Summer Urban Homestead Failures: Exploding Beer Bottles

Somehow in last week’s roundup of the summer’s failures I blocked out of my memory the most exasperating: exploding beer bottles.

I think I may have had a contaminated siphon hose which passed on some nasty, yeasty bacterial bug to every single bottle of two batches of beer I had made this summer. Three of those bottles over-carbonated to the point that they became beer grenades and exploded. One blew up on the kitchen counter and the other two in the garage. Having had a bottle explode in my hand a few years ago (wild fermented ginger beer–a bad idea) I can tell you that bottle grenades aren’t funny.

So having had three bottles explode and all the other bottles I opened showing signs of over-carbonation, I had the dilemma of what to do next. String my bow and shoot arrows at them from a distance? Call in the homebrew bomb squad?

I decided to don a heavy jacket (in 90ºF + temperatures) and safety goggles and uncap each one in the sink. The second to last bottle gave me a cooling beer shower.

Time to clean our messy kitchen and go on a sanitation campaign.

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14 Comments

  1. Sorry about your lost beer :(

    A friend recently had a similar issue with his homebrew, but luckily no grenades. His issue was the beer didn’t ferment fully in either the fermenter or carboy (due to temperature fluctuations in San Francisco’s “summer”), leading him to put corn sugar + still very active wort into the bottles.

  2. This, and somehow having a failed, contaminated batch, is what worries me about homebrewing (mostly because each 5 gallon batch costs me about $50, and that’s a lot of money). So far I haven’t had any bottle bombs. I also have learned that I prefer still cider to carbonated, so I worry less about that now. I recommend Campden tablets to sanitize your siphon – as well as the rest of your equipment.

  3. Sanitation, it’s important! It can also be quick and easy if you use a product such as One-Step. It’s a percarbonate sanitizer, essentially an oxygen bleach, that doesn’t require any rinsing off before bottle or carboy filling. I use it to sanitize all my brewing equipment and even dip my hands before touching equipment that must remain sanitary. Strongly recommended for its effectiveness and ease-of-use!

  4. Isn’t hydrogen peroxide just “oxy bleach”? I like you arrow idea though can imagine what the neighbors would be thinking, you all dressed up in protective wear zinging arrows at bear bottles, novel bomb disarming idea :)

  5. we had our first bottle bombs this summer too with ginger ale we made. After having one detonate in my hands I made one of the fellers don gloves, goggles and a flack jacket to open the remaining couple for me. I really have a hankering for a luvly soda but I am a little leary of it happening again so have not made any.Sometimes the excitement in homesteading is just a bit too much

  6. Bummer! I lost a couple of bottles of cider last year. Turns out you can’t “eyeball” your priming sugar, as I am usually inclined to do. I’m surprised that it was contamination that led to over carbonation and not too much sugar. Did it smell or taste funny?

    Either way, don’t let it get you down! Brewing and fermenting is all about trial an error and seems to have a real learning curve. Stick with it and it will work better and better with subsequent brews

  7. My husband brews, and he’s a fanatic about sanitation, even to the point that we’re keeping the kitchen compost bin on the back porch to keep fruit flies out of the house. He also carefully measures the sugar that goes into each bottle. He uses Starsan on everything, including his hands, and has been brewing successfully for two years now and hasn’t had one explosion. A lot of that is due to his being cheap, and unwilling to waste anything….

  8. I know one thing my husband does is he uses beer bottles even when bottling wine because they hold pressure better. So far this year, we haven’t had any explosions, but we have had a few in the past.

  9. When I put my beer into bottles, I mix the sugar with the whole batch first then siphon it into bottles. That way all the beer gets the same amount of sugar. I did have to first siphon the whole batch into a big container, because the first one had hops and everything else in the bottom. That being said, I have one time accidentally made 10 gallons of “alegar” or beer-vinegar. It’s frustrating, but it’s an occupational hazard. Just try again.

    One way to minimize the damage from exploding bottles is to keep them in boxes with lids – where if one blows it doesn’t geyser all over the room. And keep them somewhere relatively cool if you can.

  10. Hi,

    Do you use platechiller to cool your wort? I have heard those work well but are very hard to clean completely, so that could be a source of infection. Immersion chillers are more cumbersome but can be sanitized in the boil pot before use.

    Good luck!

  11. Hollister Hops–I use a immersion chiller.

    And I add my sugar the same way as Penny Pincher–to the whole batch at once.

    I’m certain that this is a sanitation problem not too much sugar. Again, probably a dirty siphon hose. I do use an iodine based sanitizer, but perhaps with not enough vigilance. Gonna try another batch again soon.

  12. Hi Mr. Homegrown. Exploding bottles do not sound like a sanitation issue. To me it sounds like your brew had not fully fermented.

  13. That sucks about exploding bottles.
    Sounds like time for new siphon hose, and a new tube brush. Fortunately, they are inexpensive.

    The beer may have picked up another domesticated yeast strain at bottling which was able to eat more of the residual sugars. Unless your original batch was infected, bottles are not an easy environment for wild yeasts/acetobacter/etc to survive, much less thrive, in a nearly oxygen free environment plus alcohol and low pH without a large population to start with in normal bottling times. (Long-term bottle aging is another story).

    Another thing to look at carefully is the bottles themselves. The hardest thing I’ve found to clean is the bottom of the bottles – they sometimes collect a hard-to-remove yeast layer at the bottom. I literally hold all of my bottles up to a light to check them. If a layer is visible, it’s thick enough to stop sanitizer from neutralizing all the cells.

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