Author Topic: Off-Flavors: How do I get rid of them?  (Read 1499 times)

Offline Stonecutter

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Off-Flavors: How do I get rid of them?
« on: November 16, 2015, 10:54:23 PM »
I made the leap to all-grain brewing in September, and I will be bottling my fourth such batch this week. I also made a couple extract batches earlier in the summer. Among the consistent characteristics of my beer have been my use of 50%+ wheat malt, alternative priming sugar (I've tried honey, maple syrup, and brown sugar), and extremely cloudy beer with strong alcoholic bitterness. I've had some real success with using some interesting ingredients and getting their flavors to come through (mango, coconut, apples, etc.), but every batch has been disappointing thus far because of unexpected off-flavors. I'm looking for help with analyzing and improving my process to eliminate these undesirable results. I'm also interested in how I can reduce the cloudiness of my beer, especially when using low-flocculation yeast strains.

My system:
two 5gal kettles as HLTs
10gal Igloo water-cooler mash tun (with false bottom)
15gal boiling kettle (used outside with a propane burner)
two 5gal plastic bucket fermenters (with three-piece airlocks)

Notes on my process (possible issues):
-I use a one-step sparge step of adding 170F water to the mash tun after transferring the initial wort to the boiling kettle. I let the mash sit at 170F for 10 min, then transfer the remaining liquid to the boiling kettle.
-I have not used any real temperature control for fermentation to this point, but I have kept the house temp at a fairly steady 68F for my most recent three batches.
-I use Star San and PBW five star in a combined solution, and I am a little concerned that I haven't been able to completely wash off the cleaning solution before use. This has been of particular concern in my bottling method, which involves soaking the bottles in the cleaning solution overnight and rinsing with hot, boiled water just prior to filling. (Also, possible of note, the bottles tend to be quite warm still when I'm filling them with the beer).
-During bottle conditioning, my beer remains at regular room temperature (generally about 68F).

If you need more information on my equipment, process, or actual recipes, let me know. Thanks in advance!
Beer is a lot like Porn. It's a sensual experience best enjoyed in moderation, with something for everyone's unique palate, and even though it's easy enough to buy it, it's considerably more fun to make your own.

Offline HoosierBrew

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Re: Off-Flavors: How do I get rid of them?
« Reply #1 on: November 16, 2015, 11:09:30 PM »
1/ You need temp control. Hot alcohol flavors/aromas are a direct result of fermenting too warm. Fermentation is an exothermic reaction - ie., it gives off heat. So if your fermenter is in a 68F room your beer could could very well be 5+ degrees warmer during peak fermentation. For a couple years before I got a fridge/temp controller I placed my bucket in a plastic tub of water and swapped frozen water bottles a couple times a day to help keep the beer at a cooler temp. This is cheap and works really well. Also cooling your wort to the low 60s, pitching the yeast, then placing in the tub with frozen water bottles will give you the best results.

2/ As an all grain brewer, you need pH control. Poorly controlled pH can directly result in cloudy beers, stress on yeast and poor/incomplete fermentation. This could also result in off flavors/aromas. I use RO water from grocery store machines and use Brunwater (designed by our own mabrungard) to help predict pH  - it is great software. pH control made a HUGE difference on my beers.  https://sites.google.com/site/brunwater/


Working on these two issues WILL make a big difference in the quality of your beers. Good luck !
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Offline klickitat jim

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Re: Off-Flavors: How do I get rid of them?
« Reply #2 on: November 16, 2015, 11:18:28 PM »
I'd clean rinse sanitize. Not combine starsan and pbw in a one step. So, step one is properly cleaning and sanitation

Agreed on the rest, knowing your water, proper additions, proper ph control and monitoring, temp control.

Offline brewinhard

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Re: Off-Flavors: How do I get rid of them?
« Reply #3 on: November 16, 2015, 11:58:29 PM »
Without knowing what type of off-flavors/aromas you are picking up, it is hard to trouble shoot for you. 

But I do see one glaring issue in your bottle prepping.  Cleaning/soaking your bottles in hot PBW is great. Be sure to rinse out each bottle extremely thoroughly (more times than you think you need to) as well as use a bottle brush to clean up any hard stuck-on debris inside the bottles. 
Then, once bottles are physically clean, then you sanitize with star san prior to draining and filling the bottles immediately after draining them.  Don't worry about any excess star san foam.  Sanitize your caps as well before sealing them on the bottles. 

If you were just rinsing the bottles with hot water after PBW prior to filling then you were only cleaning them and not sanitizing them properly.  Just some suggestions for you. 

Offline Stonecutter

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Re: Off-Flavors: How do I get rid of them?
« Reply #4 on: November 17, 2015, 12:07:02 AM »
These are very helpful responses.

I'll definitely try separating the cleaning step (PBW) from the sanitizing step (Star San) and see if that helps at all, since I can't imagine it's a good thing to have residual oxidizing agent at any stage of the brewing process.

I'll also look into how I can control the temperature of fermentation; probably the water bath method first.

As far as water goes... Does anyone have specific products to recommend, either for a reverse osmosis system or mineral additions? Also any recommendations for mineral level goals would be useful.
Beer is a lot like Porn. It's a sensual experience best enjoyed in moderation, with something for everyone's unique palate, and even though it's easy enough to buy it, it's considerably more fun to make your own.

Offline HoosierBrew

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Re: Off-Flavors: How do I get rid of them?
« Reply #5 on: November 17, 2015, 12:16:26 AM »
These are very helpful responses.

I'll definitely try separating the cleaning step (PBW) from the sanitizing step (Star San) and see if that helps at all, since I can't imagine it's a good thing to have residual oxidizing agent at any stage of the brewing process.

I'll also look into how I can control the temperature of fermentation; probably the water bath method first.

As far as water goes... Does anyone have specific products to recommend, either for a reverse osmosis system or mineral additions? Also any recommendations for mineral level goals would be useful.


As for the water, I don't have my own system. I buy it for ~ 39 cents/gallon from grocery store machines. If your water isn't suitable for brewing most styles ( like big parts of the Midwest), RO water is a good base to build from. As for additions, you'll want to buy some lactic acid, gypsum, calcium chloride, and baking soda. The first three are available at most LHBS, and baking soda is obviously available at a grocery. I highly recommend downloading Brunwater - it has a very informative info page that explains the idea behind these additions, and also has recommended water profiles for different types of beer. It will actually help you control your pH. And there are lots of brewers here who can help with water related questions. It's worth the effort.
« Last Edit: November 17, 2015, 01:22:39 AM by HoosierBrew »
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Offline morticaixavier

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Re: Off-Flavors: How do I get rid of them?
« Reply #6 on: November 17, 2015, 01:22:01 AM »
Everyone else touched on the big points. the only remaining one is

Among the consistent characteristics of my beer have been my use of 50%+ wheat malt[...]

a 50% percent wheat malt grist is going to be cloudier than a barley malt grist. There is just so much more protein in the wheat than in the barley to start with and not all of it will get precipitated during the mash and boil.

when you say bitter alcohol what do you mean? I don't perceive alcohol as bitter. Hot perhaps and even burning but not bitter. I suspect that the combination of uncontrolled alkalinity and hot sparge water could be causing astringency which is similar to bitterness but more of a puckering quality. Like under ripe apples or grape skins.
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Offline JT

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Re: Off-Flavors: How do I get rid of them?
« Reply #7 on: November 17, 2015, 02:02:45 AM »
Everyone else touched on the big points. the only remaining one is

Among the consistent characteristics of my beer have been my use of 50%+ wheat malt[...]

a 50% percent wheat malt grist is going to be cloudier than a barley malt grist. There is just so much more protein in the wheat than in the barley to start with and not all of it will get precipitated during the mash and boil.

when you say bitter alcohol what do you mean? I don't perceive alcohol as bitter. Hot perhaps and even burning but not bitter. I suspect that the combination of uncontrolled alkalinity and hot sparge water could be causing astringency which is similar to bitterness but more of a puckering quality. Like under ripe apples or grape skins.
I was thinking high alkalinity/astringency as well.  Did you have the bitter off flavor when making extract beers? 

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Offline Stonecutter

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Re: Off-Flavors: How do I get rid of them?
« Reply #8 on: November 17, 2015, 02:37:12 AM »
I had the rubbing alcohol flavor in my extract beers as well, which I thought was most likely due to my fermentation temp being too high. I expected it to disappear by lowing my fermentation from an inconsistent range of 70-78F down to a more constant 68F. It seems like there are several issues I need to address, so it's hard to precisely identify what doesn't taste right and why. I think controlling pH will be a major step in the right direction, in addition to continuing to improve my temp control and making sure there isn't any cleaning solution left in the system.
« Last Edit: November 17, 2015, 02:38:52 AM by Stonecutter »
Beer is a lot like Porn. It's a sensual experience best enjoyed in moderation, with something for everyone's unique palate, and even though it's easy enough to buy it, it's considerably more fun to make your own.

Offline JT

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Re: Off-Flavors: How do I get rid of them?
« Reply #9 on: November 17, 2015, 06:20:48 AM »
I had the rubbing alcohol flavor in my extract beers as well, which I thought was most likely due to my fermentation temp being too high. I expected it to disappear by lowing my fermentation from an inconsistent range of 70-78F down to a more constant 68F. It seems like there are several issues I need to address, so it's hard to precisely identify what doesn't taste right and why. I think controlling pH will be a major step in the right direction, in addition to continuing to improve my temp control and making sure there isn't any cleaning solution left in the system.
Ok, so if you didn't have the bitter flavor in your extract I'd say it is mist likely high pH during the mash.  Understanding water with a program like Brunwater will help there.
The alcohol, as others have pointed out, is almost always high fermentation temps.  Fermentation creates heat, so even my 67-68° basement requires temp control.  Even if you just control the first 48 - 72 hours, it makes a big difference.  When my fermentation chamber was full I have simply set the fermenter on the cool basement floor, draping it with a large wet towel and turning a fan on it.  Works quite well but the towel dries out fairly quickly. 
https://byo.com/bock/item/1869-controlling-fermentation-temperature-techniques

Offline PORTERHAUS

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Re: Off-Flavors: How do I get rid of them?
« Reply #10 on: November 17, 2015, 10:50:48 AM »
Not really part of your direct problem, but rinsing PBW with hot pre-boiled water is not necessary. Using PBW at warmer water temps can help for really stuck on gunk from fermentation, but rinsing WELL with cool water is just fine.

AFTER cleaning, you want to use your Starsan as already mentioned (in the correct mixture). Starsan is a non rinse sanitizer, so rinsing it away as you were would be something to change.

Offline jackmarshall77

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Off-Flavors: How do I get rid of them?
« Reply #11 on: November 17, 2015, 11:00:44 AM »
Make sure you know your styles, 50% wheat will produce some interesting flavours, especially with some yeasts. Some professionally brewed wheat beers taste pretty off to me while others I love. There is a lot of range. Try a super simple straight malt. If that has problems then it is your process. Otherwise it may not be as off as you think. Are you brewing in glass, it can be almost impossible to sanatise a plastic barrel once it builds up certain bacteria.

Cloudiness is par for the course with that much wheat unless you really work for it. Actually a desired feature for many.

68f = 20 Celsius (helps me)

That should be fine for many ales and too hot for lager. Here in Australia we sometimes have to brew up into the mid 20's but we do have some local yeasts designed to play nice at higher temps.

Also as a general rule if your water tastes good it will make good beer. Water additives may improve things but not as dramatically as I suspect you are seeking.

Pretty sure star San is no rinse and won't be your problem. Check the instructions but my understanding is that even if you don't rinse the foam it will just dilute to insignificant.

Your bottle conditioning temp is fine.

My gut is too creative too soon, get your mash process down with a super simple style you like. Also prime with something simple - no plain sugar does not affect flavour at the low level required for priming, and it's easy to use.
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« Last Edit: November 17, 2015, 11:18:51 AM by jackmarshall77 »

Offline reverseapachemaster

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Re: Off-Flavors: How do I get rid of them?
« Reply #12 on: November 17, 2015, 03:43:05 PM »
It will be far easier for you to diagnose problems with your brewing process by stripping away all the unusual ingredients. It's hard to know if you're getting an off flavor from a fruit or something in your mash process. You can brew with those ingredients once you get your all grain brewing down.
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Offline pete b

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Re: Off-Flavors: How do I get rid of them?
« Reply #13 on: November 17, 2015, 08:40:14 PM »
It will be far easier for you to diagnose problems with your brewing process by stripping away all the unusual ingredients. It's hard to know if you're getting an off flavor from a fruit or something in your mash process. You can brew with those ingredients once you get your all grain brewing down.
+1 When I started out I wanted to add a lot of ingredients to my beer but I really didn't start learning until I did some more straightforward beers with simple grists. I would recommend doing some straightforward Ordinary Bitters or if you prefer some APAs while your dialing in your system.
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Offline Stonecutter

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Re: Off-Flavors: How do I get rid of them?
« Reply #14 on: November 18, 2015, 12:41:46 AM »
That is a good point. I will go back to using normal sugar for priming and stick with just malt, hops, yeast, and water for a few batches and see what that reveals about my process/system.

For reference, I have been using Portland, Maine tap water. I've drunk it my entire life and think it's the best water around, but I'm not sure of the exact mineral profile. Does anyone happen to know what Portland, ME, water needs for additions, if anything? (I'll be getting better software and more reading materials for this issue and others shortly, but all input is helpful).
Beer is a lot like Porn. It's a sensual experience best enjoyed in moderation, with something for everyone's unique palate, and even though it's easy enough to buy it, it's considerably more fun to make your own.