While it is usually very safe to brew beer at your home there are some things that could go wrong and that you should be cautious about.
Thankfully one thing that can never go wrong is the beer, and what I mean is that it’s unlikely to kill you or make you very ill if you mess up the brewing process and still want to drink it. At least that’s a positive thing, right?
You may have to use the bathroom more often or it could taste bad, but unlike moonshine or vodka, there are no organisms in beer that can cause serious harm. Remember that a good beer tastes a lot better when you aren’t injured so take precautions and brew safe.
So, what are the 17 things you need to be careful of while brewing beer?
Read through each of the ideas below and make sure that come brew day you don’t full victim to any of these very possible mishaps.
Danger 1: Exploding beer bottles
They go by a few names such as “beer bombs, bottle bombs, etc, but it is a real issue and can cause harm if you are not careful.
The reason that this happens is that the pressure from built-up CO2 is too great and has nowhere to escape. This usually happens either because of overpriming the bottle with priming sugar or because the beer was bottled before it had had a chance to finish fermenting. Also, it can just be because the bottle was too weak and shouldn’t have been used for that type of beer (Check out my article for more information on this).
On the bright side, this usually doesn’t happen to all of your bottles. If one goes, you can take steps to make sure that none of your other beer bottles commit bubbly suicid.
So make sure you don’t cap the beer before it has been fully fermented. Give your beer a good two and half weeks to ferment, even if your recipe tells you it’s only 10 days.
When these bottles do explode it can cause a huge mess and it can be similar to grenade shrapnel shooting out. I have experienced some bad blow-ups, so now when I store anything that is glass, such as beer bottle, I put them inside a cardboard box. This will soften the blow in case something goes wrong and also absorb some of the liquid as well. You can read more here how to stop exploding beers in my article here.
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Danger 2: Exploding glass carboys
This is in the same vein as exploding objects, but this will happen for a slightly different reason. Usually, the airlock will get plugged with Krausen (not releasing any air) and the pressure will build up and the carboy will explode.
As glass carboys are fairly sizeable containers, a blow-up here really could result in injury if someone happens to be standing next to it, and of course, a loss of all of your beer.
If you are about to brew a batch and want to avoid this, then check out my guide here. If however you are reading this and eyeing some lovely brown Krausen pouring out of your airlock, you’d better take a look at this other article here.
New to homebrewing? Please feel free to read my ultimate guide to brewing beer at home and where to start.
Danger 3: Lid blow off
More explosions, but this time from a keg. After you brew your beer in a keg you need to bleed off pressure from the keg before your open it.
This also goes for cleaning the keg as the excess gasses can cause the top to fly off. This may sound funny and if no one gets hurt, it probably is worth a giggle, but people have died from this.
So, when you are first starting to learn to keg beer and how the CO2 pressure works don’t forget to bleed off the built-up gasses and don’t rush to open and clean it so that you can carb up another beer right away. I know it is tempting after all your hard work, just take a minute and take this seriously.
Danger 4: Carbon monoxide poisoning
This is most common with brewers who are brewing in their garages (and to a lesser extent perhaps basements). These places tend to not have the best ventilation, if any at all. This also needs to be remembered when brewing inside in the winter, as all the windows and fans are off in the house.
When you use propane in confined spaces it releases the byproduct carbon monoxide. The propane burners that are most commonly used release a lot of carbon monoxide and require ventilation and if you don’t do this you could get carbon monoxide poisoning. It really can be a silent killer!
In most cases, the side effects are minimal, symptoms include a mild headache, weakness, dizziness. In high levels, carbon monoxide can cause suffocation, capillary hemorrhaging, permanent damage of nerve tissues and brain cells, and even death in the worst-case So make you are in a well-ventilated area. More information can be found here.
Danger 5: Burns
You always used to be told by your parents “don’t play with fire” for a reason, and now is no different. You can burn yourself in quite a few ways when making beer. The propane burner is the obvious one that people worry about but don’t forget that the hot wort is also really, well, hot.
The biggest fears of a seasoned brewer (while brewing) are probably, boil-overs. Making sure your wooden stirring spoon is long enough will help you to avoid a burn.
Paying close attention to the temperature, stirring regularly, and, if you choose, adding some glass marbles to the bottom of the put will help. The marbles break the big bubbles into smaller ones so there is less chance of a big “burp”.
You may also want to hold off on that cigarette till the brew is done and the gas is off.
Danger 6: Fire
When cooking in a normal kitchen we usually don’t have anything flammable around besides paper towels. Since you are probably in another space you want to make sure that no flammable objects are around and that the burner is on a stable surface that can’t be knocked over. A few patio blocks or bricks make a good solid flame-retardant base.
Above all, don’t leave the brew kettle unattended during the boil (and mash if you use a heat source). Also, get yourself a fire extinguisher for your brew space if you don’t already have one, just to be safe. You can even pick one up for a decent price on Amazon these days.
Danger 7: Spillages
Spilling liquid while you are carrying around heavy equipment is a huge hazard, as is allowing hot liquid to splash all over your home brewery.
When you are moving bottles around and one happens to break there will be glass and beer all over the place. When you are transferring beer, sometimes we can all forget to close the spigot and it just keeps flowing all over the ground.
Make sure that you clean up any beer as soon as possible to avoid anyone falling over and also to stop it from drying as a sticky mess all over the floor.
Danger 8: Muscle back injury
We usually make beer in 5-gallon batches which is about 54 bottles or 42 pounds (19 kg). That is a lot of weight to be moving around from place to place, not including the brew kettle, fermenter, etc.
You need to be careful and mindful of this and always lift with your legs and get help if you need it. Brewing with friends is fun as well.
So, if for example, you are using the BIAB method, don’t be a martyr, get a pulley system rigged to help you lift up the brew bag. Don’t stand there holding it up while you wait for the wort to trickle back into the brew kettle.
If you have to transfer your chilled wort from your kitchen to another room, for example, then get yourself a dolly or platform with wheels to do it. Even your kid’s skateboard could be an option, as long as they weigh more than 42 lbs that is!
Danger 9: Getting too drunk
Brewing while consuming a beer or two is not against the law and as long as you pace yourself, it should be ok. But sometimes being around beer gets people in the mood to drink and with fire and glass around it is best to hold off till after the brew (at least to numbers 3 and 4).
You want to be focusing on the beer and taking notes as you go to get the best product. Definitely don’t brew if you are struggling to walk straight or can’t lift things properly, that’s a disaster waiting to happen.
Danger 10: Breaking bottles when capping
You want to handle the capping of the bottles with care. If you put too much pressure when you push down it could break. If that is all that happens when you only lose a beer, not a big deal. But if you are pushing down and your hand slips you could really cut yourself.
I would recommend getting a tabletop bottle capper (see this one on Amazon) because this is less likely to happen whereas with one of those hand cappers I’ve had quite a few near misses.
Danger 11: Spent hops waste
When you brew you will have leftover hops and by-products from the brew. These are not toxic to us but are bad for dogs and other animals.
You want to properly dispose of your waste, and I know that some farmers will take it as they use it for compost and fertilizer (check out my article here for more information on composting spent grain and hops).
Danger 12: Brewing too much beer
Whoever thought this would be a problem? Ok, maybe I’m scraping the beer barrel here, but it’s still a danger to your freedom of sorts.
While it is very unlikely to happen, if you brew more than 100 gallons in a year you could, in theory, get arrested! I suppose that’s only 21 brew days in a year, so it’s not beyond the realms of reality.
This law goes back to the days of moonshine but it is still on the books and the ATF could come and get you. If you want to know more about the legality of brewing beer, especially in the States, check out my more in-depth article here.
Danger 13: Electric shock
Sometimes in the garage or basement where we are brewing, it may not be the safest and most up to code place. Our equipment may also be homemade and possible a wire may have been overlooked and some of the brewing equipment isn’t grounded. The danger can be multiplied by having fluids around as well.
So, make sure that you always clean up after yourself and thoroughly test any electrical sockets you may be using. It may also be a good idea not to brew in bare feet, wear something with a rubber sole if you can bear it!
Danger 14: Falling
A little beer that isn’t cleaned up can lead to a big slip and fall. If you fall not only can you break or sprain something but could knock over your boiling wort or even fall onto the burner.
You want to have a good pair of closed-toed shoes with a good grip and clean up messes and spills as quickly as possible. A clean area will also reduce the chance of infection in your beer later on.
Ideally, don’t brew alone for this reason. If you fall and crack your head open, you want something more than your brew dog to come to your rescue!
Danger 15: Tripping
Some people will trip over their own two feet which can be dangerous on their own. If you add some wires, extension cords, tubing for the gas, and fire you have a recipe for possible disaster.
Before you start to brew take a little time to tidy up all the loose tubing and wires. I would even recommend to duct tape them to the ground. If something was to happen during the brewing process, like a boil-over, you will be running around to try and save it and not thinking about an extension cord on the ground.
I know it sounds like common sense, but the eagerness to get a batch on can make fools of us all, so just take your time to review the risks before you start.
Danger 16: Loose hose connection clamps
When you are doing the hot transfer of liquid, the hose clamp is commonly overlooked. You need to check your hose clamps even if you think that it is on.
Some people use a pressurized pump and if you turn this on it could blow off the hose and send the wort and/or hot water flailing around and this could burn you.
So, get in a habit of doing checklists on anything like this which could potentially lead to a loss of beer or, perhaps less of a worry, a loss of skin.
Danger 17: Carrying a carboy by the neck
You never want to carry a carboy by its neck even when empty but especially not when it’s full. This is the weakest part of the carboy and it could snap off quite easily. If it does this it won’t only cut your hand but it could also fall and smash your foot or send glass flying all over the room.
You shouldn’t be moving around a full carboy really, but if you do, use a dolly or even an old milk create as these are good ways to move it without it breaking.
They also have new plastic carboys and even metal fermenters if you wanted to stray away from the glass ones. The only issue with the metal fermenters is that you can’t see inside them and watch your brew ferment away.
Check out this stainless steel fermenter from Chapman Brewing which is now being sold on Amazon at a great price.