Trader Joe’s announced a voluntary recall of their Triple Ginger Brew this week due to an unlikely reason: Bottles were literally bursting open by themselves. But why was it happening? We think we know the reason.

The Problem of Fermentation

Neither the FDA nor Trader Joe’s has explained what’s going on to cause the bottles to burst. The problem of spontaneously-bursting bottles sounds awfully familiar, though, if you spend time around a winery or a brewery. Over the summer, bottles of Angry Orchard hard cider started to burst on shelves, as well. The problem in those cases was a fairly common one for bottled alcohol of all sorts: bottle re-fermentation.

Fermentation is necessary to brew our beers, wines, and ciders in the first place. But once the desired fermentation has taken place, you need to stop that process. This is usually done either just by chilling your alcohol, or putting in an additive before you bottle your liquor.

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Sometimes, though, the chilling or the additive isn’t quite enough, and the liquid begins a second, unplanned fermentation after the bottle has been sealed, this is bottle re-fermentation. Fermentation releases carbon dioxide, which builds up a steady pressure inside the sealed bottle. With nowhere for that pressure to go, the bottle can eventually burst or explode.

The Strange Case of Ginger Beer

Okay, but this is ginger beer—it’s non-alcoholic, practically soda. So why would it be experiencing a problem usually reserved for wineries and breweries? The answer has to do with the process of making ginger beer itself, and how it differs from ginger ale.

While ginger ale is a soda made with carbonated water, the carbonation in ginger beer comes from someplace quite different. The ingredients are usually the same—water, ginger, flavorings—but ginger beer also adds yeast to the whole concoction and even (more importantly) a fermentation time. In fact there’s a number of home recipes so you can brew up a batch of ginger beer fairly simply in your own kitchen.

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That’s right, ginger beer, though non-alcoholic, is still fermented. That means it could easily be subject to the same bottle re-fermentation process as a bottle of beer or wine.

Is bottle re-fermentation definitely the source of the exploding bottles? It’s possible that there is some other unnamed problem causing it. But bottle re-fermentation certainly fits all the signs and seems like the most likely candidate to cause the problem.

Follow the author at @misra