Back to Shopping at NorthernBrewer.com

Really fed up... (phenolic, infected)

before i start… there probably isn’t much i can gain from posting this, except to rant and get it off my chest… so… here goes:

i’ve been brewing for about a year and a half. done maybe a dozen +/- brews… and i’d say about 50% of them i’ve dumped due to phenolic/band aid/awful tastes… and it’s really starting to bum me out. (i just dumped my summer wheat from the carboy down the driveway).

i’ve done so much reading about infections and phenolic problems and so many times people say it’s rare or this or that… but why is half of what i do messed up?

i’m anal about sanitizing, i do my best to watch my fermentation temperatures… i’m not brewing crazy smokey beers (yet!)…

i know there are so many reasons this can happen and no one here will really be able to help me without watching over my shoulder at every brew (i do have a friend down the street, very experienced, who got me into this, who is going to watch what i do next time i brew)…

but now i’m starting to think if it’s something i HAVEN’T thought of yet. something odd… like… maybe one of my carboy’s has a crack in it (i can’t see anything) that’s letting in crap during the fermentation process…

i tend to think whatever is happening is happening during fermentation. as the beer going into the carboy smells great (you know, i’m not sure if i’ve ever TASTED it prior to pitching).

usually about a week after fermentation starts i’ll stick the thief in the carboy and measure the gravity. and then do it again in another week. i spray the thief down with star san (which i check prior with ph strips)… i spray the thermometer down if i’m checking temp. i re-sanitize the airlock before i put it on.

i know once i had a fermentation happening in the mid/high 70s… which probably did that one in.
but this summer wheat i just dumped fermented at 68-70.

has anyone else here had this kind of failure rate? if so, what did you finally discover and change?

it’s getting so frustrating…

What kind of water are you using? Highly doubt there is a crack in your carboy that is giving it an off flavor

Chlorine in water and high fermentation temps are likely culprits. You say 68-70F - is that beer temp or ambient? Also could be under-pitching and/or unhealthy yeast.

thanks for the feedback…

water: water is well-water. untreated. very good rural new york state water. my buddy a few mins away uses the same water in his very fancy brewing rig. no issues. i don’t think it’s water.

temperature: that’s usually ambient temp. though, sometimes i’ll measure beer temp as well, but not always. maybe the off brews have been too high. it’s definitely one of my main choices for problem areas.

yeast: probably not unhealthy yeasts. usually freshly bought wyeast or white labs from northern brewer. not old or anything. under pitching? perhaps. almost always one smack pack or one vial. i know sometimes people say to do more, but if these companies themselves are calling for using only one in a 5gal batch, how problematic can that be?

Perhaps it’s something funky living in the plumbing? If you’re doing partial boil brews, do you boil and cool the water you use for diluting prior to adding it to the wort?

[quote=“taylor12k”]

water: water is well-water. untreated. very good rural new york state water. my buddy a few mins away uses the same water in his very fancy brewing rig. no issues. i don’t think it’s water.[/quote]

It’s not, unless you are adding or rinsing with contaminated water.

There is likely a problem here. At 68-70F ambient temperature the temp of the ferment is going to be at least a few degrees higher than that. Also, how sure are you of that 68-70F measurement? Is the thermometer used for that reading accurate?

If you are underpitching (and you are if you are not making a starter) that can cause stressed yeast and in combination with the possible high temperatures it’s a potential problem.

Two questions:

Do you bottle?

If so there are lots or surfaces to contend with between bottling bucket, valve(s), tubing, bottling wand, etc. Any surface on any of those items is a potential place for bacterial growth.

Do you taste the beer through its stages of development?

Tasting the beer from primary when taking a reading or racking, the same from secondary if you use one and during the packaging phase can isolate off flavors early and help zero in on the cause of the problem.

[quote=“BryanH”]
There is likely a problem here. At 68-70F ambient temperature the temp of the ferment is going to be at least a few degrees higher than that. Also, how sure are you of that 68-70F measurement? Is the thermometer used for that reading accurate?[/quote]

the thermometer is accurate, as far as i know… yeah.

i’m sure my temps are a problem… but it’s so hard to control. all i can do it put it in the ambient temp of the basement, which in the summer months is 70 or more.

the wheat i just dumped i had in a bath of water with a wet shirt over it and a fan. i did measure the beer temp in the first few days of fermenting and it really seemed OK.

likewise, the pale ale which i did a week before that came out great. with no water bath.

we have very little room in the house. not a real basement, either… but i really think i need some kind of temperature controlled refridgerator, so i can just dial it to 65 or something and ferment stress-free.

fermentation temps are a high one on my potential suspect list. for sure.

[quote=“BryanH”]
If you are underpitching (and you are if you are not making a starter) that can cause stressed yeast and in combination with the possible high temperatures it’s a potential problem.[/quote]

should i just pitch TWO smack-packs or vials with every brew, regardless of what the package says?
i’ve made a starter before, once i think. but i’m paranoid about it because there’s one more place that an infection can take place.

[quote=“BryanH”]
Two questions:

Do you bottle?

If so there are lots or surfaces to contend with between bottling bucket, valve(s), tubing, bottling wand, etc. Any surface on any of those items is a potential place for bacterial growth.[/quote]

yes, i bottle. but, the phenolic tastes are present PRIOR to bottling… after a few days in the fermenter. i’ve never had a problem with a beer that was good enough to bottle… never a problem in the bottle.

[quote=“BryanH”]
Do you taste the beer through its stages of development?

Tasting the beer from primary when taking a reading or racking, the same from secondary if you use one and during the packaging phase can isolate off flavors early and help zero in on the cause of the problem.[/quote]

i honestly don’t think i ever taste the beer prior to pitching. but next brew i do, i definitely will do this. it will be the way to learn whether something is happening in the sparge or boil… or in the fermenter.

i tend not to secondary, again, our of paranoia for introducing yet more chances for infection. i dryhopped my pale ale the other week in the primary.

i should get in the habit of tasting:

  • right before i pitch
  • after fermentation has rigorously started
  • after it’s slowed
  • and then again 2-3 weeks later when i’m ready to bottle.

temperatures, though… that’s my strongest guess. i need to find a temperature controlled unit capable of holding one glass carboy.

  1. What are you sanitizing with and what is your procedure?

  2. Have you been checking your pH of mash and sparge? Are you using the correct amount of water?

No, you should make a starter. Using a second vial is not the same thing. Properly done, a starter will make more yeast but unlike just spending double the money on another vial you will have made yeast that is fully activated and ready to get busy.

sanitizing with star san.

on brew day i make a big batch of star san… everything i need post-boil sits in the bucket of star san until needed. then back into bucket when finished. carboy, aeration buckets all get a good healthy rinse and sit with star san.

wort chiller either gets sanitized or sits in the boil for the last 15 mins.

i’ve never checked mash and sparge pH before. what does that do? and how do i do it?

i assume i’m using the right amount of water… usually the standard amounts… like… 1.4 qts per pound of grain…

i’m typically hitting my gravities OK… most of the time (not always) so i don’t think water amounts are my issue.

[quote=“Loopie Beer”]1) What are you sanitizing with and what is your procedure?

  1. Have you been checking your pH of mash and sparge? Are you using the correct amount of water?[/quote]

i guess i should get in the habit of making a starter, i’m just paranoid it’s that much more that can (and will) go wrong.

why make a starter when all of these companies are saying to just pitch one pouch of yeast? i mean, i understand the benefits of starters… it’s a rhetorical question i guess. shouldn’t that one pack of yeast be OK?

[quote=“BryanH”][quote=“taylor12k”]

should i just pitch TWO smack-packs or vials with every brew, regardless of what the package says?
i’ve made a starter before, once i think. but i’m paranoid about it because there’s one more place that an infection can take place.

[/quote]

No, you should make a starter. Using a second vial is not the same thing. Properly done, a starter will make more yeast but unlike just spending double the money on another vial you will have made yeast that is fully activated and ready to get busy.[/quote]

[quote=“taylor12k”]why make a starter when all of these companies are saying to just pitch one pouch of yeast? i mean, i understand the benefits of starters… it’s a rhetorical question i guess. shouldn’t that one pack of yeast be OK?[/quote]If your wort is higher than 1.050 OG, then you need to pitch more yeast than what’s contained in one vial or smack pack. But an 11g packet of dry yeast is plenty up to at least 1.060. Go to Mr. Malty and check out Jamil’s yeast calculator and you’ll see what you can get away with on a single vial/packet:
http://www.mrmalty.com

To keep your fermentation temps under better control, try adding blocks of ice to the water in the swamp cooler.

A few thoughts - I agree with some of above suggestions - especially temps and yeast starter.

Bottling bucket - do you take the spigot completely apart into its individual pieces when sanitizing and cleaning?

Do you boil water/priming sugar before adding at bottling time?

How do you get your finished wort from your kettle to your fermenter? Do you use any tubing? Have you replaced it?

Do you keep wort covered while cooling?

Have you done a long soak of PBW or oxyclean on your carboy to make sure it is clean - any build up could lead to problems even if you are sanitizing.

Water - I would get it checked to see what you are dealing with or, maybe try store bought water for a batch. Water can make a surprisingly big difference. If your water is really hard, high in bicarbonate, etc. it can lead to astringent and bitter flavors. Do you have a lot of limestone in your area?

Just some thoughts that jump out - maybe one of them will trigger an idea.

Have you had your buddy come down and brew with you, bottle with you, etc. Extra set of eyes/experience could maybe pick something out.

also, if you are worried about your carboy - get a new bucket and ferment a batch in that, they are cheap. If it turns out then maybe you have the culprit.

[quote=“Braufessor”]A few thoughts - I agree with some of above suggestions - especially temps and yeast starter.

Bottling bucket - do you take the spigot completely apart into its individual pieces when sanitizing and cleaning?[/quote]

i’ve never had a problem bottling. any beer that’s made it far enough to taste OK at the bottling stage has bottled and tasted fine.

[quote=“Braufessor”]
Do you boil water/priming sugar before adding at bottling time?[/quote]

yup

[quote=“Braufessor”]
How do you get your finished wort from your kettle to your fermenter? Do you use any tubing? Have you replaced it?[/quote]

i dump right from the 10 gal. boil pot into two buckets (a bottling bucket and a plastic carboy). i then dump the wort between these two buckets to aerate it. back and forth until it’s all foamy and aerated. both buckets are sanitized with star san.

when i go into the carboy from there i pour through a funnel (sanitized) with a strainer in it (sanitized) to catch bits of hops and such. i do de-muck the strainer with my hand 'cos it clogs up really quickly with hops.

sometimes the lid is on the boiling pot halfway to make room for the wort chiller tubing to come out. i remember this last batch (that i just dumped) however, i didn’t have the lid on at all.

[quote=“Braufessor”]
Have you done a long soak of PBW or oxyclean on your carboy to make sure it is clean - any build up could lead to problems even if you are sanitizing.[/quote]

no. i rinse the carboys out with water after they go to bottling. and then store it. when i’m ready to brew again i rinse it out with water again before sanitizing. i haven’t used any cleansers in them… maybe that could be a source of my problem…

[quote=“Braufessor”]
Water - I would get it checked to see what you are dealing with or, maybe try store bought water for a batch. Water can make a surprisingly big difference. If your water is really hard, high in bicarbonate, etc. it can lead to astringent and bitter flavors. Do you have a lot of limestone in your area?[/quote]

we do have hard water, but again, my friend in town has been brewing for over a decade with our town water and never has problems. and his beers are phenomenal. i’ll make sure to ask him about our water though.

also, about 50% of what i do turns out OK… so even if i bought store-bought water for a batch it’s hard to say if that would be one of the 50% good batches or 50% bad batches. i don’t think it’s the water.

[quote=“Braufessor”]
Have you had your buddy come down and brew with you, bottle with you, etc. Extra set of eyes/experience could maybe pick something out.[/quote]

that’s the plan for the next brew… so he can watch what i do and potentially catch something (like not properly cleaning the carboy or not putting the lid on the cooling pot (should you? what about DMS? or is that only in the boil?)

thanks for your help, everyone, so far… been valuable information!

You need to get your ambient temps down into the upper 50’s or low 60’s at the most. I had the same issue from time to time with my beers before I started controlling ferm temps and since I started they’re much better now. If your ambient temps are 68-70, your fermenting closer to the mid 70’s or maybe even higher. That’s ok for some yeast, but not many.

Get a mini fridge (used) and a temp controller if you can, to ferment your beers. Keep the fridge set to about 58-60F. I bet this helps your issue.

You mention above de-mucking your strainer with your hand. While this may not directly cause an infection, this is cold side contact where sanitation is critical.
Typically I clear my strainer by simply dumping it (it has a handle so there is not hand contact with areas that touch cold wort).

Just my .002

yeah, if i’m using a handled strainer it’s no problem. but my funnel has a strainer bottom to it which has no handle really. but, my hands, at that point, are in the star san a lot. so i really doubt that’s the problem.

i’m leaning towards temperature and improper cleaning of carboy.

[quote=“dsidab81”]You mention above de-mucking your strainer with your hand. While this may not directly cause an infection, this is cold side contact where sanitation is critical.
Typically I clear my strainer by simply dumping it (it has a handle so there is not hand contact with areas that touch cold wort).

Just my .002[/quote]

Use a swamp cooler to keep your temps in check. Just a plastic tub or a large cooler that your fermentor will fit in, fill it with water and drop an ice bottle in morning and evening. The extra water will act as a sink for the heat given off by the ferm, and the ice bottles will keep it down below 70F where you’ll be OK for most beers. Just make four bottles and rotate two at a time between freezer and swamp cooler.

You can also put a t-shirt over the carboy and put a fan on it to cause evaporation which carries off a lot of heat. But the ice bottles are pretty simple.

From what you have posted now, the four big red flags that are jumping out to me are:

1.) You don’t use any cleanser on your carboys. You just rinse them with water. I don’t know how you can clean the inside of a carboy (effectively) without using something like oxyclean or PBW. That is one of the reasons I went to buckets - I can clean them very well with a sponge or paper towel after soaking in cleaner. Sanitizers will not work if the entire surface is not totally clean. If you have some fermentation buildup inside your fermenter that is getting left behind - that is a problem.

2.) I am a extremely leery of your procedure after you cool your wort - especially the strainer procedure. If you are cleaning out your strainer with your hands and running cold wort through it… that is a recipe for disaster for sure. Personally, I cool my wort and transfer it by opening my kettle spigot and letting the wort drop the 18-24 inches into the bottom of my bucket - and that is it. No pouring between buckets, no straining, no nothing.

My trick for dealing with hops and trub that is left behind after the boil is simple - As my wort is cooling, I use my chiller to “stir” (gently) my wort to create a whirlpool in my kettle. I do this once the wort is down in the 80 degree or lower range. I do this for about 30 seconds to a minute and then set the chiller down again. The whirlpool piles up most of the trub in the middle of the kettle. Then, as I run my wort off, I simple quit the runoff when I notice it starts pulling a lot of the trub into the fermenter. I have a 9+ gallon pot. I set up my brews to end up with about 6-6.5 gallons of wort post-boil. I simply leave about 3/4 of a gallon (and all the hops and trub) behind in my kettle instead of transferring it to fermenter. Also, if I use a lot of hops ( 4+ ounces) I uses muslin bags to limit hop fallout.

  1. and 4.) As mentioned previously -Your temps and yeast starter.

The first two seem to be the two most likely places you are introducing infection. The second two are procedural things that could be creating problems.

This is what I would try on your next batch:
*Have your friend observe each step - from yeast starter to bottling.
*Yeast starter
*Use two buckets for fermenters and give them a good soak with cleaner (oxy or pbw). Rinse them. Then sanitize with star san as usual. Skip the carboy for a batch.
*Brew as usual
*Cool - lid on. Whirlpool.
*Pour from kettle to bucket - do not strain. Stop transfer when you are getting too much trub. There is nothing wrong with some of the trub and hops going into the fermenter. You just don’t want it ALL going in. You will need to leave some wort behind.
*Really try to keep the ferm temps. under control
*3 weeks in primary, transfer to bottling bucket and bottle or transfer to keg. Give it a taste at this point and see what you got.

And - keep at it - I have dumped batches. I have had streaks where I screwed up multiple beers in a row. Everyone has had this stuff happen.

Back to Shopping at NorthernBrewer.com