Undrinkable beer - multiple batches with same bad taste


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Undrinkable beer - multiple batches with same bad taste

Post by dke » 3 years ago

I haven't begun BIAB yet, but figured somebody may have run across this problem I am having. My process: I currently brew extract full volume 60 minute boil batches using Briess light DME and steeped flavoring grains, pelletized hops, dry Safale ale or lager yeast. I bottle. All ingredients are properly packaged and refrigerated. 2 weeks primary, 2 weeks secondary, 4 weeks in the bottle. All at 66 degrees or less.

At some point this season my beers went from OK to bad. They have not returned. I brew a batch every weekend, and so every week I grab the next one in line and cringe. Yup - bad again. It happens every batch, regardless of recipe or ingredient. Here's how it goes:

I taste at brewing - no issues. I taste at bottling - no issues. I open one after 2 weeks - no issues. I open another after 3 weeks and get a hint of clove. After 4 weeks it is decidedly worse. By 5 or 6 weeks they are undrinkable. An embarrassment. They eventually go directly to the sink drain. Clearly, time has something to do with it.

I don't think it's bottle cleanliness, because it isn't hit or miss - they're all bad. I clean with PBW and sanitize with Star San.

Please help - I'm ready to pack it in.

I believe I may have the solution. I went to the shop to purchase the bottling equipment replacements for today's bottling and was able to get another opinion.

It is probably not the bottling equipment, although it might be a bit player. Likewise for the chlorine. Once I described the one change I made this season, he pretty much said that was it. That being the discontinuance of using a hop bag for bittering hops. He explained that with free hopping, as he called it, there is an increased surface area and the utilization is far greater than when using a hop bag. Hop bags plug, and the water doesn't get good flow through it. Sounds logical. So I'm getting more bittering than my software says. But it gets worse.

I found that when I free hopped the oils seemed to do a nice job of cutting down the foam at hot break. So I began adding the hops right along with the DME. So now the hops are in the pot for the 60 min boil PLUS the 20 minute heatup to boil. So I'm making an IPA on steroids. I could not get an explanation of why it starts out as a clove-like flavor, but the nasty taste is a product of over-boiled hops.

As for the delay in formation of that taste, which had everybody thinking bottling equipment, the explanation I got was that bad flavors, like good ones, need time to evolve. It is the product of aging.

I will need to wait til next year to confirm this, but I did buy the bottling equipment anyway. Good to rule things out, and a good way to say thanks for good advice. It would be nice to find out it IS the bottling equipment - I'll have something I can drink!

I wouldn't mind additional comments pro or con on the above theory. Nothing has been proven yet.

Thanks to all for your help and generosity with your time. A very civilized group. I "witnessed" a forum at another site where a topic developed into a heated debate among responders, and ended up completely divorced from the original posting. I was happy to see that wasn't the case here. Hoping for success and beginning my BIAB next season.
Last edited by dke on 22 Mar 2014, 04:42, edited 2 times in total.

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Post by thughes » 3 years ago

Do you use a bottling bucket? Perhaps the tap on the bottling bucket is infected or perhaps your bottling wand is infected. Sounds like some piece of equipment that you use for bottling but not in any other parts of the brewing proces may be the culprit.Are you sanitizing the bottle caps? Just thinking out loud here.....

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Post by Yeasty » 3 years ago

Whats your set up dke.

Does your pot have a tap.
Do you use a bottling bucket.
How do you prime your bottles.
How do you store your bottles.
What are you tasting ? is it just cloves ?

Sorry for all the questions instead of answers but it will all help in tracing the problem. To start with I would strip down everything and clean the hell out of it. Pay particular attention to bottling wands and any taps. Pull them all apart or replace them with new. I posted a fault chart on here a long while ago I'll see if I can find it.

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edit: Todd beat me to it :idiot:
Last edited by Yeasty on 22 Mar 2014, 05:09, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by Lumpy5oh » 3 years ago

As thughes has said it is probably something in your bottling equipment or process. Definately take everything apart and clean everything. The one main place I can think of would be the tap on your bottling bucket; I imagine bugs would love to live behind the rubber washer. Keep in mind also that any scratch in the bucket could be home for nasties.
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Post by dke » 3 years ago

Thanks for the questions - that's where the solution begins...

Brew pot tap - yes, I have one. I clean it with PBW right after it is drained. I sanitize it with Star San before storage and again before use. It is only 1 week between uses.

All bottling equipment - racking cane, tube, bottling bucket spigot, bottling bucket - all are disassembled and handled the same way as the brew pot tap.

Bottle handling after drinking: Triple rinse, add 1/4 inch of PBW solution, shake for 15 secs or so, store WITH the PBW overnight, dump out the next morning, triple rinse again, store on bottle tree overnight to drain water, put in 12 pack box and cover with plastic shopping bag until re-use. Bottles emptied during the brew season (Nov-Mar) are re-filled a week later.

Bottle handling before filling: Fill bottling bucket with Star San, submerge bottles - 12 at a time - for 2 mins, remove and put on sanitized bottle tree for filling. Contact time for Star San on bottling bucket is in excess of 15 minutes.

Scratches on bucket - there are some, but I assumed that the PBW and extended Star San contact time would take care of it.

Priming - 4 oz corn sugar boiled for 5 minutes with 1/2 cup water. Add to bucket before racking.

Bottle caps sanitized? Yup.

Taste? Clove taste is what it starts out as, and at the time is the only off flavor. It progresses to a very harsh, bitter, medicinal taste which overwhelms any other taste in the beer - including roasted malts, and aroma hops.

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Undrinkable beer - multiple batches with same bad taste

Post by gmhowell » 3 years ago

How far can you dismantle your spigots? It's easy for a bubble of air to get trapped which could become an I sanitized area.

The fine scratches could wind up being a problem. Surface tension and thermal expansion could cause those scratches to be impervious to cleaning and sanitizing.

I would start replacing the cheap plastic bits: hoses, canes, etc.

Also, when I clean buckets I like to shine a flashlight inside. No matter how good my initial clean, I always find a fleck of 'stuff' with the flashlight.


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Post by Yeasty » 3 years ago

What's the chance of something making it all the way from the kettle to the bottle ? Only asking as if it can be eliminated this we can dismiss the kettle tap as a problem.
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Post by dke » 3 years ago

I tear the spigot right down - body, valve, washer, nut are all disconnected for cleaning and sanitizing.

I'll try the bucket change and replace the hose. My cane is stainless though. I'm a tad reluctant, as it's not so cheap.

Kettle to bottle? Probably not, as I use a 2 week secondary to complete fermentation and clarify. It racks pretty clear from there.

I too have suspected something in the bottling operation, but I have one big observation which discounts that - I also ferment wine. Delicate white wine, which I rack and bottle using the very same equipment cleaned the very same way. I've never had even a hint of an off-flavor. I would have expected to.

I was reminded of one process change I made, but cannot recall when I made it relative to my issue. And it is this: I watched a brewing video made by a commercial craft brewer, and observed him dumping a pail of hop pellets into the boiler. As it so happened I was out of hop bags at the time and did likewise - just dumped in the boiling hops after the steep. I saw no issues, so I have continued that practice since. Could that be an issue?

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Post by thughes » 3 years ago

I put hop pellets directly in boil, no problems. Everything is sanitary up until the point that your boild wort cools down to below @ 180F or so. If you are picking up an infection it will be post-boil. Quick question: Have all of these bad brews been made with the same bulk batch of malt extract of has it been different extract for each brew?

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Post by thughes » 3 years ago

BTW, "medicinal" is caused by phenols and usually described as mediciney, Band-Aid™ like, or can be spicy like cloves. Another possible culprit that comes to mind is fermentation temps: do you control your fermentation temperature closely? (epecially during the first 24-48 hours of active fermentation) High fermentation temp can cause phenolic off-flavors. Upon further thought, I am temped to believe it may not be an infection as if it were, you would probably end up with gushers after a few weeks in bottle. We'll get this figured out for you!

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Post by dke » 3 years ago

Ingredients are from the same manufacturer and same re-seller. I don't know about lot numbers though. I purchase the ingredients once a month in 4-batch quantities, so I assume different lots.

Fermentation temp control - nope, but that is why I don't brew in summer. It's usually 66-68 air temp, and the carboy never feels warm to touch.

Gushers - never happened.

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Post by thughes » 3 years ago

Hmmm...

Another major cause of "medicinal" taste is interaction with chlorine. Do you use a municipal water supply or do you purchase water from a grocery store for brewing needs?

We're going to have to eliminate one thing at a time to get to the bottom of this (and hopefully we'll hit it early so you don't ruin too much more beer).

Well, I would:

1) purchase a sufficient quantity of store-bought drinking water, brew a batch with your current ingredient stock and see what happens.

2) purchase a batch of DME from another distributor, brew a batch, see what happens.

3) replace all equipment used post boil. Get some new tubing, a new fermenting bucket, a new bottling bucket, a new bottling wand, and a plastic siphon. Skip the secondary (not only unnecessary in 99% of cases but it's also a transfer point where you can pick up an infection or introduce oxidation), brew a batch with your current ingredient stock and see what happens.

We need to get to the bottom of this so you can leave that extract brewing behind and get started with BIAB, you will be amazed at the leap in quality and flavor that all grain-brewing brings.

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Post by BobBrews » 3 years ago

dke,

Keep the recipe simple while testing. Half batches? A SMaSH beer? Remember that small things can cause infections. I had a friend that brewed beside me at club brews. He did everything right. But? I saw him use his spoon (paddle?) for the hot wort and (after he cooled his wort down) he added his yeast. He reused the sticky spoon that had been sitting outside for a half hour, with bugs flying around, to mix in his yeast and nutrients? I was aghast and appalled! Hopefully it was just a brain fart and he doesn't do this regularly.

I know that you would not do anything like that! What I am saying is this. You have to keep your mind in the game at all times! Stay sober while brewing. (if possible)?

We all will work together with you to solve this mystery! :think:
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Post by toklas » 3 years ago

I've had a problem in the past with a scratched bucket. I replaced it and the problem stopped. Now I replace my buckets the moment I see a scratch.

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Post by Lumpy5oh » 3 years ago

I'm so afraid of scratching my buckets that I use microfiber car cloths to clean everything.

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Undrinkable beer - multiple batches with same bad taste

Post by gmhowell » 3 years ago

If the same bucket always acts as a secondary, that might be the first thing to eliminate. Especially if that bucket is not used for your wine.

Speaking of wine, are they susceptible to the same infections as beer? I don't know. Also, are you using pure juice or a concentrated kit to which you add water for your wines?

Finally, I'd be reluctant to replace my stainless cane as well :)


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Post by dke » 3 years ago

Wow. So much help. I have neglected to thank everyone. And that one about the slinky - well done!

There is no chance of ruining any more beer this year. Brewed my last batch a week ago. That will give me lots of time to assimilate everyone's helpful suggestions. I still need a solution though so I can have another go in the fall. As to the last round of questions...

I do use municipal water. I installed a filter and used that for a couple years until my wife threatened to evict me. Brings another observation to mind - this is not my first bout with this issue - I had it during the "filter years" as well, just not as bad as this year. Also, in the past I have had non-sequential incidents. This is the first time I've had a batch after batch beat down.

I did do a bunch of simple recipes this year - many Pilsners and Pales. Definitely revealing.

What the heck is a SMaSH beer?

The spoon brain fart - not a problem. I'm really anal about the cleaning. I have a container of PBW solution and Star San on hand at all times during the process. As soon as I am done with something it gets the full treatment - even if it's going to be used again shortly. Countertops and sink get the treatment too.

Staying sober - also not a problem considering the current product. Most of it is taking a more direct route to the sewer.

The bottling bucket is definitely scratched - I take it that extended contact time with the sanitizer doesn't take care of that? A prior comment referenced scratches being exposed by heat. The bucket sees only room temp material. Even the wash water is only tepid.

Primary bucket = secondary bucket? Neither. I use Better Bottle carboys. 6 gal pri. + 5 gal sec.

As to the wine question - they are susceptible to infection. The "must", like "wort", is sugar, to which you add yeast. It's microbe heaven. Unlike beer though, a small amount of sulfite is added (after fermentation). I'm not an expert on it - I know it preserves color for the long ride it takes in the bottle. It might also do something for eliminating off flavor microbes.

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Undrinkable beer - multiple batches with same bad taste

Post by gmhowell » 3 years ago

Smash is single malt and single hop. Simple recipe to ferret out problems.

I know that wine is susceptible to issues. Vinegar, anyone:) but I am wondering if the same species will live in both and give those flavors. Also if it is an infection that can hit both, does the sulfite kill it before it becomes an issue in the wine? FWIW, I know enough to ask some questions. Answers not so much.

So with the carboys, is one always the secondary? Or does it just depend on what's free? And does the must from the wine ever go in them or do you have vessels dedicated to the wine?

With the bottling bucket... If it were me I'd repurpose it to a general storage bucket if it's obviously scratched. Some bacteria are very heat resistant, requiring many minutes of boiling to kill (or higher heat. Doing home canning so reading on the subject) and sanitizer can't always get in the scratches.

And muni water can be a crap shoot.

If this happened to me, I would replace the bottling bucket and hoses. I would use bottled, store bought water on your next batch. Not sure about the rest. Not right away.


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Post by joshua » 3 years ago

DKE, The SMaSH is "Single Malt and Single Hops" Beer....

Use ALL "Pale Ale", "Maris Otter", or Pilsner Malt and A Single Hop like Cascade, or Fuggles. Then, make a simple Ale or Try Lagering.
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Post by dke » 3 years ago

Regarding the carboys - I do the wine batches first, fermenting in whatever 6 gal vessels are closest. They are intermixed. I then rack to 5 gal vessels for several months of clarification. By necessity, they are out of the loop for the year. Again, I grab whichever one I see first. The just emptied 6 gal vessels are then either used used for beer-making, or washed/sanitized/stored MT for next year. So, intermingled vessels, with no apparent taste impact.

Regarding muni water.....doesn't the boil drive off the phenol-causing chlorine?

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Post by thughes » 3 years ago

dke wrote:Regarding muni water.....doesn't the boil drive off the phenol-causing chlorine?
No, not from what I have read or experienced. Of particular concern is chloramine which is used increasingly in municipal water supplies instead of chlorine. Chlorine will readily dissipate into the air if you leave a vessel of chlorinated water sitting open for a period of time (that's what the little bubbles are when a glass of tap water sits for several hours); chloramine does not readily dissipate but remains in solution. All is not lost however, chlorine and chloramine can be removed very easily with something you already have in your arsenal as a wine maker: sodium metabisulfite.

Yes, good old camden tablets! One tablet effectivly removes chlorine and chloramine in 20 gallons of water. I simply crush a tablet (using 2 spoons) and pour the powder into my kettle as I measure the brewing water out. Viola! No chlorine problems here.

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Last edited by thughes on 23 Mar 2014, 20:52, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by dke » 3 years ago

That's really good to know. Thanks for sharing that tidbit. Too late for the kettle, but something for next season. I take it that you do this instead of filtering or purchasing bottled water?

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Post by thughes » 3 years ago

dke wrote:I take it that you do this instead of filtering or purchasing bottled water?
Yup!
Last edited by thughes on 24 Mar 2014, 09:24, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by mally » 3 years ago

With regard to chlorine and chloramines I wonder if anybody has thought of using this.

I only mention it because I have a bottle of it already and look at it each time I use it (for fish).
If it is OK for fish, it must be OK for us?
Last edited by mally on 24 Mar 2014, 17:19, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by thughes » 3 years ago

Hey mally, let's get Bob to try it....he'll drink anything! Seriously though, most of my research on chlorine/chloramine was done on aquarium sites.

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