Losing all hope...not an overexaggeration

Let me say that I am not a quitter, but my last five or six batches have been bad. I am to the point where I want to quit making beer since I’ve had mostly failed batches for this entire year. Here’s the best I can summarize:

Starting at the end of the summer, I had 3-4 batches taste bad. The best I could describe to my homebrewing group was that it tasted like baby vomit. We decided that it was possibly butyric acid from poorly stored grains. My base malt and all of my specialty grains are stored in my shed, which gets hot during the summer and humid if it rains.

Before we decided upon this theory as the possible cause, I bought new fermentation vessels, new
bottling bucket and wand for bottling, and new dispensing tubes for my keg, just to be safe. My next batch was a Spiced Winter Ale extract from NB. I bought it and two other session ales during the Columbus Day sale from NB. I brewed the Winter Ale during December, but stored the other two kits in my back room of the house for about five months. The Winter Ale tasted fine, so I began to think that my problems were over. Looking back, it could have tasted fine because there are so many spices that cover the butyric acid taste if it was there. However, my most recent batch, an Irish Red extract (with specialty grains) tasted the same way. I brewed it in March, and upon bottling, I noticed that it was not pleasant. After kegging and carbonation, I drank as much as I could, but I had to dump it as it tasted like butyric acid had infected it again. The grains this time were not stored in the shed, so I’m at a loss.

Here’s what I can offer as my procedure:
I sanitize everything that touches the wort with star san. I store my fermentation vessels and all equipment in the shed, but I use star san everything. We have cats that live in the shed (Not sure if this matters). I sometimes brew in the shed and sometimes on my patio, which is far away from the shed.

I ferment in a deep freezer at the back of the shed. During the summer, I noticed a mold or mildew growth, so I bleached the deep freezer and thoroughly cleaned it.

I suppose I’m seeking advice on what to do to solve the problem because I’m to the point where I am probably going to walk away from brewing for a long long time if this last batch, a Simcoe SMASH extract with NO specialty grains, turns bad. I realize that I shouldn’t have stored the fermentation vessels, boil kettles, bottling buckets, etc. in the shed, but I figured that boiling in the old kettles would kill anything in them and that using star san on my new buckets and equipment would also ensure no infection. Assuming that my tastebuds are correct and that I do have a butyric acid problem, what can I do to fix the problem if it is more than just the grain that is the issue? Is all of my equipment infected to the point that it needs to be thrown away? I have no where else to store my equipment except in the shed, so what can I do even if my equipment can be salvaged?

Let’s start simple…what’s your water like?

Using store-bought spring water from Winn Dixie. I like my tap water and probably should use it more after declorination. I seem to recall using both throughout all these batches. Anytime I use tap, I set it aside with an open top to let the chlorine evaporate out.

Update: First tasting of the SImcoe SMASH today, and I didn’t detect ANY butyric acid flavors. I brewed this one away from the shed on the patio. Also had no specialty grains

Use campden tablets to remove chlorine or chloramine. Chloramine won’t degas from sitting. 1/2 tablet per 5 gallons. Also do you have a ball valve on your kettle? When what the last time you took it apart to clean it?

No ball valve on boil kettle. Just one aluminum 8 gal and one stainless. Have used both at different batches. Used stainless last bad batch. After this morning’s testing, I am only going to boil away from shed as there may be nasties from the cats floating around. Sound plausible?

Yeah that sounds plausible to me. when your cooing if there’s a bunch of nasties falling into the wort that could cause some issues.

How do you chill your wort? Where were the hops stored?

It sounds like you need a more controlled and clean environment. Can you brew in your kitchen?

I use a wort chiller (copper) that I’ve cleaned once (about a year ago with white vinegar). Hops are stored in the freezer of my refrigerator.
My wife doesn’t like the smell of wort, so I brew outside. I may move it to the patio and only move my fermenter down to the freezer at the shed after I’ve pitched and all is covered.

How hot does the freezer in the shed get? How hot are the carboys while fermenting? Have you taken samples using a theif at various points? When does the beer get messed up? A shed with animals running all around doesn’t sound clean.

Another source of contamination for beer is grain dust. Milling grain in the same area used for brewing can cause problems.

Oops, last beers were extracts.

How do the hydrometer samples taste? Does the beer only taste bad after kegging? Have you changed any connectors or seals on the kegs just before the beer starting tasting bad?

There is a thread, a different forum, about a manufacturer changing a washer in a line quick connect. Washer material smelled bad and transferred an off taste to the beer making it undrinkable.

If when you brew all-extract it comes out OK, and when you use grain it doesn’t, that clearly points to something related to the grain - provided everything else in the process is kept constant.

I also store my grains in an outside shed, which can swing from 80F in the summer to -20F in the winter. Not a problem. But I keep them in airtight buckets to protect against humidity which would cause them to go stale. Stale does not taste like baby vomit, so I doubt that is the main issue. However, if animals are getting into the grains, that could certainly cause that kind of flavor, depending on what they are leaving behind in it.

I dunno…I have 5 cats that are all over everything and it hasn’t caused me any problems.

Not so much the cats I would worry about but the reason the cats are hanging out there raises alarms for me.

Is this shed as dirty as the picture in my head says it is? I have one in my backyard and it would need a serious cleaning before I attempted to brew or store food equipment in it.

What yeast are you using and what is your procedure for using the yeast? Almost all horrible off-flavors come from some problem with your fermentation. What is the temperature of fermentation? How long is your lag time, and how long does your active fermentation last?

Does the off-flavor exist both when bottle conditioning and kegging or just when kegging? I know some people have had some issues where they got an infection in their gas line which was pushing nasty flavor into the beer while being carbed.

This was the other thing that came to mind was fermentation temperature. I have a friend that won’t listen to me when I tell him to ferment in a swamp cooler or something to control temps. He seems to think 65* ambient basement temps is enough to control his fermentation temps. Every beer he makes has a very nasty off flavor that I attribute to very warm and active fermentation.

How/where do you cool the wort? How/how often do you clean every part of the keg equipment?