If you’ve been homebrewing for any amount of time, odds are you’ve had at least one explosive occurence with your beer. I have had two, and fortunately I was present to see both of them.
The first was a fermenting batch of Toad Spit Stout (from The Complete Joy of Homebrewing). We were living in Spokane, Washington, at the time, and I had cooked up the batch of Toad Spit on a Saturday. It was destined to be a crazy batch: there was a bad boilover that coated a good portion of the stove surface and for some reason I stupidly didn’t get around to cleaning it up until the next day. So the next morning, I’m in the kitchen, scrubbing away at the caked-on wort on the stovetop, and the Toad Spit is in the carboy bubbling away like crazy. I had fashioned a blowoff tube by attaching a regular 3/8-inch siphoning hose to the top of an airlock and thought all would be well (little did I know). While I was scrubbing, I heard a loud "POP!" and turned around in time to see the airlock-blowoff tube falling and dark brown liquid geysering out of the carboy! Literally a geyser; there was half-fermented beer on the walls, the shelves, the nine-foot ceiling. And the floor.
Let me tell you a little bit about this house we were renting: It was a crackerbox. Pretty much a dump, but it sufficed. However, the entire kitchen area was carpeted—yes, carpeted with this scraggly, low blue crap that of course was the perfect canvas for geysering stout. Awful. It took me hours just to do a decent preliminary cleanup, and days more getting the stickiness out of it. It was pretty bad.
All in all, I lost about half of the beer. Obviously, what happened was the blowoff tube I devised got clogged with foam and gunk, and the pressure built up til it blew. The guys at the homebrew shop said I was lucky, they’d known carboys themselves to shatter under similar conditions.
The remaining beer turned out pretty good, too.
The other incident was minor compared to this. It was a bottle of a brown ale that I had brewed that exploded. Sort of—it didn’t shatter, but rather broke at the base and the top part flew upward like a rocket. I don’t know how I was lucky enough to see this happen, but I did. Fortunately it wasn’t nearly as bad to clean as the Toad Spit.
On a side note, I’ve noticed that most of the brown ales I’ve made tend to be over-carbonated, but I don’t know why. I haven’t made one in a long time, though, so I couldn’t say if this would still be true.
Any other homebrewers have any volatile stories to share?