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General Category => General Homebrew Discussion => Topic started by: svejk on September 05, 2010, 02:56:44 am

Title: How Common Are Infected Batches?
Post by: svejk on September 05, 2010, 02:56:44 am
Another thread got me thinking about how many batches of beer actually get infected. I've been brewing over 10 years and never had one.  Over the years I have heard horror stories of huge lapses in sanitation that didn't result in infections. Early on somebody pointed out to me that we sanitize our equipment, rather than sterilize it. 

Another piece of advice that I really like is that the farther along in the process you are, the less important sanitation becomes (highest priority to making starters or yeast slants and lowest priority to bottling or kegging).  I have even heard that some homebrewers don't even sanitize their bottles as long as they are clean.  I'm not that brave and don't mind going through the extra effort to give myself some peace of mind, but it is reassuring to know that my efforts may be above and beyond what is necessary.

How about you?  How long have you been brewing and how many infected batches have you had?  Any batches that you thought should have been infected, but weren't?
Title: Re: How Common Are Infected Batches?
Post by: Thirsty_Monk on September 05, 2010, 03:06:03 am
50 batches and 0 infection.
Title: Re: How Common Are Infected Batches?
Post by: tschmidlin on September 05, 2010, 05:54:03 am
I've had a couple get contaminated with something nasty, but invariably it is because of neglect.  My most recent one was a 2.8% ABV Scottish that sat in the fridge for months and the airlocks dried out - shocker, it got moldy.  And even then it took a long time at that low of a ABV.

I've never had one go bad when I followed any kind of reasonable sanitation practices, especially when it was a stronger beer.
Title: Re: How Common Are Infected Batches?
Post by: svejk on September 05, 2010, 06:09:13 am
Wow - 2.8%?  Do you remember the OG and FG for that beer?  I've been getting into low ABV brewing lately, but I tend to get better efficiency than I plan for. I know that I can dilute to my target, but I never end up doing it.

So far the infection rate is really low. I'm almost tempted to throw caution to the wind and brew a "keep things clean, but no sanitizer" beer.  Might be a fun experiment.
Title: Re: How Common Are Infected Batches?
Post by: tschmidlin on September 05, 2010, 06:25:10 am
It was something like 1.031 an 1.011.  I've made it before, it's very easy drinking, a really good beer to sober up with :)

That batch though, ended up as nothing more than fertilizer.  It sat for more than 6 months.
Title: Re: How Common Are Infected Batches?
Post by: svejk on September 05, 2010, 06:40:10 am
Interesting.  I guess if I do try a batch without sanitizer, I should go for a beer with an average ABV and drink it quick.
Title: Re: How Common Are Infected Batches?
Post by: tschmidlin on September 05, 2010, 06:48:48 am
As long as you're drinking it quickly, don't worry about the ABV.  Just think about how beer used to be made, way back in the days before Pasteur and Hansen.  Way back.  They had no starsan, no PBW.  Make a beer, drink it.  If you want to talk really primitive, a 3 day fermentation and then drink what you've got.  It would make for a fun party I think. :)
Title: Re: How Common Are Infected Batches?
Post by: svejk on September 05, 2010, 07:01:51 am
Good point. Sometimes it is easy to forget that homebrewing isn't a new craft.
Title: Re: How Common Are Infected Batches?
Post by: tschmidlin on September 05, 2010, 07:28:30 am
No, not new, although I suspect it is easier to make good beer now that we understand the process better.  But that doesn't mean the ancient beer wouldn't bee good, I think we just won't ever know.
Title: Re: How Common Are Infected Batches?
Post by: MDixon on September 05, 2010, 11:45:26 am
I've often thought every batch may have some level of contamination. The question is whether it becomes perceivable at any point before the entire batch is consumed. I've had beers like Barleywines go years and never exhibit contamination flaws, but I still wonder if there isn't some level of bacteria or wild yeast present.

As contamination rendering an undrinkable beer, I've had it happen twice. Both times it was acetaldehyde and was due to contamination from some undiscovered source. Once it presented very early and the other time it grew over time.
Title: Re: How Common Are Infected Batches?
Post by: uthristy on September 05, 2010, 12:18:10 pm
I've often thought every batch may have some level of contamination. The question is whether it becomes perceivable at any point before the entire batch is consumed.

I have to think every batch has some level contamination, none of us work in sterile labs thus theres always going to be a `bug or two that finds its way into the process. But that said most batchs can & do last for extended times without  showing signs of a nasty infection.


Just think about how beer used to be made, way back in the days before Pasteur and Hansen.  Way back.

I would bet the farm most of us wouldn't drink beers from wayy back then, sorry but I have little romantic notions of the good old days re: beer.
 ;)
Title: Re: How Common Are Infected Batches?
Post by: majorvices on September 05, 2010, 01:22:48 pm
Been brewing for over 15 years and I have had an occasional infection - most commonly this time of the year from fruit flies getting into buckets. I've heard of really crazy things happening, like people dropping tools or aquarium pumps into their wort and turn out drinkable beer. But nothing that crazy has ever happened to me.

I did pick up a "super bug" once on a third or 4th pitch of WLP007 that was able to ferment beers incredibly dry in only a couple weeks. It was pretty impressive, took a 1.065 IPA down to around 1.002 very shortly.
Title: Re: How Common Are Infected Batches?
Post by: bluesman on September 05, 2010, 01:27:39 pm
I had one about three years ago when I tried a brewing experiment out in my garden shed.  :-\

Bad idea.  :D

Live and learn.   ;)
Title: Re: How Common Are Infected Batches?
Post by: mthogan1997 on September 05, 2010, 02:01:52 pm
"But that doesn't mean the ancient beer wouldn't bee good, I think we just won't ever know."

I think we can be sure that most beer was crap in the good old days. Don't believe it, try brewing without a thermometer, sanitizer, yeast, electricity/propane and stainless steel. Get your water from the nearest creek, river, pond or lake. It would probably be a good idea to pee in the water to replicate the good old days lack of sewage treatment. If there were sewers, somebody else's untreated "discharge" was probably just far enough upstream to not see "floaters."

People will eat, drink, smoke, and inject anything to kill a few brain cells.




Title: Re: How Common Are Infected Batches?
Post by: jeffy on September 05, 2010, 02:35:05 pm
"But that doesn't mean the ancient beer wouldn't bee good, I think we just won't ever know."

I think we can be sure that most beer was crap in the good old days. Don't believe it, try brewing without a thermometer, sanitizer, yeast, electricity/propane and stainless steel. Get your water from the nearest creek, river, pond or lake. It would probably be a good idea to pee in the water to replicate the good old days lack of sewage treatment. If there were sewers, somebody else's untreated "discharge" was probably just far enough upstream to not see "floaters."

People will eat, drink, smoke, and inject anything to kill a few brain cells.
I don't think so.  How long would a local brewpub last if it made an undrinkable product?  Think of the ancient brewers/brewsters as local brewpubs who learned their craft from generations of experimentation.  After a while you've got to hit on the right formula.
Title: Re: How Common Are Infected Batches?
Post by: denny on September 05, 2010, 03:36:47 pm
I would bet the farm most of us wouldn't drink beers from wayy back then, sorry but I have little romantic notions of the good old days re: beer.
 ;)

I agree.

I've been brewing 12 years, 381 batches as of today, and I've probably had 6-8 infected batches in that time.
Title: Re: How Common Are Infected Batches?
Post by: denny on September 05, 2010, 03:39:13 pm
"But that doesn't mean the ancient beer wouldn't bee good, I think we just won't ever know."

I think we can be sure that most beer was crap in the good old days. Don't believe it, try brewing without a thermometer, sanitizer, yeast, electricity/propane and stainless steel. Get your water from the nearest creek, river, pond or lake. It would probably be a good idea to pee in the water to replicate the good old days lack of sewage treatment. If there were sewers, somebody else's untreated "discharge" was probably just far enough upstream to not see "floaters."

People will eat, drink, smoke, and inject anything to kill a few brain cells.
I don't think so.  How long would a local brewpub last if it made an undrinkable product?  Think of the ancient brewers/brewsters as local brewpubs who learned their craft from generations of experimentation.  After a while you've got to hit on the right formula.

I think standards were very different back then.  Probably a lot of their food would be infected and sour, but since that's the way everything was, it didn't generate much notice.  Add in the fact that even if infected, beer was safer to drink than water and hey, it had alcohol!
Title: Re: How Common Are Infected Batches?
Post by: maxieboy on September 05, 2010, 03:41:10 pm
10+ yrs. brewing, 300+ batches, 1 infection ( batch #2 ). Sanitation is rule number one, right?  ;D
Title: Re: How Common Are Infected Batches?
Post by: Hokerer on September 05, 2010, 04:01:07 pm
My one and only (so far, knock on wood) infected batch...

http://www.homebrewersassociation.org/forum/index.php?topic=2692.msg30878#msg30878 (http://www.homebrewersassociation.org/forum/index.php?topic=2692.msg30878#msg30878)
Title: Re: How Common Are Infected Batches?
Post by: hopfenundmalz on September 05, 2010, 05:07:26 pm
I have been brewing for almost 18 years, maybe 280 batches counting todays, and have had maybe 6 or a little more.  Some don't show signs for a long time.  Most of these were back in the mid 90's before Star San.

There was one last year that had some bret in one carboy, but not the other.  It was a Saison, so the infected one was a happy mistake, as it was tasty.   This beer was fermented in a conical then, split to carboys at the same time for aging, so it was the carboy.

The first part of sanitizing is cleaning to get rid of soils.  You can't sanitize dirt.  I am making sure to do a PBW soak on thigns to get ride of any deposits.
Title: Re: How Common Are Infected Batches?
Post by: tschmidlin on September 05, 2010, 06:11:06 pm
I think standards were very different back then.  Probably a lot of their food would be infected and sour, but since that's the way everything was, it didn't generate much notice.  Add in the fact that even if infected, beer was safer to drink than water and hey, it had alcohol!
Yeah, but who says sour is automatically bad?  Not lambic brewers, that's for sure.

I definitely think you can make good beer without any tools, but I haven't done a 10 year apprenticeship to figure out when the water is the right temp for mashing :)  With some math though we can figure it all out to hit temps no problem, something that brewers probably figured out through trial and error.  You can heat water to body temp, that is easy to feel.  Then you can add measured quantities of boiling water to hit whatever temp you want.  Physics works, even if the brewers way back when didn't understand exactly why or how.

There were probably good batches and bad batches, and the brewers who made more good beer than bad were probably more successful.  It might have been ugly, murky, chunky, but that doesn't mean it was bad, just different.  We'll just never really know what successful brewers were making 2000 years ago, despite residue found in old jars.

I've been to China and eaten a lot of different foods, and I can say without a doubt a lot of it was delicious and some of it was terrible.  But the people I was with liked it, so it was good to them.  And beets taste like dirt to me, but my wife loves them and that's fine.  So I don't think we can assume that ancient beers would be terrible, especially if you were brewing for a king/pharaoh and your life depended on making good beer :)
Title: Re: How Common Are Infected Batches?
Post by: denny on September 05, 2010, 06:38:56 pm
Yeah, but who says sour is automatically bad?  Not lambic brewers, that's for sure.

Agreed
I've been to China and eaten a lot of different foods, and I can say without a doubt a lot of it was delicious and some of it was terrible.  But the people I was with liked it, so it was good to them.  And beets taste like dirt to me, but my wife loves them and that's fine.  So I don't think we can assume that ancient beers would be terrible, especially if you were brewing for a king/pharaoh and your life depended on making good beer :)

And that's my point...standards and tastes change over time and differ from person to person.  Maybe those kings/pharaohs expected beer to taste a way that we wouldn't find acceptable now.
Title: Re: How Common Are Infected Batches?
Post by: tschmidlin on September 05, 2010, 08:34:38 pm
And that's my point...standards and tastes change over time and differ from person to person.  Maybe those kings/pharaohs expected beer to taste a way that we wouldn't find acceptable now.
Then we agree.  I just don't think we can assume that we'd hate them or that they were bad, someone around today would probably like them, maybe even you or I.
Title: Re: How Common Are Infected Batches?
Post by: majorvices on September 05, 2010, 08:49:21 pm
You'd go maybe 2 or 3 weeks without a beer and then you would drink whatever the hell was available.  ;)

Obviously no one knows for sure wether today's palates could tolerate the beers of yesteryear - but there is plenty of documented evidence that people found some beers to taste better than others. Remember, they selected yeast from batches of beer that tasted "good" by using the same fermentation vessels and the yeast from previous batches (even though they didn't know that the yeast was really yeast.) So they were obviously interested in selecting beers that tasted "good".
Title: Re: How Common Are Infected Batches?
Post by: denny on September 05, 2010, 08:55:58 pm
And that's my point...standards and tastes change over time and differ from person to person.  Maybe those kings/pharaohs expected beer to taste a way that we wouldn't find acceptable now.
Then we agree.  I just don't think we can assume that we'd hate them or that they were bad, someone around today would probably like them, maybe even you or I.

I agree that we might not hate them as long as you agree that we might!  ;)
Title: Re: How Common Are Infected Batches?
Post by: tschmidlin on September 05, 2010, 08:58:17 pm
I agree that we might not hate them as long as you agree that we might!  ;)
I hate some of the beers made with modern techniques and fancy equipment, so I have no problem with that :)
Title: Re: How Common Are Infected Batches?
Post by: dhacker on September 05, 2010, 09:00:32 pm
I can only remember 2 . .one batch with incredible acetaldehyde, and the other that looked like a jellyfish had moved into my carboy.  
Title: Re: How Common Are Infected Batches?
Post by: svejk on September 05, 2010, 09:02:02 pm
I can only remember 2 . .one batch with incredible acetaldehyde, and the other that looked like a jellyfish had moved into my carboy.  

So how did the jellyfish taste?
Title: Re: How Common Are Infected Batches?
Post by: dhacker on September 05, 2010, 09:04:50 pm
Slick and slimy . . . like boiled okra.

Thought about calling Sponge Bob.
Title: Re: How Common Are Infected Batches?
Post by: jptheelder on September 05, 2010, 10:40:06 pm
after 161 batches, I have had 2. they both had the same taste. kinda like the black stuff on the under side of raw mushrooms. People describe DMS as a cooked corn or vegetable flavor, and a flavor in Rolling Rock. I dont think it was that, but it did get much worse with age. I hope to some day take the off flavor class or something, to figure out what it was and how to avoid it.
Title: Re: How Common Are Infected Batches?
Post by: hopfenundmalz on September 06, 2010, 12:33:16 am

I definitely think you can make good beer without any tools, but I haven't done a 10 year apprenticeship to figure out when the water is the right temp for mashing :) 

I was teaching a guy who had just finished cullinary school how to brew.  When I said I wanted the sparge water to be at 170F, he looked at it for a while then said it wa, at 170F.  I was on the side with the bulkhead thermometer, and it was 170F.  WTF?  I asked him how he knew.  He said if you pay attention, water as it is heated will have some different character. with temp.  At 170F the surface becomes very still and even.  Look sometime, I was convinced that the brewers before instuments had some clues as to what to do.

To add to this a little more, he said that as a professional chef, you can't wait around taking temps, you look and do, as there is no time to waste.
Title: Re: How Common Are Infected Batches?
Post by: tschmidlin on September 06, 2010, 12:35:57 am
I was teaching a guy who had just finished cullinary school how to brew.  When I said I wanted the sparge water to be at 170F, he looked at it for a while then said it wa, at 170F.  I was on the side with the bulkhead thermometer, and it was 170F.  WTF?  I asked him how he knew.  He said if you pay attention, water as it is heated will have some different character. with temp.  At 170F the surface becomes very still and even.  Look sometime, I was convinced that the brewers before instuments had some clues as to what to do.
You're right, they did do that.  I read about it somewhere, it might have been something Randy Mosher wrote about old brewing techniques.  They heat it to blood warmth as one example, and another was when you could see your face reflected in it.