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OH NOES! INFECTION!
  • FuzzyFuzzy
    Posts: 46,968
    So you think you're infected? First, calm down. Put the lid back on and step away from the fermenter. We need to assess whether you really have an infection or not. Then you can go about doing something with the beer.

    Whether you're a first time brewer, or a seasoned veteran infections are bound to happen eventually. This thread is designed to help you figure out what's going on in that bucket (or carboy, whatever).

    Every infection (yes, every one!) is caused by something you missed in your sanitation. It's usually something you didn't even think of, but you missed something somewhere. The first thing to do is figure out what's going on with your beer, then you can go back and diagnose where it happened and how to prevent it in the future.

    In the next few posts, I'll break it down into a three groups of nasties. These are the three bugs that cause almost all infections, no matter how much you'd hoped to come across some wild belgian yeast that will make incredible beer. That's not going to happen.

    Even after you've figured out what you have, you'll need to decide what to do about it. We'll talk a little about that after the next three posts. Some beer can be saved, and some will have to be flushed away like the abomination that it is.

    After I get done babbling on about infections, feel free to posts any questions you have, concerns about your process, and reservations about drinking INFECTED beer. X_X
    "Oh, you were serious? I was drunk."-C_B
  • FuzzyFuzzy
    Posts: 46,968
    My number 1 offender: Bacteria!

    I really hate these guys, because they're everywhere. Lactic acid producing bacteria live on a bunch of things (milk, grain, etc.). Barley is coated in them, so they're almost no escaping this stuff. Lactic acid producing bacteria (referred to as lacto from here out) can do really neat stuff in strictly controlled amounts and time in a weizen. They're unpleasant in pretty much every other beer. If you catch it early enough, and don't mind a little off flavor, you can still drink a beer that's caught some lacto infection.

    The other big player in this category is acetic acid producing bacteria. These guys are what turns red wine into red wine vinegar. Unfortunately, they'll do the same for your beer. Sadly, if you have these guys in your beer, it's destined for the drain. There's little that you can do to fix a beer that's turned into malt vinegar.

    There are a number of other bacteria that might make their way into your beer, but it's unlikely that you'd be able to identify them. These two are the most likely candidates for infections.

    So how do I figure out if these guys got into my beer? Well, there are specific signs to look for. The dead giveaway is a pellicle. The pellicle is a 'skin' that is created by the bacteria in the presence of oxygen. it will look like a thin/thick film usually riddled with bubbles from the gaseous products of fermentation that happen under it. I'll post some sample pictures of pellicles in later posts. Another good indicator is the smell of the beer. Aceto infections will smell like vinegar, and often vomit. Take a taste if you have the stomach, but it'll probably taste just like it smells. Lacto infections, on the other hand, just smell a little tart. It's not the same as a sour milk smell, just a acidic sour smell that might be hard to pick up on. The third good indicator is cloudiness. These type of infections usually leave the beer looking very cloudy, even after several weeks.
    "Oh, you were serious? I was drunk."-C_B
  • FuzzyFuzzy
    Posts: 46,968
    Number 2: Molds

    These guys happen much less often, as most molds need a reasonably dry surface to grow on. The most likely beers to suffer from mold infections are those with fruit or oak in them (something floating on the surface). Keeping the floaties moistened will prevent the mold from being able to grow. So, just swirl the fermenter every other day and it shouldn't be an issue.

    What if it's too late? Don't panic, you're beer is probably fine. You can almost always rack from under the yeast without the beer picking up any off flavors. If the mold is out of control and gets mixed into the beer, it may leave a moldy/dusty flavor and you'll need to dump it. It's not a flavor that most people can tolerate.
    "Oh, you were serious? I was drunk."-C_B
  • FuzzyFuzzy
    Posts: 46,968
    Number 3: Wild yeasts/mutations

    Wild yeast makes it into a fermenter every once in a long while. It's floating around in the air, after all. These type of infections are typically hard to identify, as they don't display the same signs as the previously mentioned ones. You usually don't find out there's anything wrong until you're already drinking the beer. These are typically identified by a subtle to prominent off flavor that neither fades, nor increases over time. It takes the palate of a more experienced brewer to determine that the flavor does not come from either the grain or hops used in the beer, but with a little help new brewer will be able to do the same.

    Yeast mutations act much the same as a wild yeast. This is only an issue for people that reuse or wash yeasts, but could also be possible with using very old liquid yeast.

    Occasionally these two types of yeasts can leave a beer cloudy even after a long clearing period or even cold crashing. You can differentiate this situation from a lacto/aceto infection because the yeasts won't leave much of an off flavor compared to the bacterial infections.
    "Oh, you were serious? I was drunk."-C_B
  • FuzzyFuzzy
    Posts: 46,968
    Now how to deal with that infected mess you found?

    Let's say that you've done a fair assessment and you're beer's definitely infected. Well, now you have three options:

    The first option, and my least favorite, is to dump it. It's a waste of money, time, and effort, but sometimes there is just no saving a beer.

    Option two is to go ahead and drink it quick before it gets any worse. Kegs are handy in this situation, but not absolutely necessary.

    A third option that few people consider is experimentation. Take that infected beer, add a few more bugs (brett, lacto, ect.), some sugars (wort, brown sugar, sucrose, whatever), and give it some serious time. You might make it taste terrible but you might also come out with some very interesting beer.

    Let's go into a little more detail about each option in another post or two.
    "Oh, you were serious? I was drunk."-C_B
  • FuzzyFuzzy
    Posts: 46,968
    Dumpers:

    Before you chuck all that time and money in the turlet, make sure it's really undrinkable.

    If the off flavor you taste in the beer is too much for your poor little taste buds, go ahead and chuck it. Off flavors rarely fade out of truly infected beer, and they often get worse over time. Some times an aggressive dry hop can mask a little funk, but if it's a strong or easily identified flavor, it's just a waste of hops.

    If it's aceto, dump it now! As mentioned above, there's no saving that batch.

    If you don't have the space to keep it around or don't care much about the cost of the batch, go ahead and toss it.

    If it terrifies you to think that you'll be drinking the product of some weird little contaminant, you've really chosen the wrong hobby, but go ahead and trash the batch if it makes you feel better.

    BUT, before you tip your fermenter into the neighbors rose bushes, consider the next two options.
    "Oh, you were serious? I was drunk."-C_B
  • FuzzyFuzzy
    Posts: 46,968
    DRINK! DRINK! DRINK!

    And do it quickly, because most infections get worse over time. Keg it and crash cool while you carb, then drink it before the flavor starts to go further south. Having a few friends with dull taste buds would be a big help here.

    You can* bottle an infected batch, but be keep in mind that some of these bugs will attenuate much further than any beer yeast. They have the ability to metabolize the long chain dextrins that are left behind by the beer yeast. This gives you a large potential for bottle bombs. You'll have to pay close attention to when it's properly carbed. As soon as it's carbed to the level you want, get those bottles cold; All of them! It's also a good idea to drink them sooner than later, as the bugs will continue to work at those sugars even at low temperatures, although much, much slower.

    If you're lucky, once/if the beer clears, you'll be left with a beer that's only slightly more attenuated (think 1-2 points) and only has a bit of a strange taste to it. I've had this happen a few times, and the beer wasn't too bad at all. The wife even drank some and didn't complain about it. Don't expect this good of a result from an infection, but it is quite possible, especially if you catch one early on.
    "Oh, you were serious? I was drunk."-C_B
  • FuzzyFuzzy
    Posts: 46,968
    Option number 3: make it worse!

    This is your chance to try all that funky weird fermentation that you've always been curious about, but too afraid to try. The beer is already broke, so you can't make it more broke.

    Toss in some 'wild' yeasts, dump in the dregs of some commercial soured beers, add some yogurt. Go crazy!

    You'll need to add sugars (whichever kind you like) a few times over a period of 6 months to a year, so the wild bugs have something to help them make all that funk the belgians seem to be obsessed with. You can even mix this soured beer with your mash to make some really interesting/complex flavors without contaminating that beer.

    Experiment, have fun, try something new and crazy. After all, why not?
    "Oh, you were serious? I was drunk."-C_B
  • FuzzyFuzzy
    Posts: 46,968
    This one really should have happened earlier, but it should also be common knowledge to a brewer.

    Should you throw away all that infected gear? yes and no.

    All the soft plastic bits (vinyl tubing and such) are really good at harboring nasties and they're really cheap to replace, so get rid of all that stuff or dedicate it to 'wild' beer from now on.

    Bucket fermenters, glass carboys, and your various stainless stuff can all be saved. Bleach bomb whatever can't be boiled and boil the pants off anything that can. You might even want to try a few no chill (boiling wort directly into the fermenter (NOT GLASS!)) for a few batches after you bleach/boil.

    "Oh, you were serious? I was drunk."-C_B
  • FuzzyFuzzy
    Posts: 46,968
    Now that you've decided what to do with that infected beer, it's time to find out where you caught that infection.

    The usual suspects are: the fermenter, the yeast, or the racking/bottling equipment.

    So you thought that you sanitized the fermenter? Well, maybe you did, but did you make sure that there weren't big scratches in there where bugs can hide? Do you have any beer stone built up? That's another place that can be a real pain to properly sanitize. You really need to get that stuff off before you can safely put a beer in there.

    How old was that yeast you used? Did you boil the water/sanitize the container that you used to rehydrate it? If it was liquid yeast, did you use a starter? Were your sanitation practices good enough there? Is it washed yeast (this is the one that always gets me!) and maybe it's been sitting around for a while? Are you quite sure that your washed yeast is pure and untainted?

    And, of course, the bottling/racking equipment. There are always a bunch of little hard to reach places for bugs to hide in these things. It's always a good idea to break it all down as far as it can go and do a really thorough sanitation (even bleach soak) on this stuff.
    "Oh, you were serious? I was drunk."-C_B
  • FuzzyFuzzy
    Posts: 46,968
    That's probably enough chatter out of me. Man, I'm a windbag!

    Let's see those pics already!

    The first one is some infected bottle harvested yeast and the next two are all the pellicle that i got out of an all Brett B ale that I brewed. It's just a thin film because there wasn't enough contact with oxygen to get as nasty as some of the next ones.
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    "Oh, you were serious? I was drunk."-C_B
  • FuzzyFuzzy
    Posts: 46,968
    I think one of these was a brown ale that turned out tasting almost how it was supposed to. The off flavor ended up being fairly subtle.
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    "Oh, you were serious? I was drunk."-C_B
  • FuzzyFuzzy
    Posts: 46,968
    He're some wort in infected with lacto, to be used in a soured beer.
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    "Oh, you were serious? I was drunk."-C_B
  • FuzzyFuzzy
    Posts: 46,968
    This is some second runnings that I infected with some aceto. There are other bugs in there too, but the aceto is prominent in the aroma. :-&
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    "Oh, you were serious? I was drunk."-C_B
  • C_BC_B
    Posts: 77,901
    Wow. Very nice write up Z! And the pics, Eww!
    "On it. I hate software." ~Cpt Snarklepants
  • ThymThym
    Posts: 104,308
    another prime source of infection is the fittings / valves / pumps / chillers in some of the more complex brew rigs. if you don't break all of that stuff down (and i am guilty of this) they WILL collect funk. I opened my pump housing once to find a pellicle that had covered the impeller. This was after running hot (180+ degree) PBW through the system, using the pump, for several (10-15) minutes after the prior brew session.

    all of the hardware on the brew stand is subject to this type of situation, all of the ball valves, pipe fittings, tubes, everything.

    FWIW, that's why sanitary fittings are recommended at the home brewing level and required at the professional level. They make the process of cleaning much more reasonable (faster) and effective. you can do it with the less expensive stuff, but you really need to disassemble everything after each brew day. it's labor intensive, but necessary. Also, larger diameter stuff is easier to clean than small diameter.
    The only thing between me and a train wreck is blind luck..... - Kenny
  • FuzzyFuzzy
    Posts: 46,968
    more pictures! :((
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    "Oh, you were serious? I was drunk."-C_B
  • FuzzyFuzzy
    Posts: 46,968
    image
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    "Oh, you were serious? I was drunk."-C_B
  • jlwjlw
    Posts: 16,417
    By the way I forgot about this thread an googled infections homebrew images and this thread came up. Your famous.
  • jlwjlw
    Posts: 16,417
    The one makes me wanna cry. :-((
  • FuzzyFuzzy
    Posts: 46,968
    jlw said:

    By the way I forgot about this thread an googled infections homebrew images and this thread came up. Your famous.



    wooo! but also, crap. :(
    "Oh, you were serious? I was drunk."-C_B
  • FuzzyFuzzy
    Posts: 46,968
    i like to be able to help folks, but i'd really rather not have the first hand experience.
    "Oh, you were serious? I was drunk."-C_B
  • jlwjlw
    Posts: 16,417
    Oh and as soon as the google search came up with oh noes infectionI knew there was only one person on the internets that would write oh noes.
  • FuzzyFuzzy
    Posts: 46,968
    :D
    "Oh, you were serious? I was drunk."-C_B
  • ThymThym
    Posts: 104,308
    jlw said:

    Oh and as soon as the google search came up with oh noes infectionI knew there was only one person on the internets that would write oh noes.



    Ha
    The only thing between me and a train wreck is blind luck..... - Kenny
  • jeepinjeepinjeepinjeepin
    Posts: 17,477
    Lakewood got the SEO in the bag.
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