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Old 09-29-2013, 02:45 PM   #1
gbuttar
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Default Could use help with persistent infection

I'm a new brewer, having trouble with a persistent infection. Here's a quick summary:

I have brewed 5 to date, my first turned out fine (not super, but not ruined). Since, then, I have a bug (from what I've read seems like lacto) in all of my beers. Here are the symptoms:

-3 of them developed a thin translucent to whitish skin on the surface well after fermentation completed (all achieved FG with no changes) which breaks into pieces when disturbed
-the first three of them have tasted thin and very sour (not entirely undrinkable, but a very distinct sour taste that overwhelms all other flavors). My current beer (bottling today) still tastes fine (was only in primary, no secondary, dry hopped after three weeks, cold crashed for two days, shortly after cold crash the film became evident and now is very obvious - breaks apart & clings to wall of carboy when I tilt the fermenter).

What I've done so far (for this latest brew bottling today)
-ALL plastics have been replaced (where all new from my LHBS for this last brew)
-nuked my glass carboy (two soaks in hot water & oxyclean - 1 full soop, a 24 hr soak in fairly concentrated bleach - about 1 cup/gallon) followed by a second soak with fresh bleach, rinsed well, used star san with distilled water for final sanitation before use. I got pH strips to check the star san, strip appears to indicate 2.8 pH
-boiled (completely submerged) my starter flask in my brew pot for 20 mins
-boiled (completely submerged) all my stainless steel equipment

My brew process (in excruciatingly great detail):
-I clean/disinfect my brewing area (kitchen) prior to doing anything brew-related
-For my starter, I boiled my DME in a clean pot for 15 min. I filled my recently boiled flask with star san with the stir bar inside. At end of boil, I dumped the star san from the flask, placed it in a large pot with room temp water in it. I then poured the still boiling-hot starter wort into the flask, covered with sanitized foil, poked a thermometer through (boiled and sanitized), and then add ice to the water in the pot. When at 70 F, I took my yeast (wyeast smack pack) which was smacked 3 hours prior, and was soaking in star san, tore it open with sterile gloves, and poured it into the flask. I put fresh sanitized foil on top, and then place it on my stir plate (located in a clean chest freezer which I went over with bleach before this last brew).
-I used a home-made immersion chiller which I pre-boiled, and then placed into the brew pot for the last 15 mins of the boil. I used hop bags for my hops. I know this isn't best practice flavor wise, but I kept the pot boiling for an extra 5 minutes after removing the hops bags. I also sprayed the top of my IC with star san (in case the steam didn't properly sanitize)
-While cooling, I left my pot lid off and stirred the wort around the chiller. The spoon I used was the same one I used during the boil. I kept a separate pot of boiling water going on the stove, and before using the spoon for stirring, I scrubbed it clean, boiled for a few minutes, and then stuck in a bucket of star san. Thermometer I used was also boiled/sanitized before putting it in. I also (as an extra precaution) got a sterile mask, sleeves and gloves from my girlfriend (she works in a pharmaceutical manufacturing facility). I put these on right after taking the pot off the stove. It took about 15-20 minutes to cool the wort. I then dumped the star san rinse out of my glass carboy (recently bleach bombed), put in a stainless steel funnel (recently boiled and then placed directly into star san solution) and poured the cooled wort into the funnel.
-I put sanitized foil over the top of the carboy, and then shook it to aerate.
-I then poured in top off water. This was not boiled, but it was store bought (deer park distilled water), and I sprayed the tops of the jugs with star san before pouring
-I swirled this all together, and then took my OG reading with a stainless steel sampler (again, recently boiled and then placed in a star-san bucket until use)
-I pitched the starter directly into the fermenter (no crash cooling, dumped it all in).
-I then put on a new carboy cap/three piece airlock, and then filled the airlock with vodka. The entire thing was assembled wet submerged in star san.

Fermentation began with a few hours, very vigorous.

During fermentation this time, I did start to get blow-off through the airlock. I quickly boiled some silicone tubing, and then dunked it in star san, and attached to the carboy cap (all done while still wet/submerged again). The tubing ran into a 1 gallon jug filled with star san solution. While making the transfer, I covered the carboy with sanitized foil. After about 10 days, I put the three piece back on using the same basic system.

My FG sample was taken with the stainless steel baster (not boiled again, but submerged in star san before use). The sample was not returned to the carboy.

I dry hopped after three weeks. I weighed the frozen pellets in a sanitized bowl, and added to the carboy with a sanitized spoon (no bag). These were from a bulk bin at my LHBS, so it's possible (likely in fact) that they were touched by unsanitized hands/scoops etc. previously.

I appear to be getting the same bug in each one (tastes/looks exactly the same), although my carboy (which was bleach bombed) and my stainless spoon (boiled) where the only pieces of equipment that are the same. I initially suspected my apartment, but I moved between brews 2 & 3, so having excessive airborne bacteria in both seems to be a stretch.

Holy novella Batman! I apologize for the lengthy post, but I wanted to be thorough, because gaps in my general sanitation methods seem to be the most obvious answer. I would greatly appreciate any advice regarding anything I may have missed/could do better. My current suspects (although all seem unlikely):

1) Airborne (I moved between brews so doesn't seem likely, I do have a central air system which I've heard can circulate bacteria). Should I not be aerating by shaking the carboy? Should I siphon instead of pour from kettle to carboy?

2) Glass carboy (the only piece of equipment I have not replaced, could anything survive bleaching? Should I try sterilizing in the oven?)

3) Top off water (I imagine deer park sanitation practices must be better than mine, so I can't really see this being the cause, and don't see the benefit of boiling it, as I would more likely risk contaminating it myself). Any better systems other than full boil/smaller batch?

All other suspects would have to be all isolated instances, which, given the fact that visible infections are supposed to be quite rare, seems unlikely (ex. one time took longer to cool, the dry hops in this most recent batch etc.)

Again, any advice/ideas would be greatly appreciated. I'm kinda grasping at straws here.


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Old 09-29-2013, 03:53 PM   #2
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I had several batches infected on me because of my stir bar. The teflon coating got cracked somehow and the infection inside came out in my starters. The crack was barely visible but the rust coming out of it gave it away.


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Old 09-29-2013, 03:57 PM   #3
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Just finished reading your post. Top up water could be the culprit. It is unlikely, but it is possible. If you don't want to screw with boiling it then you could try RO water from the store as top up water next time.
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Old 09-29-2013, 04:07 PM   #4
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I get a crazy image of you with all the sterile gear...you go about 30 times more clean/cautiously than me and I have not yet had an infected batch...I will say I use dry yeast so not doing starters. All I can think is start changing one thing at a time to see where its coming from and do 1gal batches so not ruining so much beer...I would first start simply by doing a batch with dry yeast, no starter. If that comes out fine, then u know its something w/ starter. I would also keep from bulk hops from LHBS...go with the 1oz packaged, at least w/ dry hopping (wouldn't matter w/ boil...)...
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Old 09-29-2013, 04:39 PM   #5
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Wow. Simply wow.

Hang in there, brother. I have read your post close to 3 times and I am at a loss. Your process is a good one. You have clearly put a lot of effort into cleanliness-- sometimes going too far in my opinion but I totally understand!

I am unfamiliar with dry-hopping. After quickly reading up (man, I really want to help you) I think your most likely culprit could be the hops. Check out this article on the topic. Under the pros and cons section, the author alludes to the possibility of bacteria being present due to the lack of them being boiled.

Second, your top-off water. It is the only other variable. I recently watched a show that explained definitions used in store-bought bottled water. For example, in order for a water to be called "spring water," is has to come from an underground source. Not bottled at the source, just that the source was down stream from the spring. Basically, it could come from a natural spring, run right through a port-a-potty, and still be legally "spring water." I am paraphrasing, of course. My municipal water (near Omaha, Nebraska) has a disclaimer that it could be harmful to small pets. I don't know, unlikely I guess but knowledge is power.

You have got to be extremely frustrated- I feel your pain. If I were you, I would go get a 6-pack of good beer from the store and take a break. Relax. Your practices are sound and you are very clean- no one will question that!

When you try again, I would skip the dry hoping or use hops that come in one of those nitrogen-purged, oxygen-safe packets. Just to be safe, boil your top-off water.

Probably not the most helpful reply but at a minimum know that I feel for you, bro. There is a ton of knowledge here on this forum and I am sure help is on the way!

Hang in there and let us know if that works for you when you try again.

-Ritalin
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Old 09-29-2013, 04:41 PM   #6
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You certainly have gone through a lot trying to isolate the problem.

The only major item that you don't have control of is the hops. If the hops are kept in an open bin, and they are grinding grain in the same building, I would suspect infected hops.

Try purchasing pellet hops in sealed foil packets for your next brew.
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Old 09-29-2013, 05:17 PM   #7
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You're really doing too much sanitation. I know you're trying to eliminate any source, but it makes it also very hard. Put you efforts where they count:
Anything that gets boiled does not need to be sanitized. Everything the cooled wort and beer touches does, and do it well.

Nothing could have possibly dropped into your cooling or cooled wort? Like drips or dust from a stove hood? Turn them off. When handling yeast or open fermentors, turn the air off.

Quote:
Originally Posted by gbuttar View Post
I dry hopped after three weeks....These were from a bulk bin at my LHBS, so it's possible (likely in fact) that they were touched by unsanitized hands/scoops etc. previously.
There may have been lacto in those hops or some other bug. Grain is loaded with them and milling puts dust in the air....

Try not to handle grain, like measuring or weighting, anywhere around (fermenting) beer or cooled wort for the same reasons.

You should brew a nice ale, in your usual way, but use a packet of rehydrated dry yeast to eliminate potential infections coming from starters. Don't dry hop, and if you do, use hops from sealed pre-packaged bags.
You could do a smaller batch, like 2.5 gallons, but that leaves a lot of airspace in your fermentor. No need to use secondaries, unless you need very long conditioning/aging times or add fruits or other bulky adjuncts.

Hope you solve the problem.
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Old 09-29-2013, 06:14 PM   #8
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Hi,

I think you have a wonderfully anal cleaning regiment. I am agreeing with everyone else. My one thought about your central a/c is: is it running when you are doing your brewery work. Also the smack packs don't really need to be added to a starter. If you taste your beer at every step in the process, that will help uncover where things are going wrong. Ie if it tastes good going from primary to secondary you know your good there. Secondary to bottles/kegs etc. then you can rule out a ton of possibilities. I would stop using the spring water for starters. God and the company only know what is in there. Also make sure there is absolutely NO residual bleach in your carboys or another equipment before racking your beer into it. I wouldn't worry about pouring the still hot wort into your fermenter that will help airate the wort which is good for the yeast. That should be the last time you do it in the process. Rack into everything else using tubing all the way down to the bottom of the fermenter or bottling bucket. You don't want any more air at this point. It could lead to contamination. I hope this helps. Good luck

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Old 09-29-2013, 09:45 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kev View Post
Hi,

I think you have a wonderfully anal cleaning regiment. I am agreeing with everyone else. My one thought about your central a/c is: is it running when you are doing your brewery work. Also the smack packs don't really need to be added to a starter. If you taste your beer at every step in the process, that will help uncover where things are going wrong. Ie if it tastes good going from primary to secondary you know your good there. Secondary to bottles/kegs etc. then you can rule out a ton of possibilities. I would stop using the spring water for starters. God and the company only know what is in there. Also make sure there is absolutely NO residual bleach in your carboys or another equipment before racking your beer into it. I wouldn't worry about pouring the still hot wort into your fermenter that will help airate the wort which is good for the yeast. That should be the last time you do it in the process. Rack into everything else using tubing all the way down to the bottom of the fermenter or bottling bucket. You don't want any more air at this point. It could lead to contamination. I hope this helps. Good luck

Cheers
Kev
Another vote on stopping to use "Spring Water" directly from the jug. Top up with boiled and cooled water that's been kept sanitary, to eliminate that as a contamination source.

Don't fill your carboy with hot wort (or water). Thermal stress may become too much and crack it. Luke warm is fine, but then it takes a long time to cool down unless you add ice water for top up. Sanitary water that is, of course.

And although the jury seems to be out again on hot side aeration, I would not splash hot wort, for all security. But aeration/oxygenation of cooled wort is good for your yeast. Again in "sanitary" fashion.
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Old 09-29-2013, 09:56 PM   #10
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I was hoping to find a definitive answer because I too has 3 infected batches after 6 good batches. i guess I will replace the buckets and tubing. Swapping buckets get expensive. I might go to glass or stainless


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