KOMBUCHA, KABOOM!

Mistakes are the growing pains of wisdom  — William George Jordan

Last week we had quite a scare.  For those of you following the blog, you may know that I’ve been brewing kombucha for many, many years now.  It’s a habit now and is almost always available to drink in the refrigerator.   I personally like to “double ferment”, adding herbal or fruit syrup to the “second fermentation.” The “second round of fermentation” sort of – uh – backfired on Friday.  And by the grace of God, something that was really scary and could have been horribly dangerous was only a sticky mess to clean up in the kitchen.

So the brief story is this:  I usually store the “double fermenting” kombucha in one of our kitchen cabinets but didn’t have the room so place them on the counter to work their fermentation magic.   We were settling down in the living room for a end-of-week family night of ice cream with homemade fudge sauce, sliced homegrown strawberries and a few old TV shows like Andy Griffith.  Suddenly, halfway through the first episode, a loud explosion in the kitchen had quite a few family members diving to the floor.

It so happened that we had a drive by shooting at the neighbor’s house the other night, so it was a natural thought that it could have been another gang attack.    Well, the culprit turned out to be the kombucha.  One of the glass jars on the kitchen counter exploded, sending glass and grapefruit kombucha everywhere and all over the walls, ceiling and floor.    Glass shards were as far away as the next room.  I felt sick.  Just minutes before, a few of us were in the kitchen dolling out the ice cream or  hanging out in the kitchen doing the last of the day’s chores.  Flying glass would have caused some serious damage to anyone in the room.  I didn’t want to think about it, and yet… I was thankful for small mercies.

Since there were still five glass bottles filled with kombucha on the counter, I had to “suit” up  (goggles, shoes, gloves, heavy jacket, a rubbermaid as an impromptu face shield) and go in and put them immediately on ice (to stop the fermentation)  just to be safe.   In all my years of brewing, I’ve never had anything like that explode on me.  Perhaps the glass had weakened over the years, or maybe was even a little cracked and couldn’t stand the pressure anymore.  Thankfully, no one was hurt and I had a frightful night’s sleep, thinking how close to disaster we had been and yet how lucky we were!

From now on, I have more respect for this bubbly brew and now vow, if I can’t find room in the cabinets,  I will store the “double fermenting” glass in a Rubbermaid container with a lid – just in case.

What “mistakes” have you learned from recently, care to share?

:: Resources ::

Kombucha Starter Culture Kit

Comments(32)

  1. Marci says:

    When I have my kombucha at the brewing stage, I always have a cloth lid over it so it can breath. Maybe I am doing it wrong. Once it goes in the fridge, then I put a lid on that is air tight. Maybe you could just cut up an old clean undershirt in little squares and secure that over the bottle tops with a rubberband until it is ready to be put in the fridge.

    I am glad no one was hurt. I am sure you had quite a mess to clean up.

    • Anais says:

      @Marci: I like the undershirt idea!

  2. natasha says:

    My husband still teases me about the day i blew up a pot of water! I was following a recipe i wanted to try out of Southern Living magazine thinking that putting the crisco in water and bringing it to a boil didnt sound right at all, but i was just learning to cook back then and who was i to question the almighty wisdom of Southern Living. moments after i was peering down into the pot, the whole thing exploded up and all over the kitchen, was quite a greasy mess to clean. Next day im watching the news and theres a report about NOT using the recipe found in that magazine as directed as 6 people have sustained sever injury and one was blinded.

    • Anais says:

      @natasha: Kiss my grits!!!! Glad nobody was hurt, what a bad booboo. 🙂

  3. Nathan says:

    I’ve never that that problem with kombucha, but kefir will get really carbonated some of the time. I know of people who use an air lock like beer/wine brewers use in the top of their kombucha bottles so that the pressure never builds too much.

    • Anais says:

      @Nathan: Me neither… till this once! Gotta be vigilant with brew!

  4. 1916home.net says:

    Yikes! Scary thought! Similar happened to me back when I had time to brew beer. I dont know how you are doing it now, but I highly recommend using an air lock during the fermenting process. I cannot imagine having any fermenting product under a sealed lid. Its bound to blow up. The air lock allows the fermentation to release gases, but not allow anything in. They are cheap too… like $3 or something and you can find them most any place. I bet Sur La Table in Pasadena even has a few.

    After the fermentation is finished do you transfer to bottles or other jugs. Im sure you know all this. My mistake was that I bottled too early. The beer was still fermenting when I bottled. I thought it was done and I was so anxious, so I bottled. I should have waited because when I came home from work, I had about 20 bottles in the kitchen that had exploded with shards of glass embedded in the wood cabinets! What a mess. Luckily no one was home at the time!

    • Anais says:

      @1916home.net: Good idea. I’ll do a search about for some. Think my mistake was letting the second fermentation brew ONE day too long. Guess that what happens when you got a three ring circus going on. LOL

  5. grace says:

    I had left over punch from a baby shower so I put it in a plastic 7 up bottle and sent it home with my mom. She carried it in her home and set it on a table by the door. ( In front of the window. ) A couple days later it exploded!!

    • Anais says:

      @grace: Yikes! Sticky mess.

  6. Ed says:

    Honey is also a slow fermenter. I was working on a sparkling mead recipe and had a few bottles working on the secondary fermentation to give the bubbles.

    Went to set one bottle on the kitchen counter, and must have hit a ‘sweet spot’ on the bottle, but the whole thing exploded in my hand. Glass grazed my cheek, but thankfully I was only left with another sticky mess to clean up.

    • Anais says:

      @Ed: My sister makes an awesome mead. Yep, talk about a sweet spot, think my booch did the same thing. Glad you weren’t hurt!

  7. Lisa Nagurski says:

    Glad to know you’re all safe. My mom used to make Kombucha, but I never tried it – I was in Ca, she was in OH. What does it taste like? And can you share a recipe? Your food always sounds so delicious!

  8. Nebraska Dave says:

    Anais, I have not tried to make any sparkling drink with fermentation for fear it would explode as your did. Folks assure me that if I follow the directions it won’t explode but I just don’t like the thought of a freaky accident. Do you have to register with the firearms, tobacco, and alcohol department to brew your fermented drink? Thirty years ago I brewed wine and got the required registration. There wasn’t a cost and I could brew 250 gallons a year for my consumption but could not sell it to anyone else. Mulberry wine was the best. I’m thinking about trying it again. I hope and pray that there will be no more drive by shootings or explosions on the Urban Homestead.

    • Anais says:

      @Nebraska Dave: No. Well, at least I don’t THINK so! This stuff is just fermented “tea” Thanks. Us too. Good news is the “gang” neighbors are GONE!!!!

  9. Ann says:

    I’m glad nobody was hurt! A Rubbermaid container won’t be strong enough, though. We make ginger beer and had a blow out this past winter. The bottles were stored in two large containers and when one of the bottles exploded it ripped a hole right through both containers. This happened in the middle of the night and we thought our water heater had exploded. I would suggest a heavy cardboard box inside a heavy wooden container.

    • Anais says:

      @Ann: Really? Yikes. Guess have to rethink that option. Thanks!

  10. Susan says:

    Praise God you are all OK. Life’s never boring on the homestead, is it?

    • Anais says:

      @Susan: Copy that!

  11. Gabriel Saletta says:

    My friend had that happen with some mead he was brewing. Took us days to get out of all the corners and under everthing. I don’t know if you use recycled bottles or buy new from a brew store every few years. Maybe brew in bulk then transfer to the smaller bottles and refrigerate to stop the ferment.

    • Anais says:

      @Gabriel Saletta: Thanks for the suggestion.

  12. Diggity Dog says:

    Homebrewers refer to this as the Glass Grenade effect. It can happen for a lot of reasons but it’s basically what you’ve described or other commenters have described. Either a defect in the glass or letting them ferment in an area that is warmer than you previously used in your recipe. Or sometimes you just get a wicked strong yeast reaction or maybe your fruit had a higher concentration of sugar. Basically the yeast eats the sugar and exhausts carbonation.

    I’m glad no one was harmed but keep your chin up. It happens to all of us. And lord do I know what a mess it is to clean up all the sticky stuff afterwards.

    • Anais says:

      @Diggity Dog: Ah, ha! So that’s what it’s called. Fits the bill to boot. Thanks, dodge a bullet, er grenade I mean. 🙂

  13. keithk2 says:

    Ah yes! The Classic Glass Grenade! I had a minor blowup the first time I tried making old fashioned root beer. The second fermentation stage got a little too rambunctious out in the garage and one bottle exploded which caused shrapnel to topple a couple more until a total of six bottles had dribbled their last onto the floor. It was more a sticky annoyance than a scare but matters were complicated by the fact that the wasps found my brew quite enticing. A half hour with the hose and a rag set things to right but to this day I still don’t do fermentation in the bottle inside the house!

    • Anais says:

      @keithk2: Wow, another Glass Grenade story. Guess we both dodge a bullet, er GRENADE I mean. 🙂

  14. Candie says:

    When my dad was a kid his father would make wine every year. One year he decided to try beer. Well he put the beer bottles (A LOT of beer bottles, my grandfather never did anything small) in the back of the basement where the heater happened to be. One night the temperature dropped and the heater kicked on… well my dad and the rest of the family woke up thinking the house was being shot at! The beer started exploding all over the basement. By the time my grandpa got down there he was standing in beer foam half way up his legs. The basement still smelled faintly like beer when I was a kid… I thought they just had a lot of parties lol.

    • Anais says:

      @Candie: Oh dear! What a story. 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

  15. Cares (Australia) says:

    I’ve never fermented any drinks before but I have made plenty of cheese and for a while I was making an air fermented cheese and occasionally this would go horribly wrong!
    We could tell immediately upon waking in the morning that the cheese had gone wrong from the umm well, lets say, interesting aroma in the house. We would then think of all the things we could use our freshly made ‘Rubber Cheese’ for, like resoling boots perhaps.

    I am sooo glad the cheese wasn’t given to exploding…the smell alone was deadly enough!

  16. Dimitry Mishchuk says:

    I brew water kefir and I also like to do the double fermentation process, but I usually leave the bottles out on the counter for 24 hours and then put them on Ice, well last badge I forgot to put the bottles in the fridge an in the middle of the night a bottle blew it’s bottom off and woke all of us up, my first as well but now I’m more careful with the process. I guess there is always a first time.

  17. Aesop says:

    Glad nobody was hurt! I’ve had a bottle pop its cap right next to my head. Kombucha can be very explosive, especially if you have a good batch. If I had to put money on it, I’d say that it was a combination of glassware gone brittle and a very robust batch of kombucha mixed with that grapefruit. I’ve had bottles break on opening and caps pop on their own on the occasions I’ve used the same 12oz glass bottles for more than six months. Hope this helps.

  18. Erin says:

    Hey, I’m curious how long it was sitting out for the second fermentation. I’m new to kombucha and my family loves it! I’m working on getting it more “fizzy” and I’m terrified of this same thing happening with my kiddos around. My brew is on the counter in Mason jars with lids. I have been releasing the pressure periodically but I’m afraid I’m letting out all the bubbles! Any thoughts? Thanks!

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