After explosion, Otter Creek brews again

MIDDLEBURY — As sirens sped toward Otter Creek Brewing of Exchange Street Monday morning, hundreds of gallons of amber-colored beer soaked slowly into the earth.
It might seem like a scene from a beer-lover’s nightmare, but the 40-barrel fermenting tank that exploded inside the Middlebury brewery around 10 a.m. was no figment of the imagination. The explosion damaged pipes and another tank, blowing out an outside wall panel and dumping beer across the brewery floor and the parking lot outside.
No one was hurt in the explosion, and company President Brian Walsh dispatched a team to assess the incident within the hour, while emergency personnel were still busy securing the scene. Employees re-entered the building a little over an hour after the initial explosion had occurred.
Daniel Fulham, director of finance for the brewery, said that after extensive safety checks, the bottling operation resumed on Tuesday afternoon, and that brewing began again on Wednesday.
Fulham said a backup valve designed to let off pressure from the fermenting beer failed on one of the brewery’s smaller tanks, which contained Wolaver’s Brown Ale. The explosion also knocked over another 40-barrel (1,240-gallon) tank of Wolaver’s IPA.
“The valve was faulty,” said Fulham. “We’re proud of our safety record here, and we’ve redoubled our efforts to make sure all of our backup devices were working.”
Still, Fulham said it could have been worse — most of the brewery’s 20 tanks have a 300-barrel capacity. The two tanks affected by the accident are offline, and he said the company is still working to calculate the financial damage of the lost beer and the mechanical repairs.
He said the brewery has enough stores of beer, and enough capacity — including two large tanks the company added just this year — so that the supply of Wolaver’s beer will be virtually unaffected.
“The beer’s pouring,” said Fulham. “We won’t miss any projected shipments.”
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].

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