What is your greatest brewing disaster of all time?

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Arctic Contributor
Oct 26, 2008
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Well, it was inevitable a thread like this was started. We share our success stories in here all the time, and many times, as a group we save each other from disaster.

But, I think it's time for all of us to share our brewing disasters, if for no other reason to remind all of us the "grass isn't necessarily greener"...over there.

Tell us disaster stories. Exploding bottles, spills, degassing volcanoes, ruined batches for whatever reason, etc.

Don't get me wrong gang, I live with positivity, but face it, SHEET HAPPENS!

Photos are better but stories would be interesting.

I'll start.

I only have one. I was still pretty new to wine making and bought a case of fresh oranges for like 50 bucks. My buddy helped me peel all of them, I tossed the peels and whizzed up all those oranges in the cuisinart and put them in the ferment bucket.

Added all the necessary additives, then pitched the yeast. Man, it was fermenting like crazy! This was gonna be great, smelled good tasted odd, but I was new, figured it would go away. It needs to age, right?

So at about 1.020 I transfered it over, well, I was in the process of transferring it, and I took a taste.

It was so bitter, straight vinegar would have been better.

LESSON:, when making citrus wines, remove the pith from the skin, as well as from the meat of the fruit. This is the only wine I have ever dumped, and the only real disaster to report.

I hope I never post in this thread again. That was a tough blow. Like losing your first girl/boyfriend, this would have been a great wine. I hope to try orange wine again.

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Both of my worst disasters were spigot-related.

1. Making a mead. I decided to heat up some water and honey before adding it to the fermenter, just enough heat to thoroughly mix the honey and water. I thought it best to use my 7.5 gallon brew kettle for this, but as I'm pouring in my water and honey I realize that my pant leg is wet. Yeah... I left the spigot open on the kettle and poured out a bunch of honey-water on the floor before I realized it. And that's why I have a 5 gallon batch of cinnamon vanilla mead in a 6 gallon carboy at the moment. I have purged the headspace in the carboy with CO2 from a tank I use for kegging, so I hope it isn't just oxidizing in my cellar at the moment. We'll see how tragic this winds up when I get to bottling and tasting again.

2. We were all out of Toothcastle, an English brown ale that is pretty much the house beer. Well, I don't really have time to brew, but I'm getting grief from SWMBO and some friends because there is no Toothcastle on tap... like the other 4 beers/ciders on tap (old kegerator back then) weren't going to get them through. LOL

So, I make a batch of Toothcastle in a hurry before we have to leave for an event somewhere (no longer remember what it was). The brew goes pretty well but I'm running out of time. I was still fermenting in buckets then, and I used buckets with spigots for primary fermentation as well as everything else. I quickly sanitize a fermenter and fill it with sweet, tasty wort. All was fine until I picked up the bucket and the spigot decides to strip it's threads and fall out of the bucket. I managed to reach in and reassemble it before it all poured out... but that didn't save it as the batch wound up infected and I wound up with a few gallons of nasty smelling/tasting crap that I poured down the tub.

That was it for me and fermentation equipment with spigots. Now I ferment my beer in stainless steel kegs and my wine/mead in buckets without spigots. It's not like it's hard to use an autosiphon.
Let's see, I could mention my first batch, which was a grape concentrate that got an infection, but that isn't that interesting. But I think my greatest disaster may be an ongoing one:

My 2nd batch, since the first went so well, I thought I'd do something harder, so I tried a carrot wine. A buddy of mine has a juicer, and I bought a WHOLE LOT of carrots, so much so the cashier looked at me kinda funny.

We juiced the carrots, and ended up with about 1 1/2 gallons of carrot juice. I should have stopped there, but I filled with water up to 2 gallons. Not huge, but I watered it down. No grape concentrate or raisins added of course. So this was the first time using my hydrometer, and I got very confused about the reading, and ended up not putting enough sugar in, probably by a factor of 2.

Next, it was also my first time using the acid test kit, and as you can imagine, carrots are not very acidic. When I put all the 10 ccs of sodium hydroxide in the test container with the must and reagent without a color change, I should have thought, "I need to add acid to get a reading here probably". But I didn't, I just guessed in a panic, and way too low. Strike two.

Now, it actually fermented pretty well for the amount of sugar I added, and I measured it with the hydrometer as dry as a bone and racked it. However, I thought it tasted a little weird, weak and thin, but maybe that was normal.

Anyways, long story short I had to fix it with added alcohol and acid blend, and it still didn't taste great. No infection, just not very good. So I stabilized, then a week later racked it and sweetened it. Now this is just a bad wine, not necessarily a disaster:

When I bottled it, it was very still, and did not need any degassing. I kept the bottles upright for 3 days, then put them in a rack.

Fast forward a month and a half to this morning. I noticed one of the corks was sticking about a quarter of the way out. Odd since I look at these bottles all the time, and yesterday it wasn't like that. So I take it out of the rack and turn it upright on the counter. When I get home I put it in the refrigerator and let it cool, figuring I'd try it before I pour it out.

When I open the bottle, it's like a champagne, very bubbly and oddly, much better! This would probably be good if I intended to make a champagne, but I did not. I took the rest of the bottles (corks all still normal), to the basement just in case, but I figure I may be looking at a disaster. :se
I'm lucky it happened as it did, and it didn't explode on my kitchen counter.

Weird that it suddenly started fermenting again. I used the recommended amount of potassium sorbate to stabilize, and waited before sweetening.
Flying beer bottle missles

Okay, this I guess, would be a disaster, not really mine but kinda sorta.

The first time I ever heard about brewing your own was in the early 80's. I was living with my dad in a cabin in the woods. We used wood for heat and so the temperature flucuated dramatically.

My ole man discovered yo could buy cans of malt syrup at the grocery store, like a number 10 can, enough to make 5 gallons. So, he bought one and brought it home. Keep in mind, he had never in his life made beer or wine on his own, ever! But a beer maker he was destined to be.

So he mixed this syrup in a pot with water according to the instructions and added the sugar and used bread yeast. No problem it fermented the way he thought it should. (remeber no sulfites additives, very little instructions, and no clues). but i trusted my Dad. He saved up enough beer bottles that when it was time to bottle he had his vessels

Than came bottling day. After X amount of days he siphoned the beer into the bottles, after he put a pinch of sugar in each one. He put a cork in each one and set it with a rubber mallet. So far so good. i was still pretty curious of this whole operation. I had never heard of brewing your own before either. This was pretty simple and cheap.

I don't know why, or where he learned it from, but he insisted these bottles must be stored upside down for them to finish. We lived in a two story cabin. I slept upstairs, and the bottles were stored, upside down, on the stairs leading to the second floor.

So, I went to sleep that night, proud of my Dad, he was going to make us some beer, and soon we would be drinking together in front of the wood stove. Enjoyig this creation he was so proud of. And so I drifted off to sleep, with visions of Pops beer in my head.

Before I fell asleep, I heard the door of the woodstove close. So now the temperature of the bottle location went from about 60F to about 85F.

Then it started, first a boom, then a boom then A BOOM!! Those bottles took off like missles and went straight up and were smashing on the cieling. I had no idea what was going on, at all! My dad yelled up to me to stay down, and I did. After about 15 minutes of this he said it was safe to venture down.

There was broken glass and beer everywhere on the stair way leading up to the second floor. Those bottles had enough force to hit the cieling 12 feet up and break on the cieling!!! LOL

So out of about 2 cases there was one or two left, and so we decided to drink them before cleaning up the mess. Pop opened the first one and it oveflowed all over the front of his shirt.

LESSON: Never open a bottle close to your shirt.

Sorry it was a long story, but I remeber it to this day, especially now that I have made my own successfully. I wish he was still here to drink one with me.
I guess mine would be 2 6 gallon batches when I switched from campden tablets to k-meta powder. I was making 2 separate batches of Vintners Harvest fruit wine bases and was following the instructions on the can for making the 10% solution but wasnt paying enough attention and sulfites the 2 batches about 10x as much as it should have and I just couldnt get them to ever start fermenting, now a days I might have been able to get them going as I did t know then to splash rack the crap out of them as I was a newbie and had not been a forum member until right after those batches. The other mess was when I was distracted by y kids screaming and ran upstairs to interfere but had taken the liberty of writing down that I had added sorbate when I really was about to but hadnt done so before I was interrupted and it never got added, about 5 weeks after that my wife was complaining about a smell emanating from the wine cellar and low and behold I walk straight through a very fine stream of liquid squeaking by a cork just barely being held in by a shrink capsule. I had had 3 blown corks and about 8 being held on only by the shrink wraps I had a total of 18 bottles of which most I was able to save and 1 I brought over to my neighbor who was having a bad day so I offered her up some Plum Champagne and she was thrilled, i opened it for her just in case the bottle decided it wanted to break cause that would not be cool!
I guess mine was when I had 6 gal of RED wine in a demijohn (sp). During racking I some how broke a "circle" in the demijohn and 6 gall went on my....CARPET !
Yes I mess up too...butt, not since.. LOL cross my fingers...
Our worst was the first. I still laugh everytime I thing about it. Mike has been hounding me into making wine from the concord grapes that we grow in the back yard. Well after two years of making jelly and no one eating it I agreed. Neither one of us did much research on how to make wine. Mike makes beer so I guess I was depending on that expertize to get me through this. Well we pick the grapes, crush them and put them in a fermenting bucket, add water and sugar. I took no notes, no hydrometer readings or acid tests. I did get some general instructions off on the internet so I knew enough to sulfite the must 24 hours before adding the yeast. Now it is time to add the yeast. Two days after adding the yeast, this stuff boils over, we had the bucket totally full so most of the grape skins are all over my laundry room floor.

Well we transfer to a 5 gallon carboy and everytime we racked I ended up adding water. When everything was done, we call this stuff "wine shine." Boy did it have a bite, it was high in alcohol and high in acid and low in flavor.

While I have learn a lot since then, the stain of the boil over is still on my laundry room floor to remind me how not to make wine.
Nobody ate the homemade jelly? You can send some over here, I love homemade jelly!
You folks have had some bad ones! I've been lucky so far, although I did have one mishap. I was transferring my LOVZ to a carboy and using my newly acquired 1/2 inch autosyphon and I was thinking, man this thing is going to really move that stuff. Well it was moving at a good clip when I noticed the laundry tub was about to overflow since I had turned it on and forgot about it. When I took off for the sink and my foot caught the hose, down I went and my beloved wine was suddenly disappearing down the floor drain - yes that 1/2 inch hose could really move the stuff! By the time I got the hose back in the carboy I figure I lost about 2 bottles, not too bad I suppose but this was my first real premium kit and I was not too pleased. And I couldn't even lick it off the floor because of that damned drain!
Back in college I made some mead. I had no idea what I was doing. I bottled the suckers and they went off in my mom’s basement. Talk about a sticky mess! My wife still razzes me to this day. A few years ago I decided to get back into it and actually got books and bought correct equipment. My wife almost didn’t let me do it when I told her I was making mead. She was convinced it would “go off” in the spare bedroom.
LOL KIL! There was someone a while ago who had their primary full of red wine overflow while he was on vacation, all over the carpet. YIKES. I wonder what HIS wife had to say about that! I wonder if he was allowed to continue making wine?