A Horrifying Homebrew – Part II & Giveaway

This is a continuation of the last post, A Horrifying Homebrew – Part I, which left off with me asking “What in the world happened?” to cause my vile-tasting beer.

I was really at a loss, I have to admit, after Rob and my off-flavors class seemed to agree that my issue wasn’t infection. Indeed, at the class, “infection” was presented as a single flavor. Since I don’t know a ton about brewing, and my microbiology classes are far behind me, I wondered if it meant that only a few bacteria could live in beer, and they all produce a similar flavor profile.

Twitter to the rescue. I tell you guys what, Twitter has been a huge help to me as I learn more and more about beer1. There are other resources too, but having the power to ask a question of someone who probably knows the answer and often get a reply? Truly amazing. We live in the future, you guys2.

So, vomit flavors. Apparently, this is caused by a compound known as butyric acid and is, in fact, often indicative of a bacterial infection. Just not the common beer infection(s). In fact, it’s apparently so uncommon that this guy seems to think some focus too much on it. (Note: The opening artwork at that link is of the gross-out & potentially offensive type.)

I got it in my 1d4th batch3. Go me?

It’s actually been kind of interesting to read about butyric acid. I can’t say I’m glad to have encountered it, especially in one of my own brews, but the silver lining is certainly that I’m doing some learning4.

Wikipedia’s entry on butyric acid (above) indicates that it’s produced by a variety of species, most of them falling in the Bacillus and Clostridium genera. Brew Your Own Magazine’s site has a story that specifically points to C. butyricum as the source in beer.

These two genera? They both produce something called a “spore”, which in this case is, specifically, an endospore. It’s an extremely hardy physical form of the bacteria and is basically suspended animation. Thus, the bacteria can persist in its environment until the conditions are right for it to grow and reproduce, at which time it will do so.

Some of the species in either genera can make humans pretty damn sick. Clostridium botulinum is why we take such precautions with canned goods. Bacillus anthracis causes anthrax. And part of what makes them such trouble makers is this spore-forming ability.

Now as far as I can tell, most of the likely culprits in my horrible beer are unlikely to make a healthy human adult sick, though to be very clear, I am NO expert.

As spore-forming bacteria, their ability to persist in hostile (to them) environments means I decided keeping the equipment I’d used for that batch was not worth it. I chucked the bung, airlock and tubing and I recycled the container. As my lab days taught me that the reason we use both heat AND pressure (autoclave) to sterilize things is because of spore-forming bacteria, I figured keeping the equipment was an invitation to have vile beer all over again.

The Wikipedia link above, about endospores, indicates soaking/submerging in a 10% bleach solution for five or more minutes will do the trick for removing the spore form. I didn’t know this at the time that I decided to get rid of the old stuff. Frankly, I just looked long enough to realize I was looking at Bacillus and/or Clostridium and decided it wasn’t worth the hassle to try and sort it out. Given the cost of the supplies (under $10) and my then-upcoming move, I figured I’d buy new and (hopefully) uncontaminated later.

Where does this leave me? Well, glad for the brewing I’ve done with Rob for one! This way I still have some beer I can call “my brew” around.

But secondly, and more importantly, it leaves me wanting to learn more. While my friends can (and will) teach me a great deal about brewing, none of them has ever experienced a butyric acid problem before (and I hope they never do). This means none of them can tell me what I did wrong, aside from a very generic “keep it clean!” (the mantra of brewing, it seems).

So, I’m going to take a class or 18 at Brew Camp. Starting, of course, with their introductory class “Making Beer at Home.” After I’ve got that down, I’ll take the rest. The Brew Camp guys were at Beer 1Up! giving a homebrew demonstration, and I had a chance to tell them this story. They agreed that it’s clear I need a class or something, and gave me a code to take “Making Beer at Home” for free.

They also gave me one to give to a lucky reader who is interested in starting homebrewing. Which I am very grateful for, and I hope is vastly appealing to all of you!

So, we’re going to keep it simple. The giveaway starts now, and will run until 10:00 pm CDT on Monday the 13th of May. To enter, leave me a comment saying what sort of beer you’d like to be your first homebrew. If you’ve already brewed some, as I did, but still think an intro class would be good for you, tell me what beer is daunting to you.

I’ll notify the winner by email, so make sure the email you leave me is valid. If I don’t hear back from the winner within three days of emailing them, I’ll select an alternate attendee. If no one enters or no one responds, I’m giving the code to my acquaintance, Kristen. (Kristen, if you’re reading this, you can still enter, but you really better respond if you win.)

Here’s to DELICIOUS homebrew in the future!

fn1. And I wonder if Mr. Fahey is going to get irritated that I keep asking him questions and linking to his feed for his expertise. I hope not!

fn2. It’s just not the future we thought we’d have. I’ll take this over flying cars, I gotta be honest.

fn3. It just depends on how you count. Third or fourth batch if you count all the brewing I did/helped Rob with. First if you only count it, since I wasn’t just helping.

fn4. And totally justifying my loathing of Bill’s beloved Kombucha.

2 thoughts on “A Horrifying Homebrew – Part II & Giveaway

  1. Yeah, spore-formers are a bitch to get rid of. If the equipment is cheap enough to replace, then you probably made the right call.

    Congrats on starting homebrew classes! I keep thinking I should do something like that as a gift for my husband, but then I’d lose him to the garage. On the other hand, he’d need to clean out the garage to get enough space to work with, so this may be a win-win situation. 🙂

    (I am not entering the contest, because I am decidedly not local. Wish I could, though!)

    • Totally a win-win situation. Especially as you’d have BEER TO DRINK. THAT DAVE MADE!

      I say do it. And enter! You can bring him out here for a class!

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