When Homebrews Attack!

Every Fourth of July season it seems that we hear more cautionary tales about how some guy wound up in the emergency room from fireworks.  Everyone loves to hear crazy stories about the Darwin Award candidate who thinks they’re above roasted fingers and toes.  Most of us have some fireworks-related “Man was I lucky” stories.

Which brings us to homebrewing!  Making beer and wine at home, while deceptively relaxed and laid back, can be a very dangerous thing if not done with full respect for the equipment and procedures.  So while we laugh at YouTube and America’s Funniest Home Videos of people doing regrettable things, let’s take some time to think about all the ways we can make our own homebrewing and wine making safer.

  1. Buy some good potholders.  When your brew kettle has 170 degree water in it and has been sitting on an oven top or propane burner, those handles are hot.  You can’t have enough good potholders when you brew… some for you to hold your pots and pour hot water and wort, and another set for a friend to help support the pot.
  2. Be careful carrying hot water!  Imagine carrying the water from the propane burner to the mash tun, and slipping and spilling it on you or someone else.  Make sure you have a clear path to wherever you’re carrying hot water and have a friend be your backup.
  3. Remember that the water coming out of the wort chiller is HOT!  If that water happens to land on your bare hands or feet, it is painful and you can get burned.
  4. Never use a carboy handle alone to carry a glass carboy with contents.  Carboy handles are made to carry empty carboys.  The carboy necks are not meant to support the weight of 5-6 gallons of water plus the weight of the glass, and they can easily break if you pick them up this way.  Always hold them with one hand on the bottom.
  5. Never use bare hands to carry a glass carboy with contents.  Either wrap the carboy underneath with a damp towel or wear coarse work gloves.  Bare hands on glass is too slippery, especially if your hands are wet.  All it takes is one dropped carboy and wort or wine everywhere to never want to make that mistake again.  Carboys are also notorious for shattering into tiny glass fragments.  Always handle full glass carboys with the highest respect.
  6. Never pour hot water or wort into a glass carboy.  It’s an easy way to wind up with beer and shattered glass all over your floor.
  7. Only bottle your beer in bottles designed for bottling.  You should never use growlers or jugs, because they are not structurally designed to contain the kind of pressure generated by bottle conditioning beer.  Many growler bottlers have experienced bottle bombs.
  8. At least once, try using a blow off tube instead of an airlock.  This one’s not really a danger, but at some point you will brew a batch that an airlock simply can’t contain, and you’ll need to use a blow off tube and a bucket of water.  Try it with your next batch, so that when you need to use one, it’s familiar to you.
  9. Make sure someone always has their eyes on a boiling, or near boiling, batch of wort.  Boiling wort can foam up quickly, boil over in a heartbeat, and burn someone or ruin whatever it lands on.  Even after you get a rolling boil going, it’s still extremely important that someone is actively watching the boil.
  10. Most importantly, remember to never drive drunk or get in the car with a driver who has had too much.  I know that’s preachy and all, but we love all of the homebrewers and wine makershere, and we never want to see anyone’s favorite hobby cause irrevocable damage to their lives or others.  Just like homebrewers prove every day that you can make better beer and wine in your kitchen than you can buy in the store, we also need to show that the results of our work can be enjoyed responsibly.

That concludes our Fourth of July PSA… now who’s got the bottle opener, it’s a three day weekend!

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