Posted by on Aug 15, 2014 in Editorial | 16 Comments

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?


  1. Graham Ford
    August 15, 2014

    It is annoyimg. I tend to put my mouth over said gusher and start swallowing as fas as f…
    Durham brewwry’s beers were renowned for gushing. Had to really chill them to stop it. That to me was simply due to over-priming. Never had that problem when homebrewing. If anything I tend to lean to caution when priming for bottling.

  2. Richard
    August 15, 2014

    ‘craft chugging’ Graham. We’ve all been there

  3. Kev
    August 15, 2014

    I noticed this week that The Beerhive has put a warning on one of the beers from what I’m assuming is your ‘only must-try, devotedly buy each release brewery’.

    Gush risk doesn’t put me off their beers at all – as they’re just too good – or bottle conditioned in general. I’ve just learnt to be prepared when opening (‘craft chugging’ where necessary!)

    I do wonder how much it’s an issue for those wanting to try new beers, but less used to the reality of bottle conditioning, though. The unpredictability could easily put them off.

  4. Stuart McMahon
    August 15, 2014

    LOL – how appropriate. I had the liveliest one I’ve ever experienced (from Islay) a few weeks ago whilst at my parent’s house. Bottle brought through, sitting on sofa, miles away from a sink, I’m always one the wary folks by opening as stealthily as possible. This one, as soon as the first hiss appeared, sprung out the top of the bottle like a possessed garden hose. Result was a soaked sofa, carpet and a pair of jeans that looked like an incontinence disaster had happened after a long night out!

    Had it with minicasks as well, but that is usually down to them being stored in a warm room. An overnight sitting on the naughty step at the back door has usually cured them.

    Definitely annoying, but it’s a skill for bottle-conditioners to learn and make perfect. On a £2 bottle I won’t mind, but on a substantially dearer beer I’d be more hestitant buying in the future.

  5. Mike
    August 15, 2014

    Durham are really gushy – especially the Bede’s Chalice. Also had a Raspberry Hefe from them shoot me in the eyes once – that really stung. Kernel bottles every now and then do a hand-grenade in our cellar, esp. the Table Beer(!?).

    I tend to consider it a problem tbh – if I can get my priming at home right then someone who does it for a job should be able to get it right the majority of the time. I’m more forgiving for highly carbonated styles on hot days, especially if they’ve been agitated recently – basically anything that might lead to CO2 coming out of solution, but yeah I think pro brewers should get it right – that’s why they’re paid to do it. Especially if it goes wrong in a bar, as it’s the retailer that takes the hit when the customer complains.

    The worst is when it’s a pro brewer doing it wrong every damn time; human error exists, but consistently poor packaging is just silly – especially if they’re doing QA tastings (which every brewery probably should be doing)/dogfooding as that would suggest they’re either ignoring the issue or are ok with gushing for some reason.

    I did accidentally prime a batch of homebrew twice one time. Didn’t end as badly as it could have; no grenades but it was always opened over the sink 😉

  6. Bailey
    August 15, 2014

    Not had many gushers lately — the most recent was, surprisingly, a bottle of St Bernardus Abt 12 from an otherwise well-behaved case. It just kept going, until we’d lost maybe a third of the bottle.

    To answer your ultimate question, yes, it’s a black mark, and, unfortunately, something that probably impacts the reputation of smaller breweries as a whole, even those who never produce a single gusher.

  7. James Wrobel
    August 15, 2014

    I fondly remember my first Gusher: Chimay Blue from the top shelf (above a light fitting) of the old Peckhams in Bruntsfield.
    This was back in the nineties and it pissed me right off, stormed back to the shop in my beery trousers and demanded a refund. They must have thought I was a right mentalist

  8. Richard
    August 15, 2014

    Stuart – I now, always, without exception, open beers in the kitchen. Once bitten (or rather, soaked), twice shy.

    James – if you stormed at me in your drinking trousers I would literally run a mile…

  9. The50FTQueenie
    August 15, 2014

    I’m ‘getting to that age’ thus a little gush now and then is always unexpected and welcomed. If timed right.

  10. Stuu
    August 15, 2014

    Used to experience it 80% of the time with Kernel and De Molen bottles. Haven’t had issues with them for a while now so they seem to have controlled it. My worst was Marble’s ginger stout, managed a few sips from what remained in the bottle.

  11. Richard
    August 15, 2014

    Queenie – I’ll set ’em up… 😉

  12. Danno
    August 15, 2014

    In fairness to brewers, I think quite a few people don’t refrigerate bottles long enough, and it takes a bit of time for the CO2 in the headspace to equilibriate. But apart from beers that are meant to be laid down (Belgians, barleywines) I prefer bottles that are force carbonated. Consistent every time, and no sediment.

  13. Al Mac
    August 15, 2014

    German wheat beers are always a risk.

    There’s a small, Fife-based brewer (I suspect you know who, given I was warned it was “lively” when I bought it) that I lost more than half a bottle of. It was tasty, but not worth, in effect, twice what I’d paid for.

  14. Pyotr Sidwell
    August 15, 2014

    I keep a decent sized vase on the side in the kitchen that I pour a gusher into as soon as I can – then leave it for half an hour for the head to subside and the sediment to settle, before decanting into drinking glasses.

    I’m expecting one tonight so this was timely.

    As a homebrewer I make large allowances for gushers – because so many factors in the environment makes such a difference. I took a milk stout to a homebrew meet in Feb from a batch which has never gushed before or since – but the journey must have been too exciting, even after 2 hours’ rest. Luckily Toby (whose pub it was) was very relaxed about it.
    Though if a pro brewer kept selling me gushers I’d probably think about spending my cash elsewhere, on a value-for-money basis.

  15. Adam
    August 15, 2014

    Woo, weird! Gusher from Luckie Oor Helles tonight which required a swift dash across the kitchen. Nothing like the Luckie Best Bitter from a few years ago tho – that was *fizzy* (but I had been forewarned by the nice people at Cornelius).

  16. Al Mac
    August 16, 2014

    Adam, that’s the exact beer I was alluding to!

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