Off flavors - Sanitation and/or Temperature?
I'm new to brewing, I've done two batches, an amber and an IPA, both from brewers best. I've noticed similar off flavors in both batches, and I want to figure out what I need to do better for the next batch.
The first batch was an amber, and it had a little bit of a weird aftertaste that is hard to describe. Interestingly, this aftertaste seems to have intensified over time (it has now been almost 3 months since bottling) to the point where I am questioning whether the rest is worth drinking. I may keep it around for awhile since I understand time often helps, but I'm not very hopeful.
Notes from my brew day that might be important:
1) As it was my first brew, I didn't realize how much ice I needed to cool the wort, so the cooling process took about an hour using a cold water bath as opposed to an ice water bath.
2) I didn't stir the wort and the water I topped off with before pitching the yeast.
3) According to my thermostat, the house was 72F.
My next batch was an IPA that just finished bottle conditioning, so maybe more time will help it. However, it has a bit of a similar aftertaste to the amber, as well as a hint of soapiness.
Notes from brew day:
1) After stirring the wort, I somehow forgot to pitch the yeast, and only remembered about 6 hours later...
2) I left the beer in primary fermentation for about 10-12 weeks.
3) The temperature in my house during active fermentation was 72F, but probably fluctuated between 65 and 72F during the rest of the time.
Other notes regarding sanitation that might be important.
1) I fermented in old 6 gallon buckets that used to store grain (to be ground into flour, not used in brewing). I soaked the buckets in oxyclean free, and then sanitized with starsan before use.
2) Since I observed that oxiclean can be used to both clean fermentors as well as remove labels, I thought I'd kill two birds with one stone and remove labels from some bottles while cleaning. I used the same oxyclean solution in the fermentation bucket for a few days while I cycled some bottles with labels through to get the labels off. I did not visually observe any ill effects from this process, but I wonder if it contributed to the soapy flavor in the IPA.
So while I confess to making a few mistakes, some googling (most often landing on HBT) suggests that they may not be show stoppers. I've also read that extract beers have a certain twang to them, and I'm wondering if the off flavors I am experiencing are my fault (likely) or the extract.
What do I need to do for the next batch to ensure that I'm not getting these off flavors? Are my problems likely coming from poor sanitation and/or temperature control, which I gather are the two most likely contenders?
I am not sure which off flavor you have. I would find a way to monitor the actual temp of the wort while fermenting, the easiest solution are the stick on thermometers from fermometer. You should be fermenting an IPA around 65 to 70 ideally. Keep in mind that the yeast will create some extra heat in the wort. Fermenting in a house at 72 may mean fermentations as high as 75 to 78. Also, be sure to really rinse out the oxiclean so there is no residual then use the starsan.
Beyond that, you may have less off flavors develop if you have a stonger fermentation. Look into a method to aerate the wort when pitching yeast. You may look into making a 'yeast starter.' And finally do not rush the process. If you follow the minimum time guidelines for a recipe you will generally not give your yeast enough time to clean up other compounds left residual in the beer after the bulk of noticeable fermentation.
Lastly, be sure not to add any oxygen to the finished beer during the bottling process as you will create oxidation of beer flavors. This tendency with poor fermentations and a poor quality extract or old extract can be a pretty gnarly twangy concoction. If it isn't one of these issues then we may have to look at the recipes.
1. Get your fermentation temps under control.. even if the ambient temp is 72, the temperature inside your bucket could be much higher. I've heard up to 10 degrees but most likely just a few degrees.
2. Pitch sooner than later. The longer you wait, the more chance for bad stuff to get in. You may be fine, but.. you are risking it.
3. I don't think the long time in the primary is affecting you that much but what are you waiting for?
4. Plastic buckets can get scuffs/scrapes that can harbor bacteria etc and there may be residues from the labels, but I dont think it's a big deal. Make sure you rinse thoroughly and properly sanitize.
3) My wife hates the first week after I brew, because I turn the thermostat down to 66 and close the heat vent in the laundry room in the basement. :)
As for the soapy flavors, that ties back to the long primary time. John Palmer described this succinctly in How to Brew: "If you leave the beer in the primary fermentor for a relatively long period of time after primary fermentation is over... soapy flavors can result from the breakdown of fatty acids in the trub. Soap is, by definition, the salt of a fatty acid; so you are literally tasting soap."
A water bath, or swamp cooler is a great way to regulate temperature. In the winter I use an aquarium heater:
And in the summer ice keeps the temperature in check:
Alright, I'm gonna grab a new better bottle, make sure to carefully clean it, keep the temperature down, and try not to do anything stupid. Hopefully the next batch turns out better! Thanks for the help!
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