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Preventing Beer Explosions: A Guide for Craft Brewers

Over the last several years, the craft brewing industry has faced a growing concern and many people don’t want to talk about it — exploding beer cans. This alarming issue poses safety risks and threatens the reputation of breweries. 

A widely known case (non-craft beer related) involved Corona bottle explosions in 2017, which led to injuries and lawsuits across the country. Some reports alleged the bottles were like “hand grenades” and the explosions left at least one person seriously injured. 

The entire situation highlighted the far-reaching consequences of neglecting safety precautions during production. 

On a smaller, more relevant scale, the collaboration between Evil Twin and Hoof Hearted Brewing on a sour IPA with pineapple, guanabana, vanilla, and milk sugar in 2018 resulted in exploding cans. Reddit threads with hundreds of comments quickly cropped up warning drinkers to avoid the beer. 

The discourse quickly boiled down to two factors: it was either the breweries’ fault for making the beer in the first place or the customer’s fault for not knowing how to safely handle the beer, despite its label stating “CONTAINS FRUIT. KEEP COLD AT ALL TIMES.”

There are just two examples of exploding beer, but they underscore a persistent challenge that requires a comprehensive understanding and proactive measures. 

This blog will not only shed light on the science behind these beer explosions but also provide invaluable insights into avoiding such potentially catastrophic outcomes for breweries.

Understanding the Problem of Exploding Cans

The Science Behind Exploding Beer

Understanding the intricate science behind beer explosions is the first step toward prevention. Factors such as carbonation, temperature, can integrity, and fill volume all work together to create a potentially hazardous environment within sealed containers. 

As carbonated beverages warm up, carbon dioxide becomes less soluble, moving to the air space at the top of the can. While aluminum cans are designed to withstand slight pressure increases, excessive carbonation can lead to explosions.

Temperature plays a significant role in influencing CO2 solubility. As beer warms, it loses carbonation, increasing pressure within the can. This pressure, combined with inadequate can integrity, can result in explosions. However, it’s important to note that the root cause of exploding cans is not elevated temperature alone but also excessive carbonation.

Carbonating Your Beer

Different beer styles require different carbonation levels, achievable through natural fermentation or forced carbonation with CO2. Natural fermentation, a time-honored tradition in brewing, allows the magic of carbonation to unfold organically. 

As yeast consumes sugars during fermentation, it produces carbon dioxide as a byproduct, naturally carbonating the beer. This approach adds a subtle and mild fizziness, making it great for beers like traditional ales and Belgian beers.

In contrast, force carbonation with CO2 provides brewers with a more controlled and precise means of achieving carbonation levels. This method involves directly infusing the beer with carbon dioxide under pressure, allowing for meticulous adjustment of bubble intensity. 

It’s a technique favored for its repeatability and accuracy, making it ideal for beers that demand specific and consistent carbonation, such as modern craft lagers.

Regardless of the method, closely monitoring and adjusting carbonation levels during brewing is critical to preventing explosions. This means maintaining carbonation equilibrium is essential to prevent beer explosions. Adding carbon dioxide to a sealed bottle or can increases pressure, dissolving CO2 into the liquid. Both the CO2 above the liquid and the dissolved CO2 reach chemical equilibrium. 

Industry-Wide Challenges

Beyond the specific incidents mentioned, the craft brewing industry grapples with a range of factors contributing to the risk of exploding beer. 

From variations in brewing techniques to diverse beer styles, the industry’s dynamism introduces complexities that demand a nuanced approach. It’s crucial to recognize that the consequences of exploding beer extend beyond immediate safety hazards; they encompass potential damage to a brewery’s reputation, financial losses, and legal ramifications.

Best Practices for Craft Brewers

Given the high stakes involved, craft brewers must be proactive in adopting best practices to avert the peril of exploding beer. Some key strategies include:

  1. Precise Carbonation Management: Understand the optimal carbonation levels for different beer styles. Rigorously monitor and adjust carbonation levels during the brewing process.
  2. Enhanced Can Integrity: Invest in cans designed with effective structural integrity. Regularly assess and enhance packaging materials and processes to withstand varying conditions. 
  3. Educational Initiatives: Educate consumers about handling beer responsibly, especially those with unique characteristics like added fruit flavors. Clearly communicate storage instructions on labels, emphasizing the importance of temperature control.
  4. Implementing Flash Pasteurization: Embrace flash pasteurization as a best practice for beer stability and safety. Recognize the role of flash pasteurization in preventing explosions due to unwanted microbial activity.

The Unsung Hero: Flash Pasteurization

Role of Flash Pasteurization in Beer Stability

Flash pasteurization emerges as a crucial element in preventing beer explosions. This process involves rapidly heating and cooling the liquid, eliminating harmful bacteria, molds, and yeast without compromising flavor to extend a beverage’s shelf life. For craft brewers, flash pasteurization ensures beer stability and safety, and ensure consumers can enjoy fresher, tastier products for longer. 

Craft brewers should consider flash pasteurization as a best practice. Flash pasteurization is best for highly perishable products and is preservative-free. The best part is that it’s done before packaging, which means it not only maintains the quality of the beer but also adds an extra layer of safety, preventing the risk of explosions due to unwanted microbial activity. 

The process and equipment are a long-term investment but when your brand reputation is on the line, flash pasteurization is a worthwhile investment. And an added benefit of flash pasteurization is that it helps with the quality of beverages beyond just beer. As brewers begin to expand product lines into seltzers, teas, or coffee — they can be confident they are creating quality beverages that will last. 

The Takeaway

In conclusion, preventing exploding beer requires a holistic approach encompassing proper carbonation, bottling, and pasteurization practices. Craft brewers must understand the science behind beer explosions, emphasizing the importance of maintaining carbonation equilibrium and can integrity.

By incorporating optimal carbonation levels for different beer styles and monitoring the process closely, brewers can significantly reduce the risk of explosions. The unsung hero, flash pasteurization, adds an extra layer of protection, ensuring beer stability without compromising quality.

Craft brewers play a pivotal role in maintaining consumer protection and brand reputation. Implementing best practices, including pasteurization, should be a priority. The call to action is clear: always be improving and learning, striving for excellence in brewing practices to prevent the potentially hazardous consequences of exploding beer.