Chronic contamination woes

Mon Sep 01, 2014 2:13 am

Hullo,

I have been brewing AG for about a year, and every time I brew I have contamination problems after bottling. I say after bottling, because the beer always tastes good before bottling. Of course, I don't have any evidence that the beer isn't contaminated before.

My sanitation process is quite thorough, I steep everything before and after brewing and then sanitize with either starsan for fermentors or iodophore for bottles before use. Filling stick and plastic taps are fully dismantled, washed, steeped and sanitized before use. Glass bottles and caps are washed and sanitized.

This cleaning process has been improved over time through the discovery of colonies hiding in various places.

I use a secondary fermentor for bottling (have tried without also). I boil and sanitize the pipe that runs from the fermentor to the bottling one, and boil the conditioning sugar also. Basically anything that comes in contact with the beer is washed, boiled (if possible) and sanitized.

And yet, every brew lasts roughly 1-2 weeks in the bottles. At first the taste is great, but it rapidly develops a vinegary smell and excess co2 after 5-7 days. It doesn't matter what equipment I have used, whether bypassing the filling stick or the fermentor tap altogether, or brewing in glass fermentors with no taps, or conditioning in plastic bottles, in each case the contamination appears in all bottles, at exactly the same time. Even when fermenting in 3 different fermentors the contamination was across the board. I am often tempted to drink the beer straight out of the fermentor, before it is ruined.

I have run out of ideas what the source of the contamination is. Before I moved to AG I had far less contamination problems. Is there any chance that the grains are causing the problem? I buy milled grains as I don't have a mill.

Any ideas that will allow me to stop drinking cheap commercial beers are more than welcome.

Cheers,
caharpuka
 
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Re: Chronic contamination woes

Mon Sep 01, 2014 9:48 am

Ugh. That sucks.

The grains themselves shouldn't cause vinegary infection, though if you have lots of stuff floating in the air (like grain dust) where you bottle, that could possibly be a contributor.

What is your water like? I wonder if it is highly alkaline and the acid in the star-san is being neutralized by the alkalinity in your water?
Did you ever take a pH measurement of your star-san solution after you mix it? It needs to be below a pH of 3.5 to be effective.

If it was me, I'd throw away all plastic and rubber parts that I use in my brewing process and start over with new ones.
With this much consistent contamination, all of your plastic/rubber has been exposed to the bugs and there is no getting rid of them once they embed in the permeable materials.

Then, I'd dismantle everything that is stainless/metal and soak them overnight in a double strength solution of star-san. Replace all O-rings and gaskets.

I'd also try doing a first course on the glass stuff using a different sanitizer. Bleach is a good choice for something like this. The idea is to kill the bugs with something you don't normally use.

How clean is the counter top when you bottle? I always spray down the countertop with a star-san filled spray bottle, then cover everything with paper towels. I even sanitize my bottle capper, too.

HTH-
-B'Dawg
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"Lunch Meat. It's an acquired taste....." -- Mylo
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BDawg
 
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Re: Chronic contamination woes

Mon Sep 01, 2014 10:17 pm

Thanks, I think you may be onto something. The water here is full of limescale, I'll definitely check the pH.

So I should remove and dismantle the ball value from the kettle? Isn't it a bit of a hassle to do this for every brew?

I have replaced the plastic parts often, including the fermentors themselves, but I never replaced everything at once. I think that might be the key.

Regarding the mash tun, since everything that goes through it is boiled, how intensively should it be cleaned? At the moment I only rinse it with soap.

I'll amend my cleaning procedure and report back.

Thanks again.
caharpuka
 
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Re: Chronic contamination woes

Mon Sep 01, 2014 10:31 pm

Dismantling the ball valve is a pain. I'donly do it once after you replace all the permeable stuff. And that'sssuming you can take it apart at all. If you can't, do the best you can by running sanitizer through it and you open and close the valve several times to get all the parts in contact with the sanitizer.

My guess is you need to add more star san or cut your water with ro so you can get the pH low enough for the star-san to work.

If you have a water report, you should contact the five star guys and see if they have anything to say about high alkaline water messing with star san.
If you don't have your water report, get one. You'll need it to brew AG anyways.

(Edit)
Don't worry about the mash tun. Just clean it well. Id go with pbw or plain unscented oxy-clean instead of soap, though. Soap leaves residue. The percarbonate cleaners like pbw/oxy-clean don't leave anywhere near as much if you wash well, and they work great on removing organic matter.

Hth-
-B'Dawg
BJCP GM2 Judge
"Lunch Meat. It's an acquired taste....." -- Mylo
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BDawg
 
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Re: Chronic contamination woes

Tue Sep 02, 2014 5:16 am

I'll 2nd BD's thoughts. Throw away all of those soft parts at once & perform a good cleaning with PBW.

Ball valves aren't usually an issue - nothing serious is going to survive the heat from the boil. I wouldn't dismantle the 2-piece valves. They're a pain in the ass to get apart & even tougher to put back together without damaging the seals in them.

Definitely check the pH on your StarSan. If it's not low enough, it's not going to be very effective at sanitizing.
Lee

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Ozwald
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Re: Chronic contamination woes

Tue Sep 02, 2014 8:11 am

Thirding bdawg. I would also suggest making up your next starsan batch with distilled water. If your starsan is cloudy, it's not working correctly. Peep this video from the fine folks at MoreBeer.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V_ihQzPNNec
jonboris
 
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Re: Chronic contamination woes

Tue Sep 02, 2014 8:46 am

You only have to worry about the parts you uses after the boil. Replace all plastic pieces. Pay attention to how much oxygen you are getting into the beer as you're transferring to the bottling bucket and then into the bottles. Pay attention to the area that you are bottling in. If you're doing it in your kitchen, it's probably crawling with bacteria. I'd recommend doing a deep clean on the area you're bottling in as well as cleaning all your equipment with PBW and then sanitizing.
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cad
 
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