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Help me diagnose a flaw

I am just trying to make sure I am thinking this through correctly. I have some friends that have tried brewing several times and typically end up with a boozy aftertaste/flavor in their finished beer. I have gone out and helped them brew and thought it may have to do with either their chiller not being properly cleaned or letting it ferment too hot.

I have had them come down to brew double batches with me three times. The first time they forgot about the beer and let the airlock go dry once they realized it he got depressed and never sampled the beer and ended up dumping it 8 months later. The second time we brewed Zombie Dirt from our hosts. I mashed it and we split it between our two kettles and they took their 5 gal batch home. This beer turned out fantastic for them and they were really excited.

I just did a double batch of Hops Lamb with them in January. Again, I mashed it and we split it into our two kettles for the boil. I used my CFC for both batches and they took it home to ferment. Mine turned out great, they used US-05 (made a starter for it, which I was curious about), monitored the temp with a laser thermometer throughout fermentation and it never went above 66. He said the sample had “their” flavor in the background but the beer tasted pretty good. Once they got it carbed, they say it’s drinkable but has that boozy flavor they have always gotten.

I am going through in my head any possible variables to help them diagnose their issue. They took the beer home in a plastic BMB and fermented in the same vessel in their basement. We brewed January 8, I was serving February 18. They still had it in the primary at that point. They didn’t get it out of the primary and dry hopped for another 2 weeks so it was in primary for 7 weeks (this may be a part of the problem). We used Star San in it just like in mine. Initially I thought it might be something in their kegerator lines or kegs but somehow it seems to me they’ve got an undiagnosed infection somewhere. Maybe the siphon? This is the same BMB they used to transport and ferment the Zombie Dirt that turned out well. Maybe it just simply comes down to fermentation temp again?

I’ve asked them to save me two bottles so I can taste it and see what I can figure out. What am I missing? Any ideas? They really want to brew and love it but are getting very discouraged. :confused:

:beers:
Rad

What yeast did you use on the hops lamb? I always got a weird taste with 05, and still associate it with “homebrew twang.” Especially in the peachy low 60s temp zone.

Is it possible that the infrared laser thermometer isn’t accurate by simply reading the side of their bucket?

This may be the main problem. Could be others also. A infrared thermometer only reads the temperature of the surface. ThermoWorks has a good write up about the limitations on their web site.

The other related problems may take a site inspection to figure it out.

I used Omega West Coast Ale I with a starter done the day before. OG for both was 1.090 and my FG was 1.012 and theirs was 1.011. Granted its a big beer, maybe they had an under pitch that exagerated some esters? I’ve been to their house for a brew day. He ferments in the corner of his basement behind his bar. It’s a finished basement so my immediate thoughts still go to temperature control. Maybe his heat is running more in the winter than the summer which could be why the Zombie Dirt we did in the spring worked out so well and this one came out bad again. My basement is unfinished so its concrete floor and I use a swamp cooler in the summer and a heating pad in the winter to maintain temps. His basement is finished and heated.

I’m just trying to go through and make sure I’ve thought of all the possible variables to help them narrow it down. :innocent: Maybe I’ll recommend the swamp cooler idea for him to try on the next batch.

:beers:
Rad

Their basement may be heated to a comfort level of 68° to 72°F. They may need temperature control.

Try a very simple beer about OG of 1.042 to 1.048. A beer that can be fermented with a dry pitch of US-05. Temperature increase would be only 2° to 3°F over the ambient temperature, but still above the peach flavor noticed in some styles when the fermentation is below 64°F. The beer turning out well could point to temperature as the problem with the others.

I was going to blame it on a perhaps liberal hand with adding sugar, but I see you mashed it for them. Since yours was basically a control, and turned out well, I’m also betting on higher than optimal temperatures. Especially if it isn’t an off-flavor typical of infection.
I am a HUGE fan of using a swamp cooler filled with water on all my beers, even if the environmental temperature is in my preferred range. The S.C. helps moderate the temperature swings that are often present in a non-controlled environment. So again, I agree with you there Radagast. Good luck to them, hope they don’t get discouraged.

I’m jumping on the bandwagon with fermentation temp control. I’d bet a swamp cooler would help them brew much better beer if they’ll pay attention to it and keep the temp constant. They let an airlock dry out so I question their attention to detail.

Boozy plafor points to fusels and high ferm temp but having said that you can’t always rely on another person’s palate and flavor description either. You may taste something entirely different.

A boozy taste can also be from an under pitch of yeast. Not high temperatures but stressed yeast. I wonder how they made a starter with the US-05?

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He told me he made a standard 1L starter. Underpitch on this batch was another idea I had. The fact that he’s successfully fermented a good beer to my taste (their Zombie Dirt turned out better than mine because I accidentally swapped the grapefruit zest and hops that were supposed to go in Grapefruit Pulpin with the citra that was supposed to go in this because I forgot which fermentor had which beer :yum:) leads me away from infection. I will post back once I get to taste it and see if I can provide more details. Thanks for the input!

:beers:
Rad

When a starter is made with dry yeast it needs to be rehydrated beforehand or the result can have fewer viable cells than just dry pitching the yeast.

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Agree with @flars Stressed yeast could definitely be the culprit here.

With dry yeast I would go with another packet. Way easier than rehydrating and making a starter. Next best would be to save some from a previous batch.

So my bud came down to do a double batch of Zombie Dirt yesterday and brought me a bottle which we tried side by side with a bottle of mine. It definitely had a bit of a twangy boozy bite on the back end and the hops were not nearly as fresh tasting. Sorry I’m not better at description. It was not undrinkably bad but not enjoyable enough to finish. :joy: We talked through yeast and temp again and are trying to make sure we can rule out infection of some sort. His brother makes wine so they’re going to ferment this batch in his brother’s house to rule out any possibility of something in his house possibly causing an issue.

:beers:
Rad

Agreed. They’re using the wrong instrument and the description sounds like they’re fermenting too hot.

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