Brew day disasters: Volume I

beer flood

Brewing beer is an industrial process, and as such, can put the brewer in serious danger at times. Scaling the process down to home-brewing does alleviate the danger, although shattered glass carboys and flame throwing, run-away propane burners may give one pause. The most common mistake that I made as a home-brewer was ignored for a while: lifting huge batches of liquid over my head so that gravity will siphon it down into another vessel. Although beer and adrenaline will allow you to do this for a while, you will pay for it later with pain. My infamous home-brewing counter-flow chiller required this technique. This old picture is entitled, “A proud father and his strange alien tentacled baby.”

proud father

Surely, not the best design, but it worked, although I’m not sure my home setup was up to code…

Working with caustic can be a brew day disaster waiting to happen. Caustic is one of the best cleaning agents in the industry. It used at nearly every brewery I have visited.  Living up to it’s name, it can cause gnarly burns if it touches skin. Lives have been saved by brewers quickly spraying down those that have been splashed by caustic solution.

Brewing on such a small scale allows me to use a higher priced alternative to caustic, PBW (Powdered Brewery Wash). It is eco-friendly, will not hurt the brewer, and is fantastic at cleaning. I’ve found that most brewers will heat their PBW solution to between 120-140*F to maximize the cleaning power.

In 1814 the Meux’s Brewery in England was responsible for one the worst brewery disasters. Brewing porter had become more industrial than ever before, and brewers were fermenting beer in ever bigger containers.  The biggest container of this era, 35,000 barrels, flooded the streets with alcohol in the London Beer Flood. Eight innocent people were killed in the adjoining neighborhood.

Large scale breweries are operated by trained professionals that maintain high standards in everything they do. Although scale changes quite a bit of things, I’m sure that some of these brewers turned a potential disaster into liquid gold. Much like when that novice Russian brewer (Rasputin?) accidentally put too much malt extract in his stout. Happy accidents!

Having an open mind may and a clear, focused head can help prevent brew day disasters, as well as turn them into happy accidents.

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