20 October 2007

The Dangers of Carboys

Saw this today on one of the brewing forums I frequent. Unfortunately, it's not a freak accident. I've seen this quite a few times before and I'm sure I'll see it again:
My good friend and fellow brewer has been off this week recovering from surgery.

He dropped a full carboy and instinctively tried to save it... putting his hands in the path of the resulting explosion. All that liquid escaping pushes the glass shards out pretty explosively apparently.

He severed 5 tendons in one had and had over twenty stitches in the other.

After telling my wife this story she made me sit down and by a carboy hauler, can't say I blame her.

I guess the lesson is be very damn careful with your vessels, spend the money on safety equipment, and if the carboy is going save yourself, and cry over the lost beer later.

The carboy hauler will help, but for me this danger is averted by using food-grade buckets. Until I can afford to drop $600 on a conical fermenter, this will be my fermenter of choice. Not to mention you're going to drop $12 on top of the $20 per carboy you have. That gets expensive quickly; though presumably once you make that purchase, you probably won't have to replace it again (short of any disasterous accidents like the one mentioned earlier).

I've been brewing for almost 5 years and for every one of the 67 batches I've made, I've used buckets. Buckets just have a few advantages over glass carboys:

  • Easier to clean
  • Easier to harvest yeast from
  • Do not shatter
  • Have a carrying handle built in
  • Protect the fermenting wort from light (UV has negative effects on yeast and unisomerized hop compounds)
  • Less slippery than wet glass

Of course there's the ever-debated issue of scratching the plastic buckets that may create a place for bacteria and wild yeast to take hold and flourish. If you're using a Brillo pad maybe. I just hose 'em out, soak 'em in OxyClean, drain, rinse and wipe 'em down.

Oxygen permeability was also debated at one point, before it was pointed out that new buckets are made of a plastic that is impermeable to oxygen. In terms of secondary fermentation, many homebrewers are now using the Better Bottle. And many, including myself, are using Cornelius kegs for secondary fermentation. No "suck-back" issues with the airlock and the beer stays protected in stainless steel under a blanket of carbon dioxide (provided you purge the headspace with it).

Whatever method you chose, make an informed decision. Many homebrewers still like the glass carboy for primary fermentation, if not just for the perk of being able to watch the fermentation activity. Who doesn't like that?!

1 comment:

"E" said...

I agree with you 100% on buckets for the primary. I've never had any problems using them, you just have to rack to the secondary once the kraeusen drops.