Tuesday, January 19, 2010

I Never Should Have Opened My Damn Mouth

Photo: isforinsects, Flickr Creative Commons

I'm not sure where the hubris in my last post came from. I should have known something would go wrong. In fact, I did know something was going to go wrong. Many of you may not know this, but hefeweizens are real sonofabitches. Wheat is often used in small amounts to increase head retention. My hefe recipe was about 50 percent wheat. Also, hefeweizen yeast is notoriously vigorous. If hefeweizen yeast were sperm, simply opening the vial from White Labs would instantly impregnate every woman within a five mile radius, even the ones who had already finished menopause. That's just how vivacious that sperm would be. It would fertilize eggs that weren't even there anymore. This, of course, would create either ghost babies or babies without souls because that's just how biology and physics work. Either way, not good.

Actually, I'm not sure what that metaphor was trying to say. What I wanted it to say was that hefeweizen yeast is a very vigorous fermenter, and combined with wheat's ability to keep a foam from dissipating, shit can get explosive. Literally. Back when I used plastic buckets, I happened to walk in to check on how things were going to find that the beer had clogged the airlock in the lid and the bucket was bulging under the pressure. Fixing that little problem turned the bathroom into what the aftermath of a very stange Gallagher act might look like.

Getting back to the recent event that shattered my episode of arrogance, I actually had a feeling this was going to happen. I unthinkingly used the big carboy for the IPA, a recipe without wheat and a much less vigorous yeast. That left me with a carboy with only about a gallon of airspace after I transferred the wort from the kettle. I even knew how to prevent the problem. I knew even before I pitched the yeast that this was probably going to happen and yet I still used an airlock instead of a blow-off tube. I even had a chance to realize it was going to happen and fix the issue before it actually did, and I just went to bed instead.

This morning Kim woke me up about 5:45 to tell me the foam from the hefeweizen had filled the airlock. Not a good sign. If I didn't get up and deal with it before work, the airlock would have eventually clogged and the plastic bung in the top of my glass carboy would have shot off like a rocket before I got back home tonight. I had noticed that the foam (krausen to the few homebrewers who made be reading this) was getting high enough last night that this was the likely result, but by that time I had stayed up far too late and I just went to bed knowing that I'd have to deal with this in the morning.

Of course after I got things sanitized and set up the blow-off tube, I found that of the four sizes of tubes that I had in the house, one was far to thin and one was far too fat for the job. One was ever so slightly too thin and didn't seal the hole in the bung (go ahead and laugh) and the other one was slightly too thick. After a few minutes of squeezing and pushing and muttering foul language under my breath, I got the thicker of the two tubes in and the carboy resealed. Crisis averted.

Of course, I could have accidentally allowed undesirable microbes into the beer with the process of setting up the blow off tube, but that won't be known until next week.


Courtney said...

Well, if you die next week from an undesirable microbe infestation, we'll know why.

I'm not sure if being impregnated by beer would be scary or secretly awesome. Once the confusion wore off, I think I'd lean toward awesome. That is, until the baby came out all liquid and foamy. Although, giving birth to liquid would be considerably easier than a solid, I would think. I should stop talking now.

Jacob said...

Eh, there's no recorded cases of people getting sick from microbes in beer (except from allergies). The pH level and alcohol are simply inhospitable to pathogenic microbes.

They do usually end up making it taste pretty nasty though.

Jacob said...

I do store the beer in the bathroom during the fermentation process, so there's that.

Julie said...

This is why we don't brew our own beer. Also, because I don't like beer but mostly because our friend ended up with a beer-colored ceiling his first time brewing.

Jacob said...

Not liking beer is the best reason, but the other is why I've always made use of spare bathrooms for fermenting. If that does happen, those rooms are usually designed for easy cleaning. That being said, it's only happened once in eight years.