What do you do when a beer can’t wait to meet you? Bottle rockets are something of an inevitability if you regularly knock the cap off an ale or two at home, even for the super-vigilant who open beers as stealthily as possible. We’ve all been there – that momentary pause, when everything seems like it’s going to be alright, before your casual reach for the Speigelau goblet is interrupted by the spectacular upward surge of your keenly-awaited beer, chasing itself over the kitchen counter. You can open a crown-cap in millimetre increments, yet all it does is buy you an extra few seconds sink-dashing time. Flay the cap with a Garvie-esque joie de vivre, and you can end up mopping the artex (as I believe he has, on several occasions).
Beers that go off like exited teenagers – are they ever acceptable? How much foaming spume can one forgive? I guess, like most things, you can take either the firm view, or an outlook that is more allowing. You could argue, in the mind of the former, that gushing beers are simply unacceptable, in any amount. You pay – in some cases, a significant sum – for a bottle, and to lose any of that due to it being over-primed, bottled too early, overly fermented, or (worse of all) infected simply isn’t good enough. The brewers have a duty of care to ensure that each and every bottle that leaves their lockup is as stable as they can make it.
Of course, the insane beauty of brewing is that once a bottle, cask or keg leaves that lockup, things can still go pear-shaped and the brewer can do nothing about it; indeed they may never even know. If a third party stores a beer at too high a temperature, or is spectacularly misguided and shakes the bottle around, even the most fastidious of beermaking processes is for naught. So when a bottle gushes on opening, maybe a degree of allowance should be given. After all, some brewers are relatively new at the art; others hand-bottle, or contract-bottle, entering another loop into the chain of vagaries.
And this is professional brewers. When the humble 20p a pint brigade are included, the results can be even more spectacular. Homebrewers learn on the job (as the bumper sticker goes), so it’s almost a statistical inevitability that some point in their fledgling brewing careers, something will happen along the way that introduces a lively exchange into the beer opening procedure. It can go further, though. A homebrewing friend of mine – let’s call him Saul – once opened his homebrew cupboard to the unmistakable sound of glass bottles shearing in half due to the pressure. Still, at least Saul hadn’t decided to scale up a little, and decant his homebrew into larger glass growlers, as happened to ‘That Beer Guy’ on the Brewers Friend forum:-
The really scary stuff is if you try to bottle your homebrew in growlers. If you use the cheapest tin screw-tops, you’ll see deformation and bursting just like you would with a copper-top bottle, but if you spend the extra $0.15 for a quality, airtight, plastic threaded cap, then the combination of higher room temperatures and too much sugar can cause a growler to literally detonate. This happened with a batch we made and gave to a friend for St. Paddy’s; he didn’t want to pay much for bottles so he bought growlers, and saved one until mid-July. And stored it in his ground-floor, non-air-conditioned living room. Fortunately, the room was empty when the growler exploded, but he did have to pry shards of glass from the drywall, and that room never did smell like anything other than Irish Stout.
It is frustrating, when a bottle foams up and spills continually over the sides. When do you call it quits and just start pouring? With the sediment stirred up, whatever you manage to rescue isn’t so much Murky as Overcast. Yet, you can usually still get enough of the flavour across that even the most vigorous of gushers aren’t wastes (Irish Stout grenades excepted). One of my favourite breweries – pretty much my only must-try, devotedly buy each release brewery – has had, oh, I would say at least a 50% gush-rate up to now. Yet I still buy them. You just adapt, opening them like a tin of tuna, instead of a tin of beans. But, I guess the question is, should we have to?
Gushers – a black mark, or just another part of beer drinking?