Monday, January 30, 2012

Suicide bombers

Today, ladies and gentlemen, I want to write about an issue that has recently hit very close to home in my part of the world: Suicide bottles, a.k.a. Bottle bombs.

We all know that feeling of coming home in the evening and smelling that intoxicating aroma of beer merrily fermenting somewhere about the house. It's a great smell, full of promise and future, and is a fantastic thing to come home to, as I did a couple of nights ago. I stepped into my living room to the smell of fermentation and thought "wow, this IPA in the fridge is going to be great". It was late at night, and I was carrying the miniature brewmisstress in my arms, so I went to sleep and thought nothing of it.

The following morning, yesterday, I woke up with a nagging feeling. I couldn't quite place it. I went through my morning routine and got ready to leave the house when it suddenly hit me: The IPA was done fermenting three days ago! It shouldn't smell like this! I should check on the beer! So I went to the fermentation fridge, and opened the door...

*Crunch...* The sound of grating glass as the fridge door opened to reveal the devastation inside. It Seemed that my entire stock of cider (8 bottles) had decided to commit seppuku together, and take my fridge with it. Well they failed on the last part, as the fridge still worked, but it was coated, and I mean COATED with a fine coat of glass shards stuck onto every available surface with sticky, sticky dried cider. Add to this the dried remains of the latest yeast irruption from the fermentor, and you can only guess at what my fridge looked (and smelled like). It was incredible. And extremely messy.

I wont bore you with the details of the cleanup except to say that it took blood, sweat, and tears (the baby was crying) to clean it up. Not to mention a whole roll of paper towels, some rags that may never be used again, and lots of vinegar water. At the end, though, the fridge was back to it's usual sparkly-clean self (um, yeah, usual) and the beer that survived the explosions wiped down and placed back. I even found some odd bottles I forgot I had.

Of course, this is all my fault. Back when I made the cider I had made it with rather too high a starting gravity (1.079), and in order to avoid having 10% cider I cold crashed it when it still had a good amount of sugar in it. It's been sitting at temps that have been getting slowly higher with the last couple of brews, and finally, with the IPA fermenting at a whopping 20C it could take no more. The yeast had woken up with the heat, found sugar, and got to eating. And the rest is very messy history.. :)

So what have we learned? (I should say, re-learned. I should already know these things..)
- That bottle bombs are real. They are not a myth, and they have quite a spectacular force.
- That when you store beer, you have to be mindful of the temperature it will hit in storage. This is why is a good idea to let the beer carbonate at a rather a ambient temp, btw.
- That cold crashing really doesn't kill the yeast. They're hardy little tikes, and they loooove their sugar.

Luckily there were no casualties other than the cider, which no one was drinking. It was also stored in useless green and clear bottles, so no loss there. I already bought a new can of apple concentrate, and am planning to make cinnamon-spiced cyser when I get the chance. I think this time, I'll aim at OG of 1.055..


  1. even at an OG of 1055, cider can ferment all the way down to 0.997 FG. you will have to stop it at around 1.010 - 1.015 to leave some sweetness in the cider. and than you will still need to keep it cold.

  2. True, and seeing as I'm not mashing that limits some of the things I can do. But I can do a couple of things: I can choose a lower attenuating yeast like S-33 or Windsor (as oppose to the US-4 that I used last time), and I can ferment it on the cool side(18C) which will under-attenuate the cider.

    And of course, I can do nothing, let it ferment all the way through, and just make dry cider. I can always find a way to backsweeten it if it's too dry.