Brewing Ginger Beer

I know how to brew ginger beer. It is not a terribly difficult process; its water, sugar, ginger, yeast and some kind of citrus juice. You grate the ginger, boil it with sugar in not that much water to make a syrup, pour that into a bottle and add water, yeast and the citrus. You seal it up and wait for the yeast to carbonate it. My roommates in college would make it in the closet. I made it at home on occasion. Once in Colorado at my grandparents’ house I made it in a walk-in shower (in case the bottle I was using to brew it in ruptured it would be easy to clean) much to the chagrin of my grandmother. The last time I brewed ginger beer was in 2015 in my apartment in Vail.

Finding ginger root in Vail turned out to be quite the challenge as the grocery store did not put it in an obvious place. But through not much trial and toil I gathered all the ingredients and set to work. My girlfriend had very kindly sent me two 750 ml glass bottles with stoppers just for this purpose. Though not entirely enthused with storing the bottles in my small room while they brewed I did not have many options as the tub was not an option; nor the balcony as the cold would kill the yeast (and my lease prevented me from storing anything on the balconies and was strictly enforced by the town government). So next to my desk along the wall sat two bottles of a pale yellow liquid with an ever increase layer of detritus at the bottom of the bottle and a yeasty foam formed at the top.

After a few days I decided I should open the bottles to relieve some of the pressure and see how things were going along. I set the bottle down on my desk in front of my laptop and its external keyboard and opened the stopper.

What happened next was a tremendous explosion. As near as makes no difference three quarters of a liter of sticky, gingery liquid fired out of the bottle in a violent stream. A secondary explosion occurred as it impacted the ceiling and sprayed everywhere. It is impossible to recall exact what I said at that moment but “FUCK!” is most likely. As the continuous jet of liquid subsided into mere intermittence I had a chance to figure out what had happened. My crude and unsophisticated means of measuring the yeast that I added had resulted in way too much yeast. Unleashed upon the great quantities of sugar the fungi had flourished in the brew and tension had built up inside the bottle to many Pascals. The result was a sticky coating of everything within a five foot radius of the bottle.

After the initial shock of having a small explosion happen less than two feet from my own face had worn off; I decided to open the second bottle on the balcony facing out. The resulting gout of ginger beerish fluid was deeply impressive, possibly a full 12 feet out. Safely ejected onto the snow outside the building I turned to cleaning up. My roommates, alerted by the screaming and whooshing sounds had wandered out into common area. Seeing me soaking wet and holding a dripping bottle in my hand they asked what had happened. Told them I was making ginger beer and it had just exploded in my room. Seemingly bemused but not entirely believing; they were quite surprised to find I was telling the truth when I showed them my room. The ceiling was dripping, the desk was covered in ginger beer, my laptop and keyboard were wet, the carpet squishy and the bottle stopper lying near my bed (about ten feet from where the bottle had been when I opened it and not in the direction I was facing when I opened it). It was catastrophic.

I set about rescuing my electronics and cleaning up the mess. My laptop was unceremoniously sitting upside down draining onto a towel on the kitchen counter. Keyboard was blotted dry but never fully recovered. I blotted the carpet with a damp towel and dried off the walls, ceiling, desk and chair. The spray pattern was quite extraordinary. Nearly every wall regardless of distance had some spray. The Xbox 360 and One consoles were mercifully spared the full blast but still had some droplets on them. Some of my books had been hit, luckily the one that took the brunt of it had a plasticized cover. Diligently I cleaned up everything and would do so several times over the next few days as necessary. Before I moved out in the spring I cleaned everything again to be thorough. Not quite what I was expecting, I was thinking more along the lines of a sugary-spicy-lightly bubbly drink; not a recreation of Old Faithful over my electronics. Yet to attempt to brew ginger beer since. Knew what I had done wrong immediately after but have yet try again. My girlfriend bought me a ginger beer this morning as a surprise; might give ti another go soon.

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