Wandering Star brewer on mend after suffering severe burns
PITTSFIELD — For the second Saturday, a familiar face will be missing this weekend at Wandering Star Craft Brewery.
No, Fuggle the brewery cat hasn't gone AWOL again. Christopher Post, the 15-barrel brewery's founder and guiding light, lies in a Boston hospital recovering from a harrowing injury.
Post, 49, suffered second- and third-degree burns on both ankles on Easter while cleaning equipment at the 11 Gifford St. brewery.
This past week, Post underwent two surgeries in Massachusetts General Hospital's burn unit, after infection set in.
Now, as he waits for skin grafts to take, Post offered this advice to craft brewers: "Go around and make sure all your clamps are tight. And next time, get out of the way faster."
Reached by phone at the burn unit, Post described how one day's routine chores ("90 percent of brewing is cleaning," he said), has turned into nearly two weeks of hospitalization and has stressed the business. Because he has no employees, managing the brewery falls entirely to Post and his wife, Shannon, the family-owned company's president.
Post's injury triggered a tide of support from customers and good wishes from New England's craft beer community.
Post notes that this is his only injury in six years of running Wandering Star. Fellow brewers from places like Kingdom Brewing in northern Vermont and the Culinary Institute of America sent reassuring words.
"'Don't worry about it, mate,'" Post said, quoting one of the messages. "'You'll get better. It happens to all of us.'"
Post was scalded when a clamp on a hose loosened and he was sprayed with 208-degree water from a device known as a "hot liquor tank." That tank heats water for brewing and cleaning uses. When the hose came away, five feet of water in the tank exerted enough downward pressure to send the water coursing out a low opening.
"Leading to a jet of very nearly boiling water hitting me on the ankles," Post said. "At that speed it would do a lot of damage."
A neighbor heard him screaming. Post soaked the injured areas in cold water for 15 minutes, but was soon on his way to Berkshire Medical Center, where the burns were dressed and staff made contact with Mass General's burn unit.
"They were fantastic," Post said of his care at BMC. "They got me in there straightaway. They recognized the severity of it because my skin was hanging off my ankles."
Three days later, on April 19, Post noticed swelling in his left calf. When emergency doctors at BMC saw that, they suspected infection — raising the medical stakes. "They immediately shoved me on an ambulance to Boston," he said.
On April 21, a surgeon at Mass General removed dead tissue and placed temporary skin on Post's left ankle and lower calf. Then on Tuesday, skin taken from his thigh was grafted onto both injured areas. He notes that his health insurance coverage has been adequate.
Post expects to remain in Boston until Sunday, since he needs five days after the surgery for the grafts to become resilient.
"I have to be able to walk first because it hurts like hell just to move my leg on the bed," he said.
Last Saturday, Wandering Star customers responded to a Facebook advisory inviting them to support the brewery.
"As you know this has been a tough week," a message said April 21, the day of Post's first surgery. "Chris will be in hospital for at least another week and the brutal truth is that if he can t work, the brewery's income dries up. Our friends are helping out magnificently but we really need your support."
Volunteers jumped in to staff the taproom the next day.
"We were very busy last Saturday, which was great. It was heartwarming to see everyone coming in," Post said. "And we're very grateful for it."
Shannon Post will be running the show this Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. — still without the brewmaster.
She said the hospital was working late this week to get her husband up and around.
"They were trying to get him up to standing today," she said Thursday. The injuries were becoming less painful. "Right now, he's at the point where he's bored."
Even from his hospital bed Boston, Post lent a hand this week at the Bright Ideas brewery at Mass MoCA, which he assists and advises. Despite his absence, the North Adams brewery was expecting to go ahead with a filtering process for a brown ale and a red ale.
"They're going to have me there on video chat — and we're going to muddle through," Post said.
For Wandering Star, Post's injury will delay the release of summer beers by three weeks, he estimated. The brewery's inventory is depleted, but Post isn't far behind. "It hasn't made any difference in our availability."
A mobile canning unit was still expected to come May 5 to process one of the brewery's most popular beers, Loopy Juice. A batch is ready to filter and can, he said.
"Then we've got another beer that exists only in my head," Post said with characteristic dry humor. "I'll be directing operations from a wheelchair."
Doctors want him to recuperate for a month. Besides, he can't get the rubber boots on.
If he pushes it, he said from his hospital room, "I'll be right back here."
Reach staff writer Larry Parnass at 413-496-6214 or @larryparnass.
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