Thursday, February 16, 2012

Beyond Just Bottles

As previously posted, I had a bad score from my Brown Ale at a BJCP home brew competetion that showed signs of infection, and after some research and questions about cleaning and cleaning products, and sanitization, I seemed to be getting some headway... or I thought. I was under the impression that this was a bottle here, and bottle there, and had established what I was going to do to fix it...that was until last night. I opened another Brown Ale to see if it would have issues, and was met with Old Faithful. I grabbed that last 5 bottles and one, after the other, nothing but gushers. Alarmed doesn't begin to describe it; neither does rage, but that wassn't the end of it. I grabbed one of the Ambers that I had made 2 weeks after the Brown, that consequently I had repitched the yeast on. No gushing, but the flavor is lacking all the crystal malt character and it is watery. Open the 90- (repitched the yeast into this as well) from the partigyle I had done: GUSHER! Run to the cellar and grab the Wee Heavy from that same partigyle (which got the same repitch as the 90-): GUSHER! Grabbed the Session Stout with Orange Zest and Cinammon (repitched from 90-): GUSHER! This beer had been entered into the same competion and received remarks about over carbonation and lack of flavor. This beer was also a partigyle with my 10.6% Imperial Stout that also received the same yeast; it is carbing up right now, and have no clue about how far the infection has gotten on it, but over the course of the month it aged on cherries the FG dropped from 1.028 to 10.24. I will be crash cooling this one and drinking quicker than expected.

I thought it was all about the bottles, but with the rapid advance of the infection in all the batches it appears to be the repitching of the yeast. The Brown took 5 months to show signs of infection. The Amber 4.5, and is not fully there yet (only a 6 pack left). The 90- and Wee Heavy 3 months, the Stout, less than 2. I am still going to have to get all new bottling equipment as well since all 5 batches went through it all and I'd rather not risk the infection having taken hold of in my nozzle, tubing, wand, bucket, etc., and end up in my other beers as well. This is causing some paranioa as well; my 8 gallons of ESB had all new yeast, and I under primed due to a mishap with the app I use, and thought it would never carbonate. But now it has a decent amount of carbonation. Could just be the time and temp finally giving it what it needed. Could be the same infection (they have the same "oil slick" on the top of the beer as all these others had, could be residual cleaner, could be infected). I am going to get all the ESB in the fridge and drink quick. I will leave out a few bottles for a couple months and see if they turn into gushers as well just so I can know for sure. If the Saison gets infected, I am not too concerned, but still would like it to stay clean. I also am now concerned about the West Yorkshire and 3726 Farmhouse Ale yeasts I used, since I washed them and kept them, but I used the same mason jar lids w/ rubber seals that I used for storing the 1056 that infected all the others, and I didn't boil my jars or lids, just StarSan.

Time to go back to the basics again. Gonna drain-pour multiple batches this weekend, have to buy new Bottling Bucket, spigot, tubing, wand, and I have an email out to the Mad Fermentationist about the best way to kill any bacteria in my Better Bottles since he moves from wild to clean to wild to clean in his with no ill effects.


  1. Hey, just saw this! Just recently had an infection, and I'm wondering at what point I should toss equipment vs. trying to deep clean my equipment. Budget is an issue, but that being said, obviously keeping the equipment and losing a batch or two is not worth it.

    So my questions:
    1) What equipment needs a deep clean, and what's the best way to do so?
    2) Is there a way to tell what equipment should be tossed vs. not?
    3) If I were to toss equipment, is it just limited to plastic stuff (buckets, better bottles, airlocks), or anything rubber as well?


  2. Great questions. One of the first questions I would also ask is where did it come from? I was able to trace mine back to a particular piece of equipment (plastic conical) that I had bought used w/o knowing it was already infected, and I ended up getting rid of it because it was scratched up and had too many grooves built into it.

    After that, I would look at deep cleaning everything in the brewhouse, and only replacing a few things. I would replace any bucket that has scratches on the inside as no matter how well you clean, there will always be the ability for bacteria and wild yeast to live inside that crack. If you have used any type of rough plastic to clean the inside of a Better Bottle and scratched the inside I might replace that as well. If they are not scratched I would do a deep clean on them all. Start with a good PBW soak and clean well. Then I would fill with a strong Iodophor solution and let it soak for a good 30 minutes. Give it a rinse afterwards, and then do a good StarSan solution to ensure everything is dead.

    As far as things to replace, I would replace the vinyl tubing used for transferring, rubber O-rings (like in the bottling bucket), the entire bottling valve on the bottling bucket, and any autosiphons. Autosiphons can harbor bacteria in the grooves and rubber seals that might not be able to be cleaned and sanitized perfectly so I would replace that. The great thing is you can keep all the old stuff for doing wild/sour/funky beers on purpose, and have fresh and clean stuff for your clean beers. Airlocks should be fine with a good Iodophor and StarSan soak. Rubber bungs are safe to boil which will kill any and everything.

    Hope that helps.


  3. Hey this is SUPER helpful, thanks so much!

    How long can/should I soak with PBW?

    And can I boil the bottling bucket gaskets as I would the rubber bungs?

    I just got the "siphonless" better bottle, and that's where the infected batch developed (though it's unclear whether it was the origin of the infection, or just harbored it from something else). Now I am nervous to use them!

    Here's to a fresh start, hopefully...!