Monday, October 19, 2009

The Case of the Mysterious Exploding Beer Bucket

It could be the title of a Hardy Boys Mystery, or perhaps an Encyclopedia Brown story, if any of them were old enough to drink. Scooby Doo could be involved too, if a beer-colored ghost was somehow implicated.

Or maybe an episode of CSI Miami. I can picture it now. An intricate pattern of beer splatter covering the walls and ceiling. Detectives take photos, collect evidence, and interview neighbors. Ballistics experts are called in to determine the velocity of the beer spray, thus determining the force required to propel the beer skyward.

Also, there’s a dead body found in the dishwasher. This is network TV, after all.

But no, the real story of the exploding beer bucket is not any kind of mystery. It happened to me this past weekend. The cause was less a mystery, and more me being an idiot.

Allow me to explain - if I can unstick my sock from the beer-crusted floor in order to make it back to the computer.

Okay, I’m back. So as you may know, I consider myself an amateur beer brewer – a homebrewer, if you will. I’ve made beer several times, and it’s always turned out better than I’ve expected. It was as if I couldn’t ruin a batch, even if I tried.

That streak of not ruining beer ended on Saturday.

First things first. I took my package of Wyeast liquid yeast out of the fridge before mixing together the grains, malt, hops, etc., per usual. I smacked the inner nutrient pouch in order to give the little yeasties a little something to snack on. The idea is, the yeast start to eat the nutrients, producing some carbon dioxide and causing the yeast packet to swell. That way, you know the yeast is good to go – ready to get all up in that barley soup and start a party.

So the packet didn’t swell. I left it out for hours. Nuthin. But I had already begun to boil grains and the malt and the hops and the brown sugar – which I had previously caramelized. This was going to be the Cadillac of homebrews. But the yeast decided to stay asleep. Or to die. It’s sort of hard to know.

So instead of wasting an entire 5 gallon batch of barley malt, hops, sweat, caramelized brown sugar, blood, chocolate malt, and tears, I decided to grab the only other yeast I could find – Fleischman’s baker’s yeast. Yeah that’s right. The dry-powdered crap you use to make dinner rolls. Or rye bread, or pumpernickel, or whatever.

Apparently, and according to the internet so it must be true, baker’s yeast is bred to produce a lot of carbon dioxide, but not a lot of alcohol. So that’s pretty goddamn terrible for beer. Also, it supposedly imparts so odd flavors to the brew. Furthermore, you don’t use it to make beer because it makes the shit explode. Keep in mind I added two packets. Not one. But two.

And explode it did.

I had sealed the fermentation bucket as usual, and left for a casual dinner soiree in Fort Greene. That was around 8pm. By 1:30 pm, I received a call from Jaimi who had returned to our apartment earlier after seeing a movie with her friends. I was then informed that the lid of the bucket had exploded. And worse yet, it had woken her up. There was no way she was going to help clean up the mess now.

Thank God she hadn’t been sleeping on the fermenting bucket.

When I got home about 45 minutes later, the devastation I encountered was complete. A thick layer of beer foam, or “krausen” lay on the floor surrounding the bucket. The lid of the fermenter was thrown to the ground, coated on both sides with the sticky brew. Splatters and splashes ran up the wall to a height of 6 or 7 feet, and ran along the floor in a radius of several meters. Charred helicopter wreckage smoldered in the distance, near the TV. Half of a burned-out Humvee lay upended just past the sofa.

Anyway, it was a pretty big mess. And I was pretty pissed at myself for trying to freestyle homebrew with bread yeast.

All of that being said, I did reseal the bucket, and will wait to see if this stuff actually becomes some sort of drinkable beer in a week or two.

Moral of the story: don’t use baker’s yeast to make beer. Unless you want to construct a WMD

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