Brewing SolutionsDon’t Get (Bottle) Bombed – Smart Tips to Avoid Disasters on Bottling Day

Did you hear something in your storage room? Wondering if you’ve got a hoard of mice running around? You grumble and head down to your storage room to investigate, only to come across a shocking mess – broken bottles all over and spilled beer on the floor!

What could have gone wrong?

You have just witnessed the dreaded beer bomb aka beer bottles exploding due to an increase in pressure. So, what went wrong? There are a few plausible explanations – you bottled early, too much priming sugar or your beer could have been a victim of aggressive yeast infections.

The first thing is – what should you do now? You have two choices before you – try saving the remaining beer, or clear out the place if it’s gone too far.

Before, you proceed any further,

Here’s a Note of Warning

Bottle bombs are dangerous. If one bottle in a batch has exploded, the rest of the bottles in the batch should be treated immediately. There’s no way to know if another bottle from the batch will blow up. So, whether you plan to salvage the remaining beer or you want to dispose of the entire lot, you need the right safety gear before you proceed.

Wear safety glasses that cover your eyes from all sides. Face shields are better as they protect your face completely. Leatherwork gloves, heavy jackets are other accessories you need. And, don’t touch a bottle with your hands. Instead wrap it in a towel or a canvas bag, while disposing of it.

Follow this Step-by-Step Guide that Helps You Tackle the Situation Safely

  • Wear your safety gear.
  • Select a couple of bottles at random and wrap them in a towel.
  • Place the remaining bottles, temporarily in cases, where they won’t cause any disturbance.
  • Chill the randomly chosen bottles in a refrigerator for a few hours. This helps to relieve the pressured and dissolve some CO2 back into the solution.
  • Once the bottles have cooled down, take them outside and open away from your body, one at a time. The beer inside may gush out and make a huge mess.
  • Here’s what to look for:
    • If the bottles have different reactions, then it indicates a few of the bottles may have contracted a yeast infection, or the priming sugar may not have mixed properly. You’ll have to check each bottle separately.
    • If all the bottles are over-carbonated, then open a few and taste the brew. If they taste bad, then it indicates a yeast infection, and you’ll have to dispose of the entire lot. If the brew tastes okay, then you can relieve the pressure of all bottles and try to salvage at least a portion of the batch.

Coming to the big question,

Are there any Ways to Avoid the Dreaded Beer Bottle Bomb?

Here are a few tips to help you.

Tip #1: Invest in High-Quality Ingredients

It’s true that brewers today have access to a wide variety of high-quality ingredients. It pays to be cautious while choosing ingredients, especially when you come across ingredients that look like they’ve been sitting on the shelf for a while and are about to expire.

Here are a few guidelines to help you out – Always use fresh malts. Older dried or liquid malt extracts ferment slower compared to the all-grain wort. Also, remember that yeast comes with an expiry date. Liquid yeast is generally higher quality compared to dry-yeast packs.

However, liquid yeasts require storage in a refrigerator and come with a shorter shelf life. Remember to use liquid yeast before the expiry date and also pay attention to the date, while shopping for liquid yeast.

One of the main reasons for bottle explosions are old, expired yeast that ferments slowly or incompletely.

Tip #2: Let the Beer Ferment Completely before You Start Bottling

Another main reason why beer bottles explode is that beer is bottled before the fermentation is complete. Very often, beginner brewers are anxious to try out their latest brews. So, in a hurry, they start bottling it too early.

The beer continues to ferment inside the bottle, generating extra carbon-di-oxide, which has nowhere to escape. This causes an increase in the pressure inside the bottle, causing it to explode.

A beer that uses malt extracts ferment slower compared to an all-grain beer. So, if you’re using malt extract, pay extra attention and ensure that fermentation is complete before you begin bottling.

Another reason is most brewers who use malt extracts use plastic buckets with weak seals. As a result, the gas leaks out from the edge of the bucket, instead of the airlock. Beginner brewers often assume that since there’s no airlock activity, fermentation is complete. However, they fail to notice that fermentation is still happening.

The general rule of thumb is to wait for two weeks for the fermentation to complete fully before you start bottling. If you’re brewing a high gravity beer, then you’ll have to wait longer.

Tip #3: Use Good Bottles and Inspect your Bottles Carefully before Bottling

Using poor quality bottles is inviting disaster. Very often, brewers in an attempt to cut overhead costs use cheap bottles of poor quality. This is a costly mistake.

Even under regular carbonation, the pressure inside a beer bottle can reach up to 30+ psi. You need a bottle that can withstand the pressure generated. Stay away from twist-off bottles – that are too thin, and don’t properly seal.

Always choose thicker bottles. Clean the bottles thoroughly, and inspect it before bottling. Place the clean bottle in front of a light source to check if you can spot any impurities. If you notice any cracks, chips (however thin they may be), don’t use those bottles.

It always makes sense to invest in high-quality reusable bottles, instead of a one-time use of cheap ones. The high initial costs are usually offset since you use these bottles again and again.

Tip #4: Use the Right Amount of Priming Sugar

Sugar density plays a crucial role in the carbon-di-oxide generated. The same type of sugar has varying densities based on the manufacturer. For instance, one cup of corn sugar from manufacturer A may vary dramatically compared to the same quantity of sugar from another manufacturer.

Always weigh your priming sugar. Don’t measure using volumes. Make sure that you’re using the right amount of priming sugar needed for your recipe.

Tip #5: Store Bottles in a Cool, Dark Place

Heat and Light are mortal enemies for finished beer. When exposed to heat and light, the critical flavor compounds in your beer break down, promoting additional fermentation, thereby increasing the carbon-di-oxide generated. This increases the pressure inside the bottle, causing it to break down.

Heat expands the gas inside the bottle thereby increasing pressure, which in turn, leads to the bottles exploding.

Always remember to store finished beer in a cold, dark place not only to avoid bottle bombs but also to preserve the natural flavor of the beer.

Summing it up

Beer bottle bombs are a part of the learning curve. Make sure to use this guide to help you avoid exploding bottles. If you found this article helpful, don’t forget to share it among your brewer friends. Have you seen a beer bottle explode? Was it scary or fun? Share your experiences in the comments below.