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Old 12-05-2011, 05:32 PM   #1
jeerkahn
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Default Problem with 3 batches so far...

I've brewed about 15 extract batches with no issues, until the last 3. And I am curious if anyone here might be able to help me nail down what might be the issue. This is my first run in with bad batches.
The taste is hard to describe, slightly skunky but I can’t see any visible sign of infection, and nothing as pronounced as heinken in the sun or anything like that. It’s hard to describe since I’ve never tasted a “bad” homebrew so I’ve got nothing to work from.

A quick history:
Batch 1: Blue Moon Clone extract with White labs Wit yeast from my LHBS. Fermented for 3 weeks in primary. Airlock was bottled water used to brew.
Batch 2: Bourbon Barrel Porter extract from Midwestsupplies with White Labs English Ale. Fermented for 3 weeks in primary and 4 in secondary carboy. Airlock was bottled water used to brew.
Batch 3: Blue Moon Clone extract from Austin Homebrew with White labs Wit. Fermented for 2 weeks in primary. Airlock was star san mix

The first 2 batches had the same taste only extremely pronounced, the 3rd has the taste only less pronounced and it finishes like Blue Moon, almost exactly the same after taste as Blue Moon from a bottle.

Equipment has been different for all 3 batches. After the first 2 bad ones I got rid of my cleaner, fermenting bucket, spoon, tubes/hoses, even used it as an excuse to step up from my turkey fryer to a Penrose (which I’m loving btw).
First 2 were cleaned with oxyclean and rinsed, which I thought was the issue, so the 3rd was cleaned with PBW and all 3 were sanitized with starsan.

The water I’ve used for all 18 brews was Primo bottled 5 gallon jugs from the store, and everything is fermenting in my basement at a pretty constant 69 degrees.
With the only constants being the water and my basement, the only thing I can think that might be contributing to the bad batches is that I believe my central heat was turned on for these 3, as well as some of the older ones.

The taste and smell is there when I take it out of the fermenter so I’m not thinking it’s hoses or anything going into the kegs.

Is it possible that even though my fermenters have positive pressure (lid on the fermenter is sealed and definitely at a higher pressure than the air in the basement) dust/mold or something else is getting through my airlock to change the taste of the beer so drastically?
It’s really all I can think of that is causing off flavors.

My wife just had our second baby and I had hoped to have the Blue Moon clone ready for her to drink, and the Bourbon Barrel for me for the new addition but it failed, hence the second batch of blue moon.

I’m frustrated to the point of not wanting to try my first all grain Milk Stout I have sitting there ready to go for fear of wasting yet another batch.

If it is related to air quality, I don’t have any place else to let it ferment, any options on trying to negate the issue?

Maybe place the fermenter in a trash bag to prevent outside air from getting in? Would that even work, since less O2 would get to the fermenter?

Any advice would be appreciated, Thanks.



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Old 12-05-2011, 05:40 PM   #2
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Sorry if i missed it, but Are your fermenters shielded from light during fermentation?


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Old 12-05-2011, 05:41 PM   #3
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Can you describe the flavor any more? Is there an accompanying aroma?

Are you tasting at every stage of the process? When does this flavor start appearing?
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Old 12-05-2011, 05:49 PM   #4
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you will not get outside air into the fermenter unless you are cooling the wort and have negative pressure on the airlock.

What water do you use to mix your sanitizer? If its tap water with alot of chlorine that might be an issue.

The other issue may be your 69 degree ambient temp is making your beer ferment in the mid to upper 70s if you get an aggressive fermentation.

What about your keg cleaning procedure? Did you happen to reuse the same raking cane?
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Old 12-05-2011, 06:22 PM   #5
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Wow, replies already, I love this site.

Fermenters are not in direct sunlight at all, there is sunlight in the room. I put a sheet between the sunlight and the fermenter (it helps having the basement photo studio with back drop poles.)

Fermentation is not what I'd call violent by any stretch, a couple of bubbles in the airlock every second for the first 2-3 days and then slowing down to nothing visible after 5-6 days.

There is definitely an aroma. Again it's hard for me to describe without a frame of reference, but I'd call it slightly musky and slightly brackish, but I've never smelled anything to compare it to. With the last batch there are hints of the Blue Moon flavors coming through the off scent.

I am tasting every time I take a gravity reading, so at roughly 10 days and again at 14. It does get worse the longer the brew ferments from what I can tell. Whether it's from contamination or over worked yeast I couldn't tell. I'm only pitching one vial in both of these, like I have in the past for all my brews without any adverse results previously.

The water for the sanitizer is tap water, which is hard water, I had assumed starsan was great enough to handle it. It the same water I have used for the past 18 months without any issue. It's possible the city changed some chemistry over time. Their water report doesn't reflect it though.

Keg cleaning procedure is exactly like all other cleaning, same chemicals and tap water for cleaning. The issue occurred before kegging though.

I have used 2 different racking canes. I literally bought a second set of everything for the 3rd batch and used everything new after cleaning and sanitizing.

If the water is hard I thought that the PBW and starsan would negate any of those issues. Which is entirely my ignorance.

I'm happy to know it most likely isn't an air quality issue, since that would be the most difficult to fix, and reaffirmed I remember high school physics classes.
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Old 12-05-2011, 06:26 PM   #6
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One follow up question as well

If I've already kegged, carbed and chilled the brew is there any point in letting it sit for a while to see if it gets better? If it's a water issue is it a moot point since it's only going to get as good as what I put in it?

Thanks again to everyone.
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Old 12-05-2011, 07:14 PM   #7
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It can't hurt to let it condition for awhile if you have the time and the room to do it.

If you are opening the fermenter to take samples it could in fact be an airborne contaminant though this is not as likely.

Where do you brew at and do your yeast pitch? Are you handling grain anywhere near the finished and cooled wort before pitching?
How do you sample and test the gravity?

Does your new fermenter have a spigot in it?
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Old 12-05-2011, 07:30 PM   #8
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A musty odor/flavor would indicate oxidation.

I guess I don't know what "brackish" smells like, unless you mean like a shrimp-like flavor in which case that would be either DMS or maybe some other sulfur compounds. Do you get any sort of rotten egg smell? For DMS it is likely caused by a short boil, a non-vigorous boil, poor/slow fermentation, or infection. For other sulfur compounds, that is almost definitely an infection or possibly you have contaminated water.

DMS is actually a possiblity for the blue moon since traditionally witbiers use a good amount of Pils malt, which is higher in SMM (the precursor to DMS) than other base malts and requires a longer, vigorous boil, 90 minutes minimum usually. Also, combined with the underpitch you are doing, you'll get some lag time which could definitely produce DMS. In fact we just had a sample from a commercial brewpub last night with a low-moderate level of DMS (more of a cooked corn, though) where the brewer said that the yeast wasn't in the best shape, and they had a 48 hour lag time before fermentation really kicked off.


Are you doing a full boil, or topping off the fermenter post-boil?
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Old 12-05-2011, 07:34 PM   #9
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Are you brewing in an aluminum pot?

Also I have made 50 or so extracts and I have never opened it to check anything. I leave it 1-2 weeks in the primary and then it gets kegged, carb'd and drunk. All turn out spectacular.
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Old 12-05-2011, 08:26 PM   #10
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I am doing full boils, 2 were in aluminum and one was in stainless. I did have to top off about 1/2 gallon of the bottled water due to an overly active boil and not calculating boil off on the new pot correctly.

I brew in my garage (cleaned and where I've always brewed) with no grain around when I'm cooling and pitching. I test the gravity with a cleaned and sanitized turkey baster and hydrometer tube. I switched both hydrometer and turkey baster between batches 2 and 3.

My fermenters are Ale Pails with no spigot, just a normal bucket.

I will most likely let things sit for 2 weeks before opening it up from now on, I was just anxious to see if this last batch was going bad or not on the 3rd batch.

This last batch very well could have been DMS related (Had to make a quick google biological chemistry tour to learn about that since it was new to me.) It was only a 30 minute boil, which was covered the majority of the time due to brewing outside in high winds. There was no sulfur/egg smell however.

I'm not sure that is the issue for the first batches since they were 60-90 minute boils and cooled in about 20 minutes down to 75 degrees. I even switched immersion chillers between batch 1 and 2 with the same taste in both batches.

It does generally take a day or so for the fermentation to take off. Which I"m sure isn't helping if I'm under pitching, I'm just not sure why I'm seeing any issues now when I didn't have any in the previous batches, even previous trappist and witbeers.

I'm grateful for all the help and will give more details as soon as I can get to the keg and take another taste.

I'm really starting to wonder if it might not be the water I'm using for cleaning and sanitation. It seems to be the one constant on the ingredient side, either that or they changed something in the bottled water that I have been using for the wort. The last seems unlikely though.


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