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Home Brew Forums > Home Brewing Beer > Equipment/Sanitation > Resurgent Wild Yeast Madness! Help!!! (Also, Cautionary Tale.)
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Old 01-09-2011, 07:04 PM   #1
jloxton
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Default Resurgent Wild Yeast Madness! Help!!! (Also, Cautionary Tale.)

So, a review of my saga (the first part of which is completely my fault):

A year ago, we upgraded from kit to extract/steeped grain brewing. Our first two batches, done back to back on stove top, with sink chilling, both ended up contaminated by wild yeast. At the time, we had no idea what had happened, and it took some months of reading and education before we realized that the phenolic/smoky flavours had an easy explanation, and that the issue was almost certainly the result of our (unwise) decision to chill with the lid off, gently stirring (as some sites advise)—the hour or so of open air exposure was the death of those beers. In the mean time, we saved the batches in bottles to see whether they would get any better. Of course, given that it turned out to be a yeast issue, they only got worse.

Fast forward many months (and successful brews later). We moved on to partial mash and then to all grain (Two Step at this point, still stove top and sink chilling), and were having good luck. Just before the summer, we decided to dump some of the bottles to reuse them, and chilled a new batch (open lid again, we still didn't know better) in the same sink that we dumped in. That batch was lost too.

Fast forward six months later (December). At this point, we've moved, ratcheted up our sanitation, built an immersion chiller, switched to an outdoor ten gallon with burner set up, switched up sanitizer, and are generally rocking along, with four months of successful brews and no problems. We brewed the Can You Brew it Moose Drool clone, and then repitched (which we had done successfully a number of times) some of the yeast into a Lagunitas IPA clone, and a batch of Jamil's Amber Red (a major brew effort for Christmas). The Moose Drool tasted fine when we harvested yeast, and everything was well sanitized. However, come time to check the kegs for progress, we realize that all of the batches have the same old smokey awfulness (the Taste of Failure, I describe it). We abandoned the kegs, but drank the bottled half batch of Red and a few of the bottled IPAs, since we still needed Christmas beer and most people didn't at all mind the flavour (it gets overpowering over time, but I moved the contaminated bottles to the frigid outdoors to put the yeast to sleep before it progressed too far).

OK, at this point I am angry. And frustrated. I obviously spread the contamination by repitching, but took reasonable precautions and am unsure how it got established in the first place. (Obviously, I introduced it into the house by dumping bottles again, but no liquid was transferred, so presumably I also established it into the air/dust.)

Next step: I replaced all of my hoses, switched to Star San (in case the source of contamination was rinse water), and sanitized my brew bucket with both boiling water and Star San. I also cut a hole out of the brew bucket and placed the bung in immediately after Star San-ing, inserting the hose from my auto-siphon into the bung, so that it was a closed system. I put my immersion chiller into the brew pot for 30 minutes during boil to sanitize it, and cut divots into my brew pot lid so that the lid could sit snugly on, with only the copper tubing extending out (and I covered this small gap with sanitized tin foil). I also pitched a dry yeast in boiled water to avoid the risk of making a starter.

I *did* run into a slight problem when transferring to the fermentation bucket: inserting the dip tube meant that the lid for the pot had to be raised slightly, but we are only talking an inch around half of the lid, and I covered most of this space with tin foil as well. Still, transfer was slow, due to lots of leaf hops, and I think this is the source of my problem.

Long story short, my new batch, which was supposed to be my Redemption Ale, is slowly fermenting a week and half in, and has dropped down to 1.010, from an OG of 1.064 (with a 10 point drop after krausen dropped). No off flavours are present, but I know the signs well enough now, i.e., the loss of flavour, plummeting gravity, and peculiar style of slow fermentation, to know I have another contaminated beer with my dastardly local yeast.

Going forward: My next step is to cut a hole in the lid of my brew pot (with a cap), so that the auto-siphon can be inserted without exposing any wort to the air post-chilling. This will hopefully work, but honestly the whole situation has gotten ridiculous—brewing is supposed to be fun, and sanitation is supposed to be something that you are careful, but not obsessive about.

Has anyone else battled a home yeast invasion before? If so, how did you deal with it?

I have obviously contributed to this by drinking the problem beers this last batch (and dumping contaminated yeast into the same sink that I need to use to run my immersion chiller); however, it seems that most people drink wild yeast contaminated beers, if they are palatable, presumably without serious consequence.

I suppose that I should:
1) Remove all bottles and equipment from my house and thoroughly nuke them with a bleach bath outside or throw them away
2) Sanitize all surfaces in my brew room (kitchen)
3) Try to chill/brew in an area other than my kitchen (this is logistically difficult)
4) Try to keep lids completely on everything at all times (this makes it impossible to check post-boil volumes, and so causes its own problems
5) Dump my most recent batch outside (despite the fact that it tastes fine at this point), to avoid perpetuating the cycle even more

Still, my beer needs O2, so I will need air in the brew. Air which has so far proven to be full of unwanted yeast.

Am I $&!*$%ed?

Suggestions? Similar stories?

Jason

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Old 01-09-2011, 07:30 PM   #2
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Let's go over what you could do without moving the brewery.

Develop a controlled experiment by trying to brew outside or in another room.

I think that you may be infecting at bottling or fermentation and not during the brew or chilling. I find it highly unlikely that leaving the top off the kettle could really integrate strains of lacto or wild sacchro into your brew. The fermentation area should be double-checked and make sure the fermentation bucket is sound.

Other ideas.

1. Sanitize all metals and use NO BLEACH. Just use Star-San or Iodophor. Run this though all your equipment that is metal. Run it twice through and scrub the pots very well. Make sure there are no small crevices because that is one good place to hide if you are bacteria or yeast.

2. Throw away all tubing and transfer medium. Lacto and Wild Yeast is tough to kill. In fact, it may be virtually impossible. Throw away the brew bucket and get a new one with a new bung. Sanitize all measuring equipment like thermometers and testing equipment.

3. Consider buying new bottles, but they can be sanitized very easily and rogue bacterium and yeast don't replicate well on the surface of glass. Yes, bleach will sanitize but you have to rinse. If you keep two or three bottles you already have then use new bottles, you can see if the new bottles contaminate. If so, then the bottles are not the source, probably.


4. Sanitize the kitchen to include ceiling and adjacent cabinets, etc. I would just use Lysol. Sanitize your hands with hand gel throughout the process.

Again, double check your fermentation area and equipment.
Good luck!

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Old 01-09-2011, 07:49 PM   #3
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Thanks for the fast advice. Appreciate the help! A few clarifications:

1) I have had contamination in both kegs and glass bottles (despite completely dismantling, scrubbing, and sanitizing my kegs and sanitizing and rinsing bottles)
2) I had contamination in the Moose Drool although it was fermented in Ecolox sanitized and rinsed glass
3) My last batch used Star San and a heat sanitized (pot of boiling water added and then swirled and left in closed bucket), plus Star San-ed bucket, a bucket which wasn't associated with any other contamination episodes (as well as all new hoses/auto-siphon; in addition, the bungs and yeast rehydration container (a closed mason jar) were boiled for 15 minutes.
4) I have had contamination now on batches sanitized with bleach and Ecolox (rinsed), as well as Star San.


I don't know... I am having serious difficulty blaming this on anything other than air transfer of yeast from the dumped bottles. : (

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Old 01-09-2011, 08:13 PM   #4
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I am not disputing the possibility of airborne contamination. I truly want this to stop because you should be having some fun, not this!

The really scientific method of finding out is to brew the exact same batch with two sets or more of everything. Yes, this is the pain. But, if you brew with new or DIFFERENT equipment, then you can rule out the equipment or rule IN the Airborne yeasties.

I was wondering if you had samples of the beer sent to a lab? You could have them check for Lacto or Brett. Do you have any fruit growing around your place? Maybe some grapes or apricots?

I guess an easier thing to do is move the brewery or just literally scrub the entire kitchen down. If you clean the kitchen, get the ceiling, fans, cupboards, etc etc.
I solution of 10% chlorine should be sufficient.

I do wish you luck! I am sorry this is going on!

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Old 01-09-2011, 10:24 PM   #5
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OK, I have a plan:

I am going to boil up a batch of starter wort and add it to 12 sterilized mason jars. Two I will leave capped as a control, and two I will open in each of five locations in my house: my kitchen sink/chilling area (the source of the contamination, I think), my bottling area, as well as my bathroom (an alternative area for chilling), outside, and my fermentation area. In each area I will leave one jar I will leave exposed to the air for 30 minutes (duplicating exposure during racking), and the other I will leave uncapped over night. I will then leave all jars to ferment (or hopefully not!) at room temp.

Assuming contamination, I will scrub the place and repeat the experiment until I get either clear results or prove that my place is permanently contaminated.

This won't rule out equipment as a SECOND source of contamination (if I get airborne results), but will allow me to rule out (and test after remedial action) my current working hypothesis, i.e., that I have introduced, through dumping contaminated bottles, yeast into the air/dust of my home.

Will update once the results of this experiment are in!

Thanks again for the feedback!

Jason

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Old 01-09-2011, 10:26 PM   #6
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What are you fermenting in? What are your fermentation temperatures? What is your water source? Do you use the same equipment to bottle and fill kegs (tubing, buckets, etc.)?

I struggle to believe that you have such an aggressive wild yeast in your house that it can compete in your beer against the large quantity of yeast you are pitching. I'm not saying it is impossible but there are a lot of other reasons why you are getting off flavors that is not related to wild yeast. I have done sour mashes, fermented with wild yeast and bottled wild yeast all in the same kitchen and on the same equipment without any problems or cross contamination and I have cooled batches in ice baths in the sink that have sat exposed for hours cooling down.

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Old 01-09-2011, 11:15 PM   #7
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ReverseApacheMaster:

What are you fermenting in? Mainly glass carboys, but also two different buckets.

What are your fermentation temperatures? Depends on what I am brewing, but mostly ca. 66 F, ramping up during final fermentation.

What is your water source? Tap water from three different homes. We sometimes dilute if OG is off, and previously weren't boiling, but the last batch was boiled, with no effect. (So that presumably isn't the source.)

Do you use the same equipment to bottle and fill kegs (tubing, buckets, etc.)? Nope. Have gone through three racking tubes, different buckets, etc.

I am struggling with believing it as well, and would welcome a more obvious source of contamination (poor sanitation, etc.), but so far, after the initial contamination from open chilling last year, the only common variable I can think of for when we get contamination (we've had far more successful batches) is a connection to that original bad two batches, e.g., at two points we dumped original bad bottles in the sink just before brewing off batches, and over Christmas we dumped numerous bottles from a batch that was contaminated (I believe) from those first batches before brewing my last (ironically titled) "Redemption Ale".

I was really clean the last time, which is what is worrying me (almost no airflow over wort post-boil).

It is yeast, I am 99.99% sure. The flavor is right, and progressive, but more importantly, bad batches continue slowly fermenting down to a very low gravity. (Also, in one batch, a version of Denny's RyePA, the un-pitched OG sample we took, which I forgot to throw out, started fermenting on its own after a day. The whole batch subsequently fermented down to smoky water.)

Anyway, I will try my experiment and see what happens.

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Old 01-09-2011, 11:26 PM   #8
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When you replaced all your tubing, did you also replace the auto siphon? How about stuff like your stoppers/bungs, gaskets?

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Old 01-09-2011, 11:43 PM   #9
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Weirdboy: Yes, sorry, I replaced the auto-siphon too. The last batch, I boiled my bung. The only other equipment it touched were the bucket (sanitized as noted above), and a freshly washed glass carboy that I transferred it to, the interior of which was literally opaque with Star San foam.

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Old 01-10-2011, 12:03 AM   #10
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I am still with Reverse Apache Master. I find it VERY unlikely that a strain of wild yeast would take over the colony. Of course planting some bait for the presence of yeast or bacteria would confirm this.

In order to find out the exact cause could be quite a process. I still think it is equipment as you have missed something in the process.

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