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Back at it after some bad batches...a few questions

We have done about a dozen home brews so far and all have had this gross off flavor. Some worse than others, but an obviously wrong flavor. A few were so bad that I could not drink.

We are making a couple changes to our process per forum recommendations (search my forum posts if you’re curious)

  1. Temp control. We were in the upper 60s to low 70s. I invested in a Johnson’s temp control for the chest freezer.

  2. Sanitization. We were using EasyClean but I now have a bottle of StarSan.

  3. Yeast starters.

Here are my questions:

  1. The next beer we are doing will be the Nut Brown kit (which was one we did before that wasnt very good) The OG on this kit is .044 so should I use a yeast starter on it?

  2. Should we keep doing a secondary fermenter or just add a week to primary? I read a lot of people on here who don’t do secondary at all.

Thanks!

hmm…a lot of unknowns here. I’d say you might be missing the problem if you’re focusing on a starter or 2ndary. but to answer your questions, I’d say a starter on a beer that big wouldn’t make a huge diff, and it depends on the yeast. You should 2ndary if you are fermenting longer than 2 weeks and if you want a cleaner beer.
there’s a potential that you’re doing something majorly wrong if you have had bad taste in all your brews. maybe brew with a semi-experienced friend who can catch you sinning.
for me, i saw big improvements in the quality of my brews when i started to do full boils and a wort chiller cool down. you can also get a lot more consistency when you keg.

I usually only do yeast starters on OG’s starting around 1.060 or greater ( of course this is if your using liquid yeast). Pitching to much yeast can cause off flavors in lower gravity beers. If your using dry yeast once your wort is cool enough and you’ve racked the wort into your primary just sprinkling your yeast on top should be ok as long as you have good yeast / aeration. I only transfer to secondary if i’m dry hopping or just have a ton of trub at the bottom of my primary but I think every homebrewer has their own opinion on using a secondary. What did that off-flavor taste like in your previous brews ? I’ve only been homebrewing for less than a year so that’s just my two cents

I posted about the off flavor in a different thread I started…and we seem to have pin pointed what we thought the cause was: too high fermentation temps and/or an infection from improper sanitization.

Here is that thread:

viewtopic.php?f=1&t=109729

Personally, I do a yeast starter with every single beer I brew. (I am assuming you are using liquid yeast if you are talking about doing starters) I don’t think you run the risk of “overpitching” by making a 1 quart or 1 liter starter. Generally, the only way you are going to overpitch yeast is if you are dumping on an entire yeast cake or something like that.

However - make sure your sanitation is every bit as good for your yeast starter as it is for your beer.

As far as secondary - I don’t use secondary, and I think it is one of the single best things I have ever done with my beer. I go with a 3 week primary for ordinary beers, then into the bottling bucket or into a keg. I have seen no convincing evidence that a secondary ferment produces clear or clean beer. Beer clears because it sits still and gets cold - that drops the yeast out. You don’t need secondary to do that. My beers are very, very clear without secondary. I think a 3 week primary allows for a more complete ferment, it allows the yeast to take up some of the undesirable flavors that may be produced early in ferment, and it reduces one step where infection could be introduced.

I do agree with other post though - if your beer was undrinkable, there is a problem somewhere and it is not yeast starters or secondary fermentation. Look at every step after the boil is off - something is wrong there and it is likely a sanitation issue.

How do you cool wort?
How do you transfer wort?
Do you top off with water? Is it sterile?
Sanitation of fermenter.
Are you fermenting long enough, right temps?
Do you leave your beer alone? Or do you take a bunch of hydrometer readings? (Personally, I don’t touch my beer for any reason for the full 3 weeks of primary).
How do you transfer your beer out of the fermenter?
How are you cleaning/washing bottles?
Do you steralize your priming sugar?
Sanitize your bottle caps?
All of your bottling equipment?

Somewhere there is a flaw in your process if your beer is undrinkable. I like the idea of finding an experienced brewer who makes good beer joining in and watching your process. Any local homebrew clubs?

Just reread the old thread - I think you are on the right track.

Clean and rinse with something like easyclean.
THEN sanitize with the starsan and DON’T rinse.

Fermentation temps should be controlled now.

I would still recommend using RO water instead of your tap water since you indicated it was very hard. RO water is cheap, and it will eliminate the possibility that water is your problem.

If you are doing these things you are hitting several of the big areas.

Thanks…by the way…what is a “full boil” and when to do it?

Full boil = using an 8 gallon pot to make a 5 gallon beer. You can start with 6.5 gallons of wort and even at the end of the boil, you still have full 5 gallons or more. No need to top off with extra water at the end to bring it back up to 5 gallons.

Don’t get me wrong doing a yeast starter is not a bad thing at all , but I would suggest getting your basics down first by brewing a good batch then focus on yeast starters and so on …

I agree that for this batch, skip the starter. A starter is a GOOD thing but it does introduce another variable so if I were you I’d skip it.

Unlike bailyjoe I do not notice a major difference in quality between a slightly concentrated boil (4 gallons) and a full wort boil, as long as I account for the hop utilization difference. I switch freely between them depending on whether or not I can brew outside.

I don’t think I read your original thread, so if the problem was pinpointed to yeast/fementation/sanitation these things should be fairly easy to get under control. Though off flavors in every batch seems to point to a major systemic problem.

Another off flavor that can pop up systemically would be those due to chlorine or chloramine in the water. This may not be your major issue, but would this be another potential issue for you? I never used to do much to get rid of this, and so all my beers had some level of off flavor, though most were still pretty drinkable.

Given your location I’d recommend this too. I’m in the northern suburbs and likely have nearly the same water as you and it indeed is pretty hard. It made a large difference when I figured out water chemistry and started building my water from scratch (or diluting my tap water) with RO. Pretty sure you’re doing extract so no need to get too in depth with water chemistry so just use plain RO water and don’t screw with any salts at this point.

It seems most a lot of the US has water that works just fine for a majority of beers and can get away with using their water as is if it tastes good but my water tastes fine and sucks for all but the darkest beers.

Sounds like you are heading on the right track.
I wish that had been me when I started brewing but I just kept pounding out mediocre batchs while trying to convince myself it was good beer until I finally stopped for a brief period.

Given your location I’d recommend this too. I’m in the northern suburbs and likely have nearly the same water as you and it indeed is pretty hard. It made a large difference when I figured out water chemistry and started building my water from scratch (or diluting my tap water) with RO. Pretty sure you’re doing extract so no need to get too in depth with water chemistry so just use plain RO water and don’t screw with any salts at this point.

It seems most a lot of the US has water that works just fine for a majority of beers and can get away with using their water as is if it tastes good but my water tastes fine and sucks for all but the darkest beers.[/quote]

So do you wanna come up and brew with us? Haha! :wink:

We tried using water from my dads house…which isn’t nearly as hard, and ran it through a Britta (which probably didn’t do much) and we still had the same result.

Back to the full boil thing - why would we want to do this? We’ve been doing a regular 2.5 gallon boil and topping off with cold tap water (that sat in a sealed bucket during the brew process)

Distilled water from walmart works well with extract brewing.

here’s a thread on full boil:

viewtopic.php?f=1&t=111549&p=981789&hilit=+full+boil#p981789

it’s probably all in my head, but i’ve gotten a richer taste since i got the propane burner and big pot. maybe it hides some of the “syrupy” impurities. give it a try

[quote=“baileyjoe”]here’s a thread on full boil:

viewtopic.php?f=1&t=111549&p=981789&hilit=+full+boil#p981789

it’s probably all in my head, but i’ve gotten a richer taste since i got the propane burner and big pot. maybe it hides some of the “syrupy” impurities. give it a try[/quote]

So we jus brew as normal except use 5 gal instead of 2.5? Then top off at the end for whatever boiled off?

Why does this matter with extract brewing? Are there problems with just adding 3 gal of tap water at the end?

Ideally you want to start with your ending volume plus the boil off amount. Usually +/-1 gallon is lost in the boil. So start with 6-6.5 gallons.

There “may” be an issue with boiling a concentrated wort. Burning or caramelizing of the sugars could occur. Also, hop utilization may decrease with the high sugar content.

To get around this, some like to do a “late extract addition”. That is, add only 1/2 of the LME/DME to your 2.5g boil. Then at the end of the boil add the rest. There is little fear (IMO) about contamination. The LME/DME would have spoiled before you received it if there was.

Of course if you boil the full amount, you will need a wort chiller of some sorts. Trying to cool 5 gallons in an ice bath will use a lot of ice. Some have just placed a lid on the boil pot and let it sit overnight to cool. I’ve tasted some lagers that were put into kegs while hot to cool. Then yeast added weeks later. They taste just fine.

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