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Old 05-25-2010, 01:58 AM   #1
patrick767
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Default What went wrong with my strawberry batches?

(sorry for the length, just being thorough. This was my first attempt with fruit added other than JOAM and it didn't go well.)

Last fall I started three one gallon batches of mead/metheglin. I racked them as needed but other only just recently got around to bottling.

All three batches used the same locally purchased batch of honey (I had a gallon of it).
All three batches used the same yeast, White Lab Sweet Mead.
All were started on Sept 1, 2009.

Batch 1 is a plain mead w/ 3 pounds of honey. It was racked on 9/27 then left alone. It absolutely refused to clarify completely. Some very fine yeast particles continued to be suspended even into May of this year. I added some Bentonite and it cleared up. Bottled. It's simple, but sweet and good. Nice honey flavor. Definitely ready to drink as is.

Batch 2 - Started with 3 pounds of honey but on 9/27 I racked it onto 2 pounds of strawberries. The berries were fresh from the store, rinsed off, and put in the freezer for a couple hours, then mashed a bit and added directly to the mead.

Batch 3 - 2.5 lbs of honey and 2 lb of strawberries in primary. These would have been a different batch of strawberries than those added to secondary in batch 2. Bought at different times. Same prep for the strawberries. On 9/27 I racked it only another pound of strawberries.

Even during fermentation the one with strawberries in primary (batch 3) had me concerned about a rubbery, sort of band aid aroma coming off of it, but I hoped that would clear up in time. Also both batches were a nightmare to clarify and some strawberry remains are still visible even after repeated racking, etc. I give up on that. I've lost too much of the batches already.

I have a glass of batch 2 in front of me now. It's nearly 9 months since these were first started. It still smells like some sort of rubbery or band aid type aroma. There's no strawberry smell and really no honey smell. It's not very sweet as though that sweet mead yeast ate up far more of the sugars than it did in the plain mead batch did, but it's not hot. It just tastes and smells bad. Basically it's crap. Drain pour material.

Batch 3 smells the same way, so I highly doubt it's any better.

What happened here? All equipment was carefully sterilized even though I know the risk of infection is low given honey's natural sterility. Both batches that got strawberries though, no matter when they were added (primary or secondary) came out lousy. Very disappointing. I love strawberries but am in no hurry to try to brew with them again. That off smell from fermentation never did go away, but the good flavors of honey and strawberry did.



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Old 05-25-2010, 04:27 PM   #2
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It sounds like you developed some sulfur odors with the strawberry batches. Do you happen to know the starting and final gravity of each of the batches? What temperature was maintained for the batches? Were any nutrients used?

One issue when using fruit is that prolonged contact with fruit pulp can give off odors. That is one reason winemakers will rack off the gross lees within 24/48 hours in many cases.



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Old 05-25-2010, 07:04 PM   #3
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It doesn't smell like sulfur though, at least not to me. Sorry, I don't know the gravities. Temperature would have been right around 70 degrees. A generic yeast nutrient from the brewing store was added (I say generic because they bought in bulk and sell it in plain, clear plastic bags).

The same honey, yeast, and nutrient were used in all three batches. The two with strawberries are bad. The plain honey one is fine.

The fruit was in there for weeks, so much longer than 24-48 hours. But then I hadn't any descriptions here where people left there fruit in for only a day or two.

Unfortunately it's not just a lingering bad aroma though. It's the flavor. It tastes like it smells... bad. I poured out most of last night's glass.

Edit: I did leave more space in the carboys after racking than I should have. I could have sworn I'd searched here about carboy space before and found inconsistent responses as to whether it really mattered. Now I see a first page thread asserting that it is very important to top up.

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Old 05-25-2010, 08:43 PM   #4
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If it smell like wet cardboard, then yes, topping up would have been a good idea. Fruit batches are MUCH more prone to oxidative damage than traditional meads. You can also wind up with acetic acid bacteria with too much air exposure and that can create the smell of nail polish remover (or vinegar).

I'm still not quite certain about the smell you are getting. If it is coming from sulfur, swirling a glass with a shiny copper (real copper - pre 1982) penny, or copper wire may reduce the odor.

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Old 05-25-2010, 09:27 PM   #5
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To me the aroma resembles that of the rubber stoppers. Not quite the same, but I'm definitely not getting sulfur out of it. Like I said though, it's not just the aroma. It tastes bad too. The strawberries are nowhere to be found and there isn't even much honey, if any, noticeable. Maybe it is some kind of bacteria though it struck fast if so. The one with strawberries in primary was starting to smell that way pretty early in the fermentation. The carboy was nearly full at that time. I had to dump a little off because it was in danger of blowing its top.

At any rate, both strawberry batches are garbage. I'm probably going to end up tossing them out. What a waste. Just trying to figure it out so as to avoid a repeat.

update: The guy who runs the local home brewing shop thinks my problem was bacteria that may have been there when I bought the fruit. He said the only surefire way to avoid that with fresh fruit is to cook it. That surprised me as I haven't seen anyone on the forums here, and lots of people work with various fruits, mention a need to cook it first.

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Old 05-26-2010, 12:54 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by patrick767 View Post
To me the aroma resembles that of the rubber stoppers. Not quite the same, but I'm definitely not getting sulfur out of it.
The smell of burnt rubber can come from sulfur containing mercaptans that will be bound by copper.
Quote:
Originally Posted by patrick767 View Post
He said the only surefire way to avoid that with fresh fruit is to cook it.
Nonsense!
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Old 05-26-2010, 05:12 AM   #7
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The band aid/medicinal smell is a dead give away, it sounds like phenols they can come from a bacterial infection, Brettanomyces or if you cleaned with bleach and didn't rinse well enough.

Fresh fruit doesn't need to be cooked, but some kind of sanitizing is helpful.

If you're adding it to the primary put one crushed campden tablet per gallon and let sit over night before adding yeast.

If you add fruit to the secondary, you can soak it in water with some campden then rack onto that or drain and just use the fruit.

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Old 05-26-2010, 10:51 AM   #8
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Yeah Pimento got it right. a bacterial infection is pretty easy to get due to a small mistake in the sanitation process.

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Old 05-27-2010, 01:10 AM   #9
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Well, I was careful to sanitize all the equipment. I use a no rinse sanitizer, so it's relatively idiot proof. Unfortunately, like I said, it was both gallon batches that had strawberries in them. It seems clear that the berries themselves were the problem as the plain mead came out fine. So use campden anytime I'm using fresh fruit? I have some campden now, but I didn't when I first started those batches. I didn't realize it was such a problem. It's certainly not something one worries about when stuffing an orange into a batch of JAOM.

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Old 05-27-2010, 01:54 AM   #10
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It's one of those things you can get away with 9 out of 10 times, but that one time you don't is really annoying. I normally sanitize my juice with campden for 24 hrs anyway, so it's not a big deal.

Here are a couple links to sanitizing for secondary, it seems that some do heat their fruit gently.
http://www.homebrewtalk.com/f13/adding-fruit-secondary-how-sanitize-fruit-5084/
http://www.homebrewtalk.com/f14/campden-tablets-sanitize-fruit-116972/

Since you have had an infection, be sure to carefully sanitize any equipment that came into contact with it, since it will have larger concentrations of bacteria than normal.



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