It’s time for y’all to whip out your best homebrewing horror stories. Extra points for tales of woe told in true campfire fashion, and head straight to the front of the class for a bonus handful of candy corn if there’s a deliciously ironic twist in the end. If there’s one experience we’re certain is common to anyone who’s ever homebrewed, it’s a disastrous tale worth sharing in order to scare the hell out of other homebrewers.
I’d wager to say homebrewers have all experiences (at one time or another) the dreaded boilover, or an overcarbonated bottle (or three), or even the feared exploding bottle… but I wonder how many have encountered the infected batch?
I’m not talking about infection in the form of horsey aromas or sour flavors or even that explosive overcarbonation… rather, something so creepy that it defies and logic and sanity.
It started out innocently enough, with an amber ale or something equally innocuous. Sure, there was that boilover on the stove, but one incident out of an otherwise good brewing session didn’t raise any red flags.
Even after the beer was bottled, there was no sign. Those first few bottles were even drinkable, with no indication in either flavor or aroma that something was about to go horribly awry.
For I noticed that after several weeks something began… growing inside the bottles. Something viscous, and pale; it clustered near the bottom, like some hazy, fungus-laden mucous that settled out of the beer. The bottom two inches of each bottle was incubating this stuff. And the beers turned foul; the worm had turned.
I saved it long enough to show it to the local homebrewing club, in hopes that someone would have some idea of what it was—what had happened. My friend Paul even went so far as to open a bottle and taste it—and I’ll never forget the site of him leaning over the sink, spitting the beer out, and claiming—ominously—that it was botulism.
The rest of the batch was dumped forthwith, though one bottle went with a club member who could have it tested to find out conclusively what it was… to this day, all I know for sure is that it wasn’t botulism.
What was it? What caused it?
I’ll never know.
(Actually, I suspect poor sanitation led to a Pediococcus infection.)