to filter it come bottling.
Here's why this would never work. The peppercorns needed time to mellow out. As you may know, beers with wheat should be consumed fresh, which as the peppercorns age, was becoming less and less so (fresh). By the time the peppercorns got to a tolerable amount, the batch had transformed into a muddy, unbalanced, still gross mess. I dumped all of it.
The real lesson here is to really plan your batches out, do research, and don't over complicate one batch by throwing a bunch of techniques and ingredients at it.
The Strawberry Lemon Explosion Pt 2.
Let's assume the Joe's ancient orange mead uses bread yeast, which in my findings, stops dead at around 12%, and isn't known for waking back up. This 12% was well short of the amount of sugar in the JOAM recipe, and the variant I created. Now, let's imagine moving in with the In-Laws and keeping your 8 bottle wine cellar on their bar (a proper place for it). Now picture your father in law's paperwork for his job strewn across this bar. You see where this is going. Ok, you got the bar, the wine cellar, and the paper work.
Now, let's go back to assuming I didn't stabilize the batch fermented with bread yeast (because it's supposed to be done) and threw it in the cellar. Now you raise a couple degrees on the temp controller to accommodate some nice red wine in the cellar. Ok, the picture is painted, and the play may begin.
There was a bad snowstorm that morning, so I didn't go to work (which turned out to be a good thing). My brother in law told me to come over and look at something in a rather concerned tone. I come out to the bar and see liquid leaking out of the cellar. Sticky liquid. Strawberry Lemon JAOV liquid. It pooled on the bar, drained onto a rug, down a mini fridge that was below it, behind the mini fridge and oh yeah, soaking all over my father in law's paperwork. That day was not fun.
Obviously the extra couple of degrees cause the yeast to come alive and begin fermenting (beyond 12%) in the bottles, as they had remained dormant for months. Thus pushing the cork out and spilling mead onto a bunch of property that wasn't mine. The only smart thing I did was open the other bottles and put them back into a carboy. They were all as carbed as soda and it's a miracle they all didn't go off. I did what any concerned brewer would do and threw a bunch of Brettanomyces at it.
Now, the very, absolute worst, kicking myself thing I did with this... Was not follow my own advice that I gave to a comment on this very batch!!!!! The lesson everyone should learn form this is, stabilize no matter what!
Let this be a note to all new brewers.
Sometimes when you're brewing, bad things will happen. It's important to not give up brewing and learn from your mistakes moving forward. Share your tales of woe with fellow brewers and they may tell you about some even worse mishaps than your own. So to channel my inner Finding Nemo, just keep brewing, just keep brewing.
It's fun to think back and share moments like these. Just last week I had an incident where I removed a blow off tube from an IPA after ~4 days of fermentation. Bubbling had slowed and I felt it was time for an airlock, but it wasn't.
Twice I've cold crashed a ferment without removing the blow-off tube from the water container. Nothing like the taste of 3 quarts of iodophor and water sucked back into 5 gals of beer to force me to take my time and read my worksheet before proceeding...
I brewed an english barleywine a while back with an OG of 1.124. I had made a starter and threw in another two "slap packs" just for good measure. I put the fermenter bucket in my temperature controlled freezer and went about my business for a few days. When I went back to check on it the fermentation was so vigorous that it blew the lid off the bucket and actually dented the roof of the freezer from the velocity of the plastic bucket lid! I lost about a gallon and a half of beer, but took my chances and put the lid back on and let it finish out. After racking to secondary and letting it hang out for about 60 days I bottled it. Another 30 days and it tasted amazing. I only wish I had 5 gallons of it instead of around 3 gallons in the end as I only have a few bombers left now.
The only other issue i've had while brewing was due to using an organic flavor extract rather than making my own tincture. I wanted to make a Key Lime Pale Ale with the idea of a nice, refreshing beer just in time for summer. I used the recommended amount of the Keylime extract for 5 gallons (about 2oz) as based on the recommendation to make a limeade. Apparently that was wayyyy too much. Although organic, the key lime extract tasted very artificial and when combined with the hop bitterness of the pale ale made the beer smell (and presumably taste) like Pine Sol. I tried to cut it with orange juice, tomato juice, anything I could to be able to drink it but ultimately it became a drain pour. I still joke about it with those who had the misfortune of trying it. This was a good learning opportunity though, as in subsequent flavored beers (pistachio, sriracha, pomegranate, to name a few) I made my own tincture and was more sparing in the amounts used and they came out wonderful.
Great article! Have to remember the bad times in order to have good times. My disaster from over the winter was five gallons of cider I picked up from the orchard. It was the very last bit left and they had been keeping it at 33 degrees. Put it in my storage fridge to get at it in a week. Roommate goes into it for a beer and never shuts the door. The ciders own yeast begins to ferment and it blows up everywhere as the temp rises. Needless to say, I learned that if I'm going to go out of my way for the freshest cider, give it the time it deserves as soon as possible.
@waarhorse777 Yeah some of those wild cider yeasts get pretty rambunctious. My mother in law had a gallon she bought sitting in the fridge and it sat long enough to start fermenting even at fridge temps.
Needless to say, I took it off her hands and added an airlock to the jug. Came out pretty good actually, shame it was only 20oz or so.
Praise the brewing gods that I've never had any explosions or overflow. Part of the success may be that I always keg and never bottle ;)
Recently I had a high gravity brown blow the lid off my primary and across the room. Great splatter on the ceiling, wall and floor. It was aptly named "Blasting Cap Brown."
A few years back, I was experimenting with a chipotle nut brown ale. I tossed a few chipotle into the wort. Upon transfer to the carboy, one pod somehow got tossed into the carboy. Well guess what, the chili pod floated to the top and plugged up the stopper. The explosion must have been a site to witness, I can only imagine as I discovered a half full carboy with the remaining brew on the basement ceiling, walls, shelves and floor. It took me three hours to clean up, but the remaining 2-1/2 gallons fermented into a wonderful spicey smokey ale.
Wasn't home-brew, but I bought some cranberry mead that I put a stopper and put on the wine rack way up high after drinking a glass. Came home to the opposite wall, and entire kitchen floor covered in sticky mead.
It was also dripping down onto the kitchen table where the height of the drops' fall caused it to make even more mess.
Oh well I guess ha
I dropped a full 6 gallon glass carboy of fresh wort on the patio in December. It shattered and sent glass everywhere, cutting the top of my foot wide open. I had to have surgery to reattach two tendons and was in the hospital for a couple of days. Thank goodness for insurance, otherwise it would have been a 31,000 dollar batch.
WEAR SHOES, even if you live in beautiful Florida.
And really, to hell with glass. Spend the money for steel if you're going to brew every weekend. It's easier to transfer and clean anyway.
My worst was with what was at the time the best beer I had ever made, along with the most expensive. I went downstairs to pour a pint and nothing came out. Through my diagnosis I determined the fridge had gotten too cold and there was an ice plug in the line. No problem.. I'll just leave the door open and let it melt. Well apparently I forgot to go back and shut the tap because about 20 minutes later I hear the faint wooshing sound of CO2 rushing out of my tap. I immediately realized what must have happened and blitzed downstairs to find ~3.5 gallons of my precious brew all over the floor and counter, and the better part of a 5# CO2 bottle blowing out my tap.
I've also blasted my ceiling and walls with this delicious mix of mint, ginger ale and pisco I had kegged up for a party. I had set it at 60psi to force carb it way up to soda levels and then disconnected the hose from my CO2 tank before disconnecting the gas-in connect from the keg. That sticky mess was everywhere including all over me. At least it smelled great..
@BillBrasky This is the type of thing that really concerns me. My goal on brew day is to stay sober enough to carry the carboy downstairs. I always wear shoes and I have been putting the carboy in an empty milk crate for transport. That seems to work well for me
I just opened the first bottle of a shot in dark at making a "seefbier" -- an old Belgian barley/wheat/oats/buckwheat type of beer. I had no reliable recipe so I decided to mash 2 row and wheat malt with a cereal mash of oats and buckwheat. To be efficient, I cooked up the oats and buckwheat the night before brewday.
I mashed the 2 row and wheat as BIAB at 152, after an hour pulled the bags to drain, and started to set the wort to boil and thought, huh, this seems kind of thin.
I realized I had left out the oats and buckwheat.
I thought, no problem, I'll just grind up a couple of pounds more of 2 row and do another mash with the oats and buckwheat and combine it all with the earlier batch.
But somehow I got it into my head to dump the already-mashed bags of 2 row and wheat back into the pot with the newly ground 2 row and the cereal mash, so I have a huge amount of grain in my BIAB.
After I get the whole mess to 152 degrees or so, I pull the thermometer, and after about 10 minutes I notice the thermometer, sitting in nothing but air, is still registering 110 degrees. I stick it in cold tap water, and it still registers in the 80s. Evidently it's high by about 40 degrees? Fortunately I have another thermometer. So I raised the whole temperature of everything to a true 152 degrees by adding quarts of boiling water, and let it all sit for another hour.
OK, now after pulling the bags I have about a gallon and half extra wort to boil down. I split the wort among a couple of pots to increase boil off, but still end up with about a gallon extra.
No problem, I think, I'll just split it between my two buckets, one of which is a bottling bucket with a spigot. Except somehow since my last batch I've somehow lost the nut for the spigot and I have no way of securing it to the bottling bucket. So I end up splitting a gallon of wort between some jars I have, with loosely screwed on lids instead of airlocks.
I pitched at 68 but wasn't paying close enough temperature as I cooled it in my cold basement and dropped it to about 50. Somehow it started fermenting anyway, I got the temperature to rise to 68, it goes from OG of 52 to FG of 12, everything is bottled, and the verdict on the first bottle?
It's turned out very nicely. Nice peppery/spicy flavor and aroma, thick head, appropriately cloudy appearance, good body/mouthfeel. There's a little bit of tartness, some graininess, possibly from the buckwheat, overall a nice beer with nothing off. Maybe some day I'll even try to make a more straightforward version of it, although who knows if it will turn out as well.
@beernuts had the same thing happen to a robust porter that was about a year old, open keezer to find tap line leaking at fitting on keg, was able to save most that was left.
Your kitchen sounds like my kitchen. Though I've yet to have any fermentation accidents in mine, I have splashed wort over just about everything at some point. Or beer.
Why, just last night I was pouring a little bit of a gusher Dopplebock in to a glass. Set the bottle down in the sink to let the head start to drop to top it off. Went to suck off some foam and accidently inhaled it. Not only did I manage to cough a mouthful of foam out, I also managed to cough while still holding the pint glass in my hand, blasting the head out of the glass, all over the backsplash (and oh was it splashed), all of the dishes (clean, or they were) on the counter waiting to be put away, the ingredient jars, my wife's tablet, my son's homework and my daughter's shirt (as she was sitting on the counter, waiting to help me make dinner).
A while back, I made 10 gallons of hefe. Everything went perfect. Hit all my numbers. I was brewing in my garage with the garage door open. I had the immersion chiller going and had a genius brain storm...I can wash my wife's car with the discharge hose. Great idea! Why let the water just run down the driveway when I can get a chore done and score points at the same time. Heck, its even warm water. Got the car all scrubbed up and was rinsing the rear of the car off when I got a kink in the garden hose. I gave the hose the tiniest yank, as you do, forgetting it was connected to the chiller and knocked 10 gallons of 100 degree hefe all over my garage floor. Wort went everywhere...under the freezer, under the washer/dryer, got card board boxes on the floor wet. It took days to clean up that sticky mess. Wifey was less than pleased. The lesson I learned is I should've just sat on my butt, drank a few beers, and watched the thermometer slowly creep toward 70 instead of trying to get some actual work accomplished.
I can't tell you the number of times things have "gone wrong" because I tried to get work done while brewing. Fortunately most of them have not ended in tragedy. I did end up with a VERY opaque blonde ale last summer when I was mowing and mashing. I turned my stove top on for a minute to make up for a couple of degree drop in mash temperature at about 30 minutes. Then went out and hopped back on my mower and realized 15 minutes later I hadn't turned the stove top off.
Ran back inside to see my mash boiling along. Fortunately I had been mashing warm enough that 30 minutes was enough time to get more or less full conversion. but the beer was opaque as heck, no matter what I did to try to clear it. Tasted more or less okay.