Frustration- help finding the source of it all

Allright, just to be clear, I am new to brewing within the last year (11 extract batches). Ive had some great batches and some which I really enjoyed but lately I keep running into the same issue. I’ve been sticking to kits from NB like the IrishBlonde, Carribou Slobber, Chinook IPA, Smashing Pumpking Ale, and Kolsch. Of all 11 beers in which I made, three of the kits have completed with a very odd, hard to explain taste. At this point, I do not know what to rule out. I’ve read Palmers (how to brew) front to back, side to side, and upside down in Hindu and am still having trouble locating my mistakes? Either way, here’s the scoop:


5 gallon steel stock pot on propane burner (boil 2.5 gallons as directed by NB)
Plastic mash spoon
I use spring water from bottle
3-piece airlock, autosiphon, bottle bocket, etc.

Sanitize with Star San (always)
Usually clean with either Dish soap or OxyClean.
-If nothing is seen gunked up, then I give it a quick wipe with a cloth rag and sanitize.

I use still use Ale Pales as both Primary and Secondary. My LHBS recommended sticking to pales for cost, convenience in cleaning, and storage. I also constructed the “Son of Fermentation Chamber” with modifications - great results as far as temp. control. My last batch (Kolsch - bottled last night) was the first in the son of fermentation chamber.

Of the 11 kits in which I made, three have given me the same and consistent flavor. It’s difficult to describe but I would say its “soapy” in taste. The taste is first witnessed on bottling day - I can’t resist a couple sips. All three beers have smelled outstanding, looked normal, and I witnessed normal fermentation on each. I have always used a Hydrometer to test gravity prior to bottle day. For 2 kits (Irish Blonde/Carribou Slobber), I racked to a secondary vessel - bucket. For Kolsch, I fermented at 53 in primary bucket for a period of 4 weeks (until fermentation was complete).

I believe I used the same “Ale Pale” for all three kits. I also made another kit during this time frame without problems - the Smashing Pumpkin Ale kit. This was brewed at a friends house with a different stock pot (10 gallon) and I used a different bucket to ferment, also racked to secondary.

Ive read the possibilities - leaving on trub too long and do not beleive this is the issue. My question : What are the chances of a bacterial infection causing this flavor? Could it be an issue with the ale pale or steel pot(LHBS states that the back side of a sponge can create small scratches in ale pale which will harbor bacteria, I do not recall doing this with the ale pale but I have with the steel pot). Any thoughts would be appreciated.

PS - I helped a buddy make a Pale Ale recently and used his equipment. If we do not witness the taste, then I’m going to start changing equipment.

I guess deep down, I want to believe it may be the AlePale used. It’s different from the other 3 I have but I like it because the lid seems more sealable.

Reading it in Hindu may be one mistake, unless you understand Hindu as well as you appear to understand English :wink:

Seriously, though, did you finish the three brews with this flavor back to back, or has it just occurred randomly across the 11 brews so far? If back to back, was it the most recent three brews, or have you brewed beer that doesn’t have the flavor since you last experienced it?

If it’s been erratic, or if you’ve brewed beers without that flavor since you last experienced it, maybe go back and see if any of the ‘offending’ beers shared any ingredient(s). In particular, I’ve heard it said that yeast and hops can impart a “soapy” flavor.

Aside from that, the only thing that really jumps out at me is that you sometimes use dish soap to clean things. It seems possible that soap residue has collected in scratches in the side of the pails and has subsequently gotten into your beer.

Thanks for the reply. They have been back to back brews since October. Only exception was the smashing pumpkin ale. I’m fearful that your probably right with the soap residue. I wasn’t sure if star San would have eliminated that issue or not. I just felt around the bucket and there are some imperfections so I’m going to avoid using this one from now on. I’m highly frustrated at this point…hopefully things will get back on track…luckily it’s not completely undrinkable. You just don’t look forward to enjoying one. Still tastes better than Coors.

The first place I would look is on the ‘cold side’ of your brewhouse…ie post-boil.

One of the best investments I made in brewing was two Ace Hardware spray bottles, one consistently filled with Star San, and one filled with Oxyclean (unscented, you can also use PBW).

I will OCCASIONALLY use dish soap to clean an ale pail, but 99% of the time, I use some oxyclean solution. Like Star San, its great stuff to have around the house.

A couple of other questions/points:
-do others perceive the soapiness as well? I have caught some off-flavors before that others can’t pick up…everyone has different sensory thresholds.
-I would NOT worry about leaving beer on the yeast for too long. Most of the literature that cites that as a potential source of off-flavors is doing so based on yeasts that were available in the 90’s. With today’s yeasts, I have never heard of someone experiencing off-flavors from autolysis (yeast death…also I’ve heard thats more of a ‘meaty’ flavor as their cell walls are rupturing and a bunch of organic material is leaking out into the beer). It seems today’s yeasts have much stronger cell walls.
-just to reiterate, dish soap is never really a good idea. If you don’t get soapy flavors, a lot of them contain chloramine as well, which is a pre-cursor to chlorine (I think) and can also cause the dreaded band-aid/medicinal phenolic compound in finished beer (chlorophenol)
-can you take a bottle to someone who’s a judge? Maybe your LHBS proprietor? As much as forums are great for help, its tough without tasting the beer

Soak those ale pails in oxyclean (unscented) overnight, then rinse hard, and sanitize with Star San.

I’d be willing to bet that it is from the bucket, wether it’s an infection or soap that’s gotten into the pores/scratches of the bucket. You’ve just run into one of the downsides of plastic buckets in brewing. They will eventually get scratched and harbor bacteria/ are able to absorb flavors of things in the micro pores they contain (that’s why you never want to use a pickle bucket for fermenting). You do need to replace buckets, the question is always when. Either you do it more often than you need to, or you wait until you ruin a batch…

I would suggest just going the carboy route (cheaper in the long run). If you want to stick with buckets, drop the soap and just use unscented oxy like Pietro suggested. NEVER scrub the bucket. If you can’t get it clean with oxy or PBW, then toss it.

I have fermented in plastic buckets for 13 years. But no more. I just bought 3 glass carboys and will never ferment in plastic again due to too many off-flavors. My guess is that like me, you are picking up oxidation or contamination from fermenting in plastic.

It is possible you might also be experiencing “that extract twang” which is a difficult flavor to describe – to me the extract twang tastes like an odd mixture of caramel, banana, and wet paper. But that does not sound like what you have described. So my guess is, it’s the plastic buckets. Try glass or stainless steel on your next batch and see if the problem disappears.

It could also be your water. If you have very hard water or chlorinated water, this can cause odd flavors. Especially for extract brews, you should always use distilled water, because malt extract already contains all the salts you need in your beer, so blending extract with hard water just makes for an ultra-hardwater beer, which can contribute to odd flavors and might be one of the components of the infamous “twang”.

Switch to glass, and be sure to use distilled water. If you do both, I predict your problems will magically disappear.

Dish soap is a perfectly reasonable way to clean equipment. Just be sure to use an unscented variety, and use a very small amount. And rinse the crap out of it.

That said, I suggest you skip the soap until you get this figured out. Clean the snot out of your buckets with PBW or Oxyclean. Rinse very thoroughly. Unless they are visibly scratched up, you shouldn’t need to throw them out.

You don’t need to worry about small scratches in your brew kettle. Any nasties it may be harboring get killed in the boil. When you say steel pot, I assume/hope you mean stainless steel?

Glass fermenters will last longer and carry less risk of infection, but there are a whole host of negatives sides as well. Lots of people make good beer in buckets.

^^^^^ Pretty much what I was thinking about buckets and cleaning and glass. Have you checked the pH of the finished beer? Would be interesting to see if it’s up around 5 or even higher - this can lead to a muted, “soapy” flavor.

Thanks everyone for the great suggestions. I apologize for the delay in response - had to make the doughnuts for 8 hours on 2nd shift (or pierogies if your from Coal Region Pennsylvania, aka home of Yuengling- a domestic import?!?)

Anyways - I do mean stainless steel with the stockpot.

I do believe that the issue may reside in the bucket but I will not know for sure until this next batch is ready for the bottle. As stated before, you can usually get a hint of the taste on bottling day. The kit I brewed was an American Pale Ale (friends purchase, 1st batch) so we used all his equipment with the exception of the stock pot and propane burner.

As far as the dishsoap - I guess I was being lazy because it was easily available to me even though I use OxyClean for my bottles. That stuff is great for residue removal and cleaning. I will definitely use the suggestion of two spray bottles with both in the future, that is great advice.

The infatuation in using a bucket was “pitched” at me from a non-LHBS brewer north of here. He’s been brewing for 12 years and had great opinions on various fermentation vessels. The easiest to clean standpoint stuck out to me as well as cost. I’m beginning to realize that until you find your preference - cost shouldn’t always be the issue. Keep in mind though, I originally went in his store to buy a glass carboy and he talked me out of it. Odd but interesting.

As far as PH goes - haven’t even touched it. Will rectify in future.

Water - I’ve always used “Spring Water” from the bottle but not distilled- i guess it could really just be filtered and bottled municipal sources (or so I’ve read). Great advice, never really crossed my mind because that’s how I was taught during my first brew.

@pietro et al- thanks for the help, def. helped with my main questions/confusion. Thanks to all so far, this is a great start, easing some of the pain.

The closest store for me is 42 miles so it can be time consuming to have to drive for supplies and a taste test. As far as taste testers - I have some brew buddies who may be willing. I’ve had two different people try the Carribous Slobber and they said it was great? which led to more confusion and frustration. Maybe your right, it’s either me -or- they’re being nice. I do have a friend who’s been brewing for an extensive period but started with all grain and hasn’t ever brewed with extract. I’ll have to get his input with a taste test. He’s usually a problem solver and he’s always available since he’s officially a “stay at home dad!” Plus he is an active member of a homebrew club so maybe he could help me out with tastings at their next meeting.

PS - this was my first thread, I’ve read many, and use alot of the advice from previous posts but never felt the need to write in. Thanks again!

Would you happen to be using Roaring Spring spring water? That is from a limestone source. I used it for one of my extract kits. It was a Brewers Best Dunkelweizen. It had a metalic taste. I used it for all grain with no problem. Try Giant Eagle brand spring water if there is one near you. I used that with good luck. I just went to Aces hardware and bought a carbon filter system that I will dedicate just for brewing. Now I have to get the water tested.

I second what everyone says. Soak those buckets along with your racking hose in some PBW or Oxyclean for a day or so, rinse then sanitize with starsan.

[quote=“Gipe62”] I will definitely use the suggestion of two spray bottles with both in the future, that is great advice.


Just make sure it is glaringly impossible to get the two mixed up…I’ve made that mistake once (one too many times)

I ferment in plastic and also secondary in Better Bottles (plastic) because glass and I cannot come to an understanding and the glass ends up breaking :lol: . Seriously, I have broken more than my fair share of glass and I will not do it again. When I use a plastic primary, the entire thing gets filled with hot water and either PBW or LD Carlson EasyClean and everything else is soaked in that as well. When I sanitize, I fill the entire primary with the solution… none of this “1 gallon of water with a smidge of Starsan and swish it around” stuff. You do have to be careful with plastic (if that’s your culprit) but it’s easy to replace because they run 5 or 6 dollars. You should not be worried about using plastic as long as you’re careful with it and have good cleaning & sanitizing procedures. Also, your very best option now would be to locate some beerheads and serve them your beer. Local homebrewers, a nearby brewpub where the head brewer wouldn’t mind helping you out or even submit them to a competition where you will get good feedback. The problem with ‘off flavors’ is that there are a hundred of them and it’s not possible for people on the board to pinpoint it without tasting it, generally. When you have more batches to your credit, you will probably be able to determine the source of off-flavors just from experience but it’s trickier for the new brewers. Good luck and keep us posted.

Never used Roaring Spring but I have used Deer Park, Weis Grocery Stores generic brand, and some others. I have a GIANT eagle and have used their brand with no problems.

IPA next with nugget, amarillo, simcoe next! Cant wait!

It sounds like you covered sanitation well except mention of dismantling the spigot on your bottling bucket and the end of your bottling wand, if you are using one. These two places can harbor cleaning solution or bacteria.
I tried oxyclean because it seems to be highly regarded. I used it once for soaking a glass carboy I left until the next day to clean. It did soak off the dried krausen ring very well. Like other laundry soaps it will leave a slimy residue on your hands that is difficult to rinse off. If it is difficult to rinse from your hands, how much is left in the equipment? I went back to using unscented Dawn dishwashing detergent.

I’ve never noticed an issue with oxy leaving a residue, but that may have to do with the water that is being used to dilute and rinse it.

Hey Fred, where are you getting $5 fermentation buckets? NB sells em for $16, another LHBS sells em for $10. 1 carboy that can last a lifetime for the price of two buckets at NB, sold me on using glass.

Re: soapy taste
Mr. Obvious here…could your beer glasses taste soapy? If not, they may be rinsing better than the pail. Put a little soap and lots of water in a beer glass and see if the flavor is the same as what you taste in the pail fermented beer.
Many dish soaps are concentrated and just don’t rinse off. I’d use the Dawn direct foaming dispenser and thin soap mixture if I had to…like if I ran out of PBW. I second the glass vs. plastic recommendations. Get a brew hauler for the carboy. Consider two 3 gallon carboys if you want something that’s less of a strain on the back.

[quote=“flars”]It sounds like you covered sanitation well except mention of dismantling the spigot on your bottling bucket and the end of your bottling wand, if you are using one. These two places can harbor cleaning solution or bacteria.
I tried oxyclean because it seems to be highly regarded. I used it once for soaking a glass carboy I left until the next day to clean. It did soak off the dried krausen ring very well. Like other laundry soaps it will leave a slimy residue on your hands that is difficult to rinse off. If it is difficult to rinse from your hands, how much is left in the equipment? I went back to using unscented Dawn dishwashing detergent.[/quote]

This is completed as well. I do not think the issue lies solely in the bottling bucket though as the taste can be identified immediately before conditioning (bottle). I’ve decided I’m going to soak everything in oxy - clean vigourously, place the main bucket I use on the sidelines (DL) and start fresh with a new one. Gonna have to see how it goes with the Pale Ale that was brewed and then we’ll be able to guage where to go from there - thanks again.

All is well in brewing.

PaleAle bottled - tasted decent flat, Gravity stable, and did not notice off taste.

IPA, aka RPA (Rushed Pale Ale) - perfect

Carribou Slobber - actually turned into something of a clean taste. Off flavor has dissipated over the last 2 months.

Irish Blonde Ale - dumped the last three, just gave up on the fact that the flavor wasn’t going away. I finally have decided that the issue lies solely in the brew bucket. I checked my notes from brew days and this is the only consistent characteristic from the brewing process. SO - whether it came from left over dish soap residue or a bacterial infection hiding in a scratched plastic fermenter - it doesn’t matter. The bucket is now a storage container for star san, chemicals, and stuff that wouldn’t be affected.

Anyhow - thanks for all the help. HAPPY BREWING! Im thinking of a Hefe or Berry Wheat beer. Would really like to clone Wachusetts Blueberry Wheat/Wit.