So, you’ve found your passion and started a brewery. You decided against the ‘cheap’ option and actually invested heavily in equipment, renting a space and hiring staff. An increasing amount of consumers like your beer and sales are up – life couldn’t possibly get any better. Then, one evening, you sit back with one of your own brews, open up the bottle (or can) and your beer hits the ceiling, wrecks your carpet and ruins your pants. Before you know it, reports start coming in from consumers who experienced the same unpleasant scenario. Things get worse when a bar calls up and reports an exploding bottle in the fridge, followed by a beer shopkeeper who had two bottles explode on the shelves, wrecking a wall and adjoining bottles. The earth opens up under your feet and you feel like you’re falling into a deep, dark pit.
Believe it or not, as a brewer you control everything in order to prevent the above. Good hygiene is essential, as well as technical skills and knowledge. And yet, the above scenario happened to two renowned breweries, on different continents: Longmont, Colorado based Left Hand Brewing had to recall millions of dollars’ worth of beer to destroy it, as well as hundreds of barrels of unpackaged product in 2016. Its flagship beer started to develop off-flavors and over carbonation in bottles and cans, leading to exploding vessels. What went wrong?
Left Hand Brewing was sure the problem shouldn’t be caused by internal improper procedures. Left Hand Brewing actually completely shut down production and took the entire brew house apart to identify the source of the contamination – only to find nothing was wrong. The brewery lost over two weeks of production, and together with the inventory that had to be destroyed incurred damages worth several millions of dollars. And still the source of the problem was unknown.
The brewery then resorted to in-depth analysis of contaminated product, and DNA testing on the affected beer showed a wild yeast contamination present in the beer. In Left Hand Brewing’s case, laboratories found saccharomyces cerevisiae variant diastaticus to be present in the beer, which is known to cause secondary fermentation in beer production. That meant it had to be a contamination in the yeast used, which the brewery purchases from White Labs, a world-wide supplier of brewery necessities. The brewery has now filled a lawsuit to claim damages. White Labs is denying the claim, and this will be an interesting topic to follow the coming time.
Suppliers can be the Achilles heel for a brewer, so much is clear now. As a brewer you should, and can, take any precaution to avoid contaminations in your brewery. But it seems you now also need to be more rigorous in checking the raw material you use, in order to ensure your beer will not end up on the ceiling of a random person. Yeah, brewing is fun, until your beer hits the ceiling.