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Home Brew Forums > Home Brewing Beer > General Techniques > Off flavor/smell that will NOT GO AWAY. HELP!
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Old 06-29-2008, 05:43 PM   #1
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Default Off flavor/smell that will NOT GO AWAY. HELP!

Hello all... new poster here. I've only been brewing for about 6 months and I've encountered an off-taste I can't seem to get rid of.

My first two batches came out fine with no off taste. The 5 or 6 since then have all had the same flaw, which is like a burnt plastic type of smell and flavor. I do mini mashes with bottled water with a 2 week primary and a 2 week secondary both in glass carboys and then bottle/keg. When racking to secondary, the smell is not yet noticeable, but when it is time to bottle, there it is.

The first time I got this flavor, I thought it was either wild yeast contamination or unclean equipment. So the next time I brewed, I cleaned all equipment thoroughly with oxyclean and sanitized with starsan (which I was doing before, but was especially attentive to this time). Also cleaned all deposits off kettle with PBW. I also cleaned all surfaces and floor of my kitchen so that that was also spotless. Flaw was still there at bottling time. Decided to switch to kegging.

The next couple times I thought maybe there was contamination in either my aqarium aeration equipment (I stupidly dunked the entire thing in sanitizer, getting the filter wet) or in my racking equipment. So I boiled the stone and bought a new filter and hose for aeration. Thought that there might be a scratch inside the siphon hose, so I bought new hose (which I upgraded to silicone hose) as well as a new auto siphon and racking cane. Also made sure to immediatley dunk in water after use and then to soak in warm oxyclean to prevent deposits from forming. Off flavor still there.

Up to this time I had not been using a yeast starter, so thought maybe underpitching was causing problems. Made a 700ml yeast starter for this batch, and pitched that. Also turned off AC so there would be no drafts at pitching time. Also turned off AC when it was time to rack. Lo and behold, the off flavor is once again there at kegging.

I honestly don't know how I could improve my cleaning/sanitation, short of a cleanroom. Wort is cooled quickly with combination ice bath and immersion chiller (which is boiled in the wort for last 10 minutes). These were all different recipes with different yeasts from a very reputable homebrew store. Yeast starters were all nice with a 1/2" of krausen. All fermentations were vigorous with quick start times and 2" krausen. None of the recipes were Belgians (save this last one which was a Belgian wit) or hefeweizens with funky yeast strains.

There are two problems that I can identify, however. The first is that the first few times I transferred the cooled wort to carboy I did it by by straining through a screen. This immediatley clogged with trub and I had to scrape it out with a sanitized spoon, which made the process take a little long, possibly exposing to airborne contamination. I then eliminated the screen and dumped trub and everything else in primary, which is probably foolish since it eliminates the gains from the hot and cold break. This next time I will do a whirlpool and then siphon to primary.

The second problem is fermentation temperature. The first two brews, which were fine, were fermented when the temperature outside was relativley cool. These fermented at about 65 degrees ambient temp. As it has warmed up they have been fermenting at a steady 73 degrees ambient temperature. I understand that inside the carboy the temp is probably higher, but is it TOO HIGH? Could too high of a ferment temp cause this off flavor?

Anyway, thanks for reading such a long post, and if you have any ideas/observations/questions I would love to hear them. Looks like a great community with a lot of knowledge!

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Old 06-29-2008, 05:49 PM   #2
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Your technique sounds good. Could you describe the off flavor and smell better? Burnt plastic is kind of hard for me to place. Would you elaborate a bit more? Maybe medicinal? Burnt like burnt sugars?
What kind of extract are you using?

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Old 06-29-2008, 05:50 PM   #3
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Does the plastic taste like a band-aid?

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Old 06-29-2008, 06:10 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by YooperBrew View Post
Your technique sounds good. Could you describe the off flavor and smell better? Burnt plastic is kind of hard for me to place. Would you elaborate a bit more? Maybe medicinal? Burnt like burnt sugars?
What kind of extract are you using?
The off flavor is kind of hard to describe and it doesn't really match up too well with the descriptions in my brew books. The first time it was more burnt plasticy, slightly medicinal or MAYBE electrical fire if you were really stretching it, which made me think wild yeast. The other times the burnt aspect was not really noticeable but it was still plasticy.
The best way I can describe it is if you have ever gotten a new fridge with a water dispenser and the first few times you drink out of it it has that slightly plastic taste. It is similar to that. I thought is possibly could be plastic contamination, but I replaced all the plastic (auto siphon, hose and moved to a metal racking cane) the wort came in contact with and the flavor is still there.
Not burnt sugar.
I have an electric stovetop so the boil is probably not as vigorous as it could be, but it is still a nice rolling boil.
Extract is light Liquid Malt purchased from a homebrew store that does very big volume and turns over quickly.
Also do not use any chlorine/bleach in my cleaning.
If I was forced to make a guess, I would say it is either phenolic or solvents, which is quite a wide net, I realize.
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Old 06-29-2008, 06:12 PM   #5
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Does the plastic taste like a band-aid?
No, not really.
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Old 06-29-2008, 10:19 PM   #6
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It sounds like your set-up is clean, my first shot would be the temperature control, depending on the yeast 75F+ might be causing some off flavours. Burnt rubber would be a new one for me though. I would use a plastic bucket swap cooler to get the fermentation to the ideal range for the yeast.
Also you may want to look into late extract additions, it may be that your wort is very thick and your scorching the malt extract. Hopefully you can get a handle on this and good luck.

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Old 06-29-2008, 10:36 PM   #7
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I'm thinking temp control is the issue as well...I'm wondering does the off flavor fade with long bottle conditioning, like if it's there @ 3 weeks, has it faded after 6 weeks?

We had an unseasonable hot snap toward the end of winter, the day after I had brewed and I hadn't set up my warm weather swamp cooler setup...Well I cane home to find it 84 degrees in my place and the ferm strip reading high 70's. The beer had sort of a plasticky bubblegummy sort of flavor @ bottling, and not too much better @ 3 weeks...I'm at about 6 weeks in the bottle and it is now pretty much gone...and the beer is actually quite nice.

Not as nice as a temp controlled beer mind you, but it is drinkable.

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Old 06-30-2008, 02:17 AM   #8
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If it ends up that temp isn't the issue I would try just using plain ol tap water. If you worry about the chlorine, boil ALL of it. You might be able to drive most of it out with a good boil. Clean and sanitize the fermenter and airlock first then add 2-3 gallons of the boiled tap water. Add the wort, then top it off 5 gallons with some more boiled tap water. If you say it tastes like plastic or phenol like, my first thought is all the talk of phenols leaching from plastic bottles.

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Old 06-30-2008, 02:49 AM   #9
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That "hot electric" reference leads me to metallic...

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Old 06-30-2008, 03:15 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by homebrewer_99 View Post
That "hot electric" reference leads me to metallic...
I'm guessing this is not the cause.....I once dropped a very fine mesh steel screen into my wort. I decided not to fish it out. The beer smelled metallic almost tasted like blood. I never found the mesh screen. I swear it dissolved into my wort. The flavor eventually went away.

Another off flavor I've had has come from bottled water. When I top off with extracts I usually use Wal-Mart spring water (packaged in 1 gal jugs). One time I got plastic tasting water, so as a result my beer tasted like plastic. SWMBO alerted me to this since I used a partial jug. The plastic taste fades with time.

I found out that plastic water jugs stored in direct sun light have this leached plastic taste. I always remind SWMBO not to buy water on her lunch break as the sun shining into the car will ruin the water.

BTW - What kind of sanitizer are you using? - Edit: Oh Starsan.

Are you diluting properly?
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