Infection taking over and I'm at my wits end

Homebrew Talk - Beer, Wine, Mead, & Cider Brewing Discussion Forum

Help Support Homebrew Talk:

mcleanmj

Well-Known Member
Joined
Oct 8, 2012
Messages
156
Reaction score
43
Location
Halifax
I've been brewing since 2012. I've done 100+ batches and I'm very happy with the beers I make. For years I never had any infection issues. Then a few months ago I brewed an ESB. Fermentation went great, hit proper FG, and the beer tasted perfect on bottling day. I bottled it and within a couple weeks it was obvious that every bottle was infected. It was drinkable at first but not for long. Unfortunately I bottled two other batches around the same time (before I was aware of the problem) and those ended up infected too.

I threw out my bottling bucket, hoses, and bottling wand. I bleached or boiled everything I wanted to keep. I soaked my bottles in bleach, scrubbed them, and ran them through the dishwasher on high heat. I bought a new fermenter, etc.

I then made a pale ale, and everything went smooth, no infection and the beer came out great. Then I did a hefeweizen and it too came out great with no issues. I thought I was in the clear. I've got some events coming up so I then confidently brewed 3 batches in quick order. First was a London porter. Fermentation was perfect. On bottling day it tasted great. Then a few days later I noticed a pellicle and sediment forming in the bottles. Every bottle has it. Ugh.

While the porter was fermenting, I brewed a best bitter. Fermentation went great, yeast settled out and all was fine. Then suddenly the beer went cloudy, the airlock started bubbling, and it started smelling like sweet wine. This was the first time I got an infection in the fermenter. Before noticing that either the porter or the bitter were infected, I brewed a hefeweizen. Again fermentation went great. Then today the airlock started bubbling like crazy again out of nowhere. Ugh.

So, that makes 6 out of my last 8 batches infected. Despite having always been pretty anal about sanitation, I have tried being extra precautious lately to no avail. Here are the steps I've taken so far:

Replaced or got rid of plastic equipment. Boiled or bleached anything I could. Soaked all bottles in bleach, scrubbed, and ran through dishwasher on high heat. On brew days I have started misting the air with star san intermittently. I only use an immersion chiller, which I soak in star san and place in the boil with 10 minutes left. I give my fermenters full to the brim soaks in star san for ~1 hour. I keep all my spigots stored in a bucket of star san and I plan to start doing this with my airlocks, hoses, and bottling wand as well. I've ordered some high temp hosing so that I can start boiling my hosing after each use. Before bottling, I run all the bottles through the dishwasher on high heat and then I give every bottle a full dunk and soak in star san. I replace my star san every ~3 weeks and keep it in a sealed 5 gallon bucket. I am thinking I will put all my bottles in the oven to sterilize them as well. And I am going to replace/boil/bleach all my stuff...again.

At this point I am running out of ideas. I have no idea where the infection is coming from. I had thought it was my bottling wand, but I guess not. At this point it seems like its an aggressive airborne bacteria that I cannot defeat. It's almost as if this bug got into my living space a few months ago and has taken hold.

My reading has led me to believe its either aceto bacteria or lacto. I get a ring of scum and ropy strands that develop on the beer surface in the neck of each bottle, and a lot of yeast sediment clinging all over the bottle. The beers slowly over carbonate and lose their flavor. The off flavor that develops over time is hard to describe. Its not super strong and its not necessarily sour or vinegary, but its not pleasant.

Anyway, I am at my wits end I am thinking of taking a break from brewing. The problem with that is I won't have any beer to drink (the horror) and I love brewing. But, I can't handle the disappointment of another infection. Losing all your beer and then being unable to brew for fear of infection is really a buzz kill. A few months ago I was brewing great beer worry free...

Any moral support, positive vibes, and possible solutions are desperately needed and welcome.

PS - I live in an apartment, I usually crush my grain at the LHBS, I brew with a Brewzilla 35L in my kitchen or guest bathroom, and I ferment the beer in my living room or closet in a fermentation cooler bag.
 

elproducto

Supporting Member
HBT Supporter
Joined
Jul 26, 2010
Messages
1,169
Reaction score
99
Location
Ontario
I had a similar issue and couldn't nail down where the infection was living. I cleaned and sanitized everything and it sill persisted. I eventually figured it was in the counterflow chiller. I always run hot wort through it for 10 min. before chilling, and run hot pbw and rinse through it after every brew. It wasn't until I ran Iodaphor into it, let it sit and run through did the infections stop.
 
OP
OP
M

mcleanmj

Well-Known Member
Joined
Oct 8, 2012
Messages
156
Reaction score
43
Location
Halifax
From recent reading of other posts, the valve of the kettle could be the culprit.

Good point. I don't use the ball valve on my Brewzilla ever, but will still deep clean in. I transfer wort by pumping it through the recirculation arm to the fermenter. This has never been a problem before and the arm gets boiling wort pumped through it. However, I will deep clean and boil all of the pieces.
 
OP
OP
M

mcleanmj

Well-Known Member
Joined
Oct 8, 2012
Messages
156
Reaction score
43
Location
Halifax
I had a similar issue and couldn't nail down where the infection was living. I cleaned and sanitized everything and it sill persisted. I eventually figured it was in the counterflow chiller. I always run hot wort through it for 10 min. before chilling, and run hot pbw and rinse through it after every brew. It wasn't until I ran Iodaphor into it, let it sit and run through did the infections stop.

Thanks, good to know. I think I will try hitting everything with idophor.
 

CascadesBrewer

Supporting Member
HBT Supporter
Joined
Mar 24, 2013
Messages
2,096
Reaction score
1,930
Location
VA, USA
What types of spigots are you using? I had an infection in 2 batches a few years ago, and I suspect my plastic spigots were the source. I found some tips on YouTube on how to fully disassemble and clean them. At least one of them had some crud in the inner workings.

I gave everything a dunk in Iodophor and a soak in 180F to 190F water, before my normal brew day Star San usage. The only plastic/vinyl items that deformed a bit at that temp were some airlocks. I was able to recover without tossing too much stuff.
 

hotbeer

Opinionated Newb
HBT Supporter
Joined
Mar 10, 2021
Messages
1,135
Reaction score
791
While the porter was fermenting, I brewed a best bitter. Fermentation went great, yeast settled out and all was fine. Then suddenly the beer went cloudy, the airlock started bubbling, and it started smelling like sweet wine. This was the first time I got an infection in the fermenter. Before noticing that either the porter or the bitter were infected, I brewed a hefeweizen. Again fermentation went great. Then today the airlock started bubbling like crazy again out of nowhere. Ugh.
That's not a sign of infection IMO. I suppose it's possible it might be, but you need some other supporting evidence that that particular brew is infected.
 
OP
OP
M

mcleanmj

Well-Known Member
Joined
Oct 8, 2012
Messages
156
Reaction score
43
Location
Halifax
That's not a sign of infection IMO. I suppose it's possible it might be, but you need some other supporting evidence that that particular brew is infected.

That's true. But I'm not holding my breath based on recent experience. I can see no reason why it would suddenly start fermenting again (air lock was going like a machine gun after being still for 5 days). Also, I've got a Tilt inside the fermenter and it is giving me a gravity of 1.006 when the expected FG is 1.013. Tilts aren't super accurate, but its a bad sign. But hey, if it comes out not infected I'll be quite happy!
 

hotbeer

Opinionated Newb
HBT Supporter
Joined
Mar 10, 2021
Messages
1,135
Reaction score
791
I've had several beers that were lower than the expected FG. I also have had beer in the fermenter start bubbling again after two weeks of inactivity.

This was back in the winter and perhaps temps had gotten too low for the yeast to finish then it warmed up. Brooklyn Brew Shop doesn't tell the name of the yeast they supply with their kits, but they do give a temp range for fermenting and I was near the lower at times.

In every case, waiting well beyond the time the yeast last showed activity has always produced a good beer. My only bad beer was one that I was in a hurry with.

I'd dare to say you probably should wait at least two to three weeks after you reach your stable FG just to let the beer clean itself up. Though if one is doing extract, it might not be as necessary to go that long.
 

seilenos

Well-Known Member
Joined
Oct 4, 2016
Messages
168
Reaction score
99
Also, I've got a Tilt inside the fermenter and it is giving me a gravity of 1.006 when the expected FG is 1.013. Tilts aren't super accurate, but its a bad sign.

Could something have gotten into a crevice on your Tilt?
 

dtashmore547

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 8, 2020
Messages
76
Reaction score
28
I once had an issue with infections after completion and just before bottling eventually found out it was Candida in my mouth, caused a lot of failures, it is important to remember the mouth is a source of bacteria and yeasts from our foods.
make sure your not breathing on your brew at any time.
 

DocJones737

Member
Joined
Oct 19, 2020
Messages
5
Reaction score
8
Location
Kempen, Germany
I have had that happen to me. And I only found out about it once mold grew INSIDE the Tilt. However, going through the entire process of opening the Tilt, cleaning, sanitizing, and recalibrating was well worth it - no infections since then.
 
OP
OP
M

mcleanmj

Well-Known Member
Joined
Oct 8, 2012
Messages
156
Reaction score
43
Location
Halifax
I once had an issue with infections after completion and just before bottling eventually found out it was Candida in my mouth, caused a lot of failures, it is important to remember the mouth is a source of bacteria and yeasts from our foods.
make sure your not breathing on your brew at any time.

Good to know. I will use a healthy dose of listerine on bottling day!
 

odie

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 18, 2016
Messages
1,917
Reaction score
1,035
Location
CC, TX
I had a similar issue and couldn't nail down where the infection was living. I cleaned and sanitized everything and it sill persisted. I eventually figured it was in the counterflow chiller. I always run hot wort through it for 10 min. before chilling, and run hot pbw and rinse through it after every brew. It wasn't until I ran Iodaphor into it, let it sit and run through did the infections stop.
This is why I don't use those things...

I break everything down every time...kettle element and kettle valve, although the boil will kill anything anyway.

Fermenter spigots completely apart. Kegs completely apart, posts, dip tubes, lids, PRV,

cleanliness and sanitation are by far the most important brewing skills...
 

TheMadKing

Western Yankee Southerner and Brew Science Nerd
HBT Supporter
Joined
Jun 17, 2015
Messages
3,924
Reaction score
2,089
Location
Gainesville
How are you handling your yeast before pitching? Are you making a starter?

Also, stop running your bottles through the dishwasher. Dishwashers are nasty cesspools and do more harm than good. Soak your bottles in PBW rinse 3x with hot water and then soak in star san immediately before bottling

Are you sanitizing your bottle caps?

Are you cleaning all of your hoses and brew equipment with PBW after use? PBW is a time or concentration dependent cleaner. I soak everything in PBW for minimum 24 hours at a concentration of 2 oz per gallon.

Do your fermenters have O-rings around the spigots? Looks especially hard at threaded fittings, O-rings, rivets, etc. Disassemble everything you can disassemble.

Airborne infection is very unlikely and its far more likely you are just missing something. It takes serious mental training to remain consciously aware of the sanitation status of everything that contacts your cool wort (I've been a trained radiation worker for 15+ years... you learn to pay attention to your hands and feet very carefully). Just pay really close attention from the moment your wort is below 140F, what touches it? ANYTHING you haven't cleaned AND sanitized is a possible culprit

edit: your description of the pellicle and of your off-flavor makes me think its pediococcus. Pediococcus is notorious for forming a biofilm that is almost impervious to anything but strong caustic and it loves to live inside hoses. Seriously throw out every hose you own and replace it, and soak them in PBW after every use for 24 hours and then sanitize, and then store them dry.
 
OP
OP
M

mcleanmj

Well-Known Member
Joined
Oct 8, 2012
Messages
156
Reaction score
43
Location
Halifax
This is why I don't use those things...

I break everything down every time...kettle element and kettle valve, although the boil will kill anything anyway.

Fermenter spigots completely apart. Kegs completely apart, posts, dip tubes, lids, PRV,

cleanliness and sanitation are by far the most important brewing skills...

I got a used plate chiller for really cheap. I gave it a few tries, but now I never use it. I suspect it was responsible for one of the infections I had. I've boiled it, baked it, pumped hot PBW through it, and still there is gunk coming out of it. I much prefer an immersion chiller and I'm happy to wait an extra 10-15 minutes to cool down. Just my experience.
 

bwible

I drink, and I know things
HBT Supporter
Joined
Oct 31, 2017
Messages
1,928
Reaction score
3,403
Location
Oxford, PA
I know people keep Star San for weeks. I’ve been doing it too. Their site says its supposed to be used right away and it shouldn’t be used if its been mixed for more than an hour. I found that not long ago. I’ve also had issues with a few batches and I’m going through the same stuff. I plan to make my star san fresh this next time after cleaning, etc. to see if that makes a difference. Who knows if they changed the formula, etc?


How long is Star San good for once it’s mixed into a solution?
Star San is an EPAs registered sanitizer and must be used immediately. We do not recommend using it if has been in solution longer than an hour.
 

TheMadKing

Western Yankee Southerner and Brew Science Nerd
HBT Supporter
Joined
Jun 17, 2015
Messages
3,924
Reaction score
2,089
Location
Gainesville
I know people keep Star San for weeks. I’ve been doing it too. Their site says its supposed to be used right away and it shouldn’t be used if its been mixed for more than an hour. I found that not long ago. I’ve also had issues with a few batches and I’m going through the same stuff. I plan to make my star san fresh this next time after cleaning, etc. to see if that makes a difference.

Star san is also a concentration dependant sanitizer so make sure you are mixing it to the correct strength. it is NOT more effective if made stronger too btw. 1 oz per 5 gallon
 
OP
OP
M

mcleanmj

Well-Known Member
Joined
Oct 8, 2012
Messages
156
Reaction score
43
Location
Halifax
How are you handling your yeast before pitching? Are you making a starter?

It depends on the beer. I've been mostly using 2 packets of dry yeast lately. The last time I used liquid yeast I was too lazy/didn't have time and used 2 pouches. The last beer I made a starter for turned out all good. The most recent hefeweizen though was a repitch of harvested yeast.

Also, stop running your bottles through the dishwasher. Dishwashers are nasty cesspools and do more harm than good. Soak your bottles in PBW rinse 3x with hot water and then soak in star san immediately before bottling

Really? I hadn't heard that before. Palmer suggests its a good way to heat sanitize them. I'll try skipping it then. When I don't use the dishwasher, I generally do what you've described.

Are you sanitizing your bottle caps?

Yup.

Are you cleaning all of your hoses and brew equipment with PBW after use? PBW is a time or concentration dependent cleaner. I soak everything in PBW for minimum 24 hours at a concentration of 2 oz per gallon.

I usually don't do a 24 hour soak, but I will give this a try. I'm also switching to high temperature hosing across the board so that I can boil it.

Do your fermenters have O-rings around the spigots? Looks especially hard at threaded fittings, O-rings, rivets, etc. Disassemble everything you can disassemble.

I have this kind.
1631199378138.png


I take them apart as best I can, clean them, and store them in a bucket of star san. I keep several of them around and try to cycle them through so that they don't get used often and sit in the star san for a long time.

Airborne infection is very unlikely and its far more likely you are just missing something. It takes serious mental training to remain consciously aware of the sanitation status of everything that contacts your cool wort (I've been a trained radiation worker for 15+ years... you learn to pay attention to your hands and feet very carefully). Just pay really close attention from the moment your wort is below 140F, what touches it? ANYTHING you haven't cleaned AND sanitized is a possible culprit

Thanks a lot. I'm gonna keep an eye out as best I can and hope to get this resolved.
 
OP
OP
M

mcleanmj

Well-Known Member
Joined
Oct 8, 2012
Messages
156
Reaction score
43
Location
Halifax
I know people keep Star San for weeks. I’ve been doing it too. Their site says its supposed to be used right away and it shouldn’t be used if its been mixed for more than an hour. I found that not long ago. I’ve also had issues with a few batches and I’m going through the same stuff. I plan to make my star san fresh this next time after cleaning, etc. to see if that makes a difference. Who knows if they changed the formula, etc?


How long is Star San good for once it’s mixed into a solution?
Star San is an EPAs registered sanitizer and must be used immediately. We do not recommend using it if has been in solution longer than an hour.

That's a good point. Interestingly, I listened to the Brewstrong podcast where they interviewed the guy from 5 star and he says star san degrades over time from contact with heavy metals, but that if you make your star san with distilled/pure water, it can last a really long time. I think I will start using boiled or distilled water for it.

 
OP
OP
M

mcleanmj

Well-Known Member
Joined
Oct 8, 2012
Messages
156
Reaction score
43
Location
Halifax
You want to hear something really funny, here I am at my wits end bleaching and boiling s*** and can't get rid of my issues, while my dad when he first started brewing, dropped a digital thermometer in his chilled wort and quickly grabbed it with his bare hand and his beer turned out great.
 

TheMadKing

Western Yankee Southerner and Brew Science Nerd
HBT Supporter
Joined
Jun 17, 2015
Messages
3,924
Reaction score
2,089
Location
Gainesville
What I did when I learned that human mouth is the worst bacterially-infested hotspot in the whole bottling room, was using isopropyl-sprayed rubber bulb (instead of this sinful mouth) to suck on siphon tubes to rack my beers.

You sucked on siphon tubes... :eek:

You can fill the tube with star san and then plug both ends. Place one end in the beer, and while keeping it plugged, place the other end in an empty container and release the star san and it will start the siphon

Or use an autosiphon
 
OP
OP
M

mcleanmj

Well-Known Member
Joined
Oct 8, 2012
Messages
156
Reaction score
43
Location
Halifax
You sucked on siphon tubes... :eek:

You can fill the tube with star san and then plug both ends. Place one end in the beer, and while keeping it plugged, place the other end in an empty container and release the star san and it will start the siphon

Or use an autosiphon

I either use an autosiphon or if I use a fermenter with a spigot, I will just hook up a tube to the spigot and transfer directly to the bottling bucket. You get a bit more sediment, but it's really fast and convenient and no autosiphon to sanitize or clean.
 

Protos

The Gulper
Joined
Jan 7, 2019
Messages
449
Reaction score
459
Location
Valle Lacrimarum
Or use an autosiphon
I do. But long ago, when I didn't... I was getting surprisingly less infected beers than I get them now, when I'm really anal about my sanitation. The thermometer case presented above by the OP seems to confirm the same paradoxical pattern.

The plugged tube trick you suggest never really worked for me: quite a bit of the Starsan poured into the beer from the open end anyway. I still use rubber bulb a lot, when I feel lazy to reach for my autosiphon. The main thing, don't forget to sanitize the bulb from inside or its bacterial insemination soon will equal that of the human mouth.
 

Nick_G

Member
Joined
Apr 2, 2016
Messages
6
Reaction score
4
Location
johannesburg
Maybe try using new bottles and just sanitise them rather than bleach / dishwasher process. Split your next batch between new and old bottles (and mark the bottles). If the new bottles are ok and the old ones show signs of infection it would give you a clue as to where the problem lies. Keep going - you'll crack it!
 

shoreman

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 1, 2012
Messages
1,327
Reaction score
357
Can you snagged a $10 BIAB and use a 5 gallon pot to brew a couple of 2.5 gallon batches and bottle with the new gear?

go back to basics.

that way your not so heavily invested in a large batch and might see if it’ssomething on the brewzilla
 

D.B.Moody

Well-Known Member
Joined
Nov 4, 2020
Messages
1,297
Reaction score
2,216
Location
Kirkwood
I am not an expert on sanitation. I'm an extract brewer. I don't sanitize anything and my bottles are run through the dishwasher. I start my siphoning by (gasp) inhaling. But I have very simple equipment. The only spigot I have is the one for my bottling bucket, and I wash it more carefully than the bucket. But here's what I see:
Have you noticed that Starsan contact is a thing for your process. It stands out to me. Is it possible that the replacement equipment, which was okay for a bit, got the infection from something that wasn't changed like your Starsan bucket/bottle? I have seen a picture of mold growing in a Starsan supply container above the liquid. It's a nice, humid enviroment.
 
Last edited:

Buffalobrew47

Member
Joined
Aug 6, 2016
Messages
5
Reaction score
2
I just used the jiggler from keg land. Great alternative to an auto
Siphon. It is stainless and doesn't introduce tons or air bubbles like my old auto siphon did.
 

TheMadKing

Western Yankee Southerner and Brew Science Nerd
HBT Supporter
Joined
Jun 17, 2015
Messages
3,924
Reaction score
2,089
Location
Gainesville
I am not an expert on sanitation. I'm an extract brewer. I don't sanitize anything and my bottles are run through the dishwasher. I start my siphoning by (gasp) inhaling. But I have very simple equipment. The only spigot I have is the one for my bottling bucket, and I wash it more carefully than the bucket. But here's what I see:
Have you noticed that Starsan contact is a thing for your process. It stands out to me. Is it possible that the replacement equipment, which was okay for a bit, got the infection from something that wasn't changed like you stars bucket/bottle? I have seen a picture of mold growing in a Starsan supply container above the liquid. It's a nice, humid enviroment.

This is a really good point

I'll also add that if your water is very high in total alkalinity, you could be neutralizing your star san to a significant degree and making it less effective. It might be a good idea to check the ph of your star san solution. It should be between 2.5-3 (if someone can correct with a better number please do)

and if your star san gets cloudy, dump it - it's no good at that point
 

Ninoid

Well-Known Member
Joined
Apr 21, 2018
Messages
756
Reaction score
981
Location
Croatia
I just used the jiggler from keg land. Great alternative to an auto
Siphon. It is stainless and doesn't introduce tons or air bubbles like my old auto siphon did.

I used an autosiphon once and I also noticed it introduce tons or air bubbles. I made a jiggler out of it and now I use my mouth to initially pull the beer out of the fermenter. Over a hundred times without a single infection.
 

Protos

The Gulper
Joined
Jan 7, 2019
Messages
449
Reaction score
459
Location
Valle Lacrimarum
directly over the open fermentation bucket.
without a single infection.

Once I was talking over my open fermenter and a drop of spit fell from my mouth right into it. GLUG!
(It's not that I drool when talking, but you know any kind of rare accidents may happen at the clean stage of the brewday).
Two weeks of worries.
No infection O_O
 

GoodTruble

Supporting Member
HBT Supporter
Joined
Mar 22, 2021
Messages
716
Reaction score
729
The tilt, old starsan, or Brewzilla pump/recric are my three top guesses.

Do a small extract batch on the stove, don't use the tilt, and use fresh starsan. Then see if there is still an infection. If not, do the same but with brewzilla and no tilt.
 

Protos

The Gulper
Joined
Jan 7, 2019
Messages
449
Reaction score
459
Location
Valle Lacrimarum
people make chica

I've seen a recipe for chicha on some homebrewing website. Regarding the chewing part, they cautioned the reader it might require considerable time and effort to chew through all the maize.
Silly bloggers. Brewing authentic chicha is a communal affair. You just need to ask for help you neighbours.
 

ITV

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 1, 2015
Messages
542
Reaction score
329
Location
Chicago Suburbs
I suggest not soaking your fementor for an hour in starsan, starsan is an acid based sanitizer intended for a contact time of minutes.
I use to store my starsan premix in a 5 gallon plastic bucket and over time it would develop cracks in the bottom (eat away at the plastic). I have since switched to 5 gallon plastic paint buckets which have a coating that my starsan premix has not attacked.

I don't believe that you stated what you are using for a fermentor, but I would toss your airlock and rubber bung (if used).

Consider getting a hose brush to clean the inside of your hoses and do not use your dishwasher for bottle sanitizing.
 
Top