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Racking Day Is a Very Dangerous Day

I’m getting ready to rack Batch 25 into a (long, long) secondary, on top of some Jim Beam Rye (Michael Jackson gave it 8/10!) and some oak chips. I’ve toasted oak for a few brews before; this time, I wanted a nice dark toast to pair with the rye and the residual sugars, so I decided to do 40 minutes at 350°F. And, since I wasn’t planning on cooking anything else, I figured why not save some electricity and do it in the toaster oven? I put the oak chips on some aluminum foil, set the temperature, and twisted the timer to 40 minutes.

Then, like a complete idiot, like an organism genetically programmed to be a total moron, I went in the other room to check my email. It was probably about 20 minutes before the fire alarm went off.

Being a good Boy Scout, I know exactly where my fire extinguisher is (conveniently, the hall closet I’m sprinting past), so I grab it, take the five steps into the kitchen, and contemplate the spectacle that is a yellow-hot fire on the other side of a glass door. At least most of it is on the other side; several inches of flames are coming around the edges too. This is it, then: the climax of all those elementary-school safety drills. All I have to do is yank open the door and pull the trigger.

But, despite the best efforts of our nation’s public school system, I have a pretty solid grounding in physics, and I know exactly what the Combined Gas Law has to say about this situation. So I’m faced with a conundrum: if I open the door the flames are going to do their phoenix bit, probably coming pretty close to my particle-board cabinetry in the process. At the same time, there’s probably something to be said for not letting a black body continue to radiate while literally sitting on top of a laminate countertop; as if I need a reminder of this, there’s a perfect circle of melted countertop right in front of me from the previous tenant.

On the other hand, actually using the fire extinguisher is going to make a hell of a mess.

Then it hits me: my fire extinguisher may be a fancy-schmancy nitrogen-primed ammonium phosphate model, but there’s nothing wrong with doing this the old-fashioned way. So I run into the living room, grab my 35-pound CO2 tank (like a parent whose child is trapped under a car, this feels absolutely weightless to me, or maybe it just doesn’t weigh all that much). The regulator is already set to 20 PSI, which seems as good a pressure as any. However, it’s three feet long, metal, and chilled to 48°F, so it isn’t the most ergonomic fire extinguisher in the world. I end up bracing it on top of my shoulder like an RPG, so that I have my left hand free to do the dangerous part. I open the valve, get it aimed in more or less the right direction, and pull down the oven door.

It works almost too well. I had halfway imagined a scenario in which the flames would rush forward to engulf me and I would have to beat them back with some vigorous CO2-spraying, but the whole thing was out in probably 10 seconds. I stood there dispensing carbon dioxide for a little longer, just to make sure, but it turns out fires are not dissimilar from the walking chemical reactions who type blog posts that run a little long. Deprive them of food or oxygen, and they just stop.

Learn from my mistake, kids: don’t put wood chips in a toaster oven.

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