How to tell if your brew is infected by bacteria

There's a really simple way to tell if your beer is contaminated


Ready for this life changer?

Drink it. 

If it tastes like the scummiest thing you've ever put in your mouth, it's infected.

If it makes you vomit, it's infected.

If it smells like someone set off a sulfur bomb, it's infected.

If you open the cap and the beer explodes like it has been shaken up a thousand times, it's probably infected. This happens as rogue yeast or bacteria has over carbonated your beer, resulting in too much pressure building.

Such an explosion should not be confused with a beer bomb caused by the addition of too much sugar when you primed the beer.

Basically, a good rule of thumb is that if you really have to ask if your beer is infected, then the chances are it probably is.

You can, of course, do a visual inspection of your beer before you bottle it as well. What you are looking for at the top of the wort is the formation of 'pellicle' (or a yeast raft)- which is a collection of microbes hanging out on top of your beer.

This may not happen with every infection, however.

The pellicle formation can look a bit like this:

pellicle infection of beer

or even this:

beer infection


Which is a real shame because it's not just the fact that your beer is ruined by bacteria or wild yeast commonly referred to as brettanomyces, it's that you've lost your time - it doesn't matter if you've used a kit or done a diligent boil, you have lost those precious minutes.

You've also lost a bit of cash, which can hurt a little, especially if you've gone and sourced that special wheat yeast from the brew shop or those homegrown hops that you drove 45 minutes to get from a brewing mate who swears they are the best he's ever grown.

So what did you get out of this?

Experience.

It's quite likely that user error caused the infection to occur so maybe there's a lesson here for you that you can learn:

ALWAYS

CLEAN

&

SANITIZE

YOUR 

BREWING 

EQUIPMENT

I learned from my screw up and have never had an infected batch of beer again and that was like three years ago.

Sure, it can be a pain to do the job right but if you want to have a beer that's right to drink, you gotta clean.

So let's talk about the causes of infection.

The most likely cause is as you've probably understood if you've got this far is that uncleanliness leads to infection. By giving bacteria something to feed on or hide in, you open yourself up to a higher chance of infection occurring.

So, clean your fermenter, brewing spoons, pipes, spigots, taps, mash tuns and whatever else you use on brewing day. There's many kinds of cleaning agents you can use (such as the famous Powdered Brewery Wash) but a bit of elbow grease with damn hot to boiling water will do you justice.

Then, sanitization is key. We have promoted sodium percarbonate many times on this site as we think it just does wonders and since we have adopted it, we've never had a problem.

The best part about using sodium percarbonate?

You’ve probably already got some as it’s found in ordinary laundry soak!

So on brewing - clean and sanitizing everything. Don't be lazy or your beer will be hazy!

The next time you'll want to think about bacteria is bottling or kegging day.

Yep, it's almost a case of literally rinsing and repeating.

Your keg and bottles must be free of any gunk and residue yeast. Given them a damn good clean and then use your sanitizer of choice.

In the case of bottles, my favourite trick is to run them through the dishwasher on the heaviest setting. First I rinse them with water to remove all the sediment etc and then they go in. At the Heavy Duty setting, the dishwasher will use the hottest water it can and that kills the bugs. I then store them in a clean drum under a blanket.

Then on bottling day, a quick soak in some sodium percarbonate solution makes things just right.

You can always tell if you haven't done this part properly because if in your whole batch of bottled beers one or two do not taste right but the rest do, you can reasonably assume the issue was with the individual bottle and not the batch as a whole.

mega pellicle for an infected beer batch
This "mega Pellicle' was from a beer brew that was found to be infected.

That Rotten Eggs smell from beer


We mentioned that rotten eggs can be a sign of an infected beer. That may well be true but it is not true in every case.

If you have used a yeast strain that produces this kind of smell your beer is OK. If you open a bottle conditioned beer too early, you might be able to get those eggy tones.

If you let your beer condition for long enough, that smell will go away as the yeast will have continued to work everything out.

If your beer's water is high in sulphate such as that water source infamously discovered at Burton-on-Trent, England then your beer may naturally have this smell as well - the so called 'Burton Snatch'.

If however, your beer has bacteria that has contaminated your beer, THAT smell is a sign your beer is ruined. How can you tell? Do the taste test and that will give you a big indicator.

If you are making wine or cider, there is another risk vector for your brew. That is the natural yeasts that can be found in fruit that can wreak havoc.

Many cider makers will use campden tablets to kill off any wild yeast and then substitute their own yeast more suited to the kind of wine or cider that they wish to make.

How to make a beer with a creamy feel

How to get a creamy mouth feel in your home brew beer

Brewers just want their beers to have a good mouth feel and a great taste


It's the most important part.

At the extreme, a great tasting beer that is flat is not a good experience right?

So a creamy mouthfeel and good taste can make the drinking experience wonderful.

When that perfect ale slips down your throat nicely, the brewer has done a great job. They probably followed our brewing guide or lessons learned! ;)

If you are wondering what we mean by a creamy beer you could think of the physical feel you get when you drink a Kilkenny or a Guinness beer.

Forget what they taste like, they are good examples of a creamy beer.

They do have a clever and interesting trick that helps them be so creamy – they are pumped with both carbon dioxide and nitrogen!

How to get a good mouth feel in  home brew beer

How to get a creamy feel in a beer?


It's easy.

Almost too easy.

Here's how to do it:
  1. Use more ‘unfermentables’ in your beer. In effect, this is malt. Add more malt. The more malt you add, the 'creamier' your beer will be. This is in the sense that your beer will be more viscous, making it feel thicker in your mouth. 
  2. You could try adding sugar lactose. Lactose is not fermentable by yeast, and it will give your beer a milky mouth feel. Lactose is added to Milk Stouts to increase the body of the beer, and give it a creamy mouth feel. Some stout beer enhancers will come with lactose. 
  3. You could try and high alpha hops. Such an approach would increase the beer’s bitterness, but also increase the level of ‘isohumulones’ that help enhance head retention. A better head can assist with a good creamy mouthful.
  4. Do what the Guinness brewers do and pump the beer with nitrogen and CO2. This would, of course, require some pretty serious investment in some gear!
  5. We certainly do not advocate putting cream in your fermenter! We imagine that would ruin your good work and vastly increase the likelihood of a beer infection occurring.

How to easily batch prime your homebrew

how to batch prime homebrew beer

Batch priming your beer with sugar


After about 2 years of brewing beer in my man shed, I was getting a little bit tired of dropping sugar all over my workbench as I bottled my beer.

There's nothing more annoying than picking up your hammer to realize it's all sticky. My own bad, of course, I should stop dropping the spoon and spilling sugar everywhere.

But also because: ants.

So I decided to do something I'd always thought about doing but never got around too.

I primed my beer batch with sugar.

And what the heck is that?

In short, priming the batch is when one adds the entire amount of sugar needed to the fermenter so that when you fill each bottle, you don't need to add sugar as well, it's already in the beer wort.

So, that sounds simple, right?

On the face of it, yes, but there are some things to consider!

How much sugar do I need to prime a batch or beer?


Batch priming benefits from some simple calculations that can be made to get that sugar just right.

I usually brew in 23 liter (5 gallon) batches so my focus on my first batch priming was working out how much sugar I needed to use. 

My intention was to use even less than I normally would as I feel I tended to over sugar my bottles which has resulted in my fair share of bottle bombs and even then, just brews which produce too much head (which means waiting time before drinking as the beer then needs to settle).

So first up, different beers need different levels of sugar. Advice from people who have brewed many beers suggests that ales need less sugar than lager-style beers.

This is because many drinkers prefer a lager to have more carbonation and ales are quite drinkable with less.

So, here's what may I analysis of beer brewing forums suggests are the common amounts of sugars to use for priming:
  • Dextrose (Corn sugar) 3/4 cup or 4 or 5 oz / 95 grams
  • Cane sugar 2/3 cup or 3.8 - 4.8 oz / 86 grams
  • Dry Malt Extract - 130 grams
Regards the sugar amount, it's my personal experience that using 60  - 70 grams results in less gushers and less over-fizzy beer.  

I suspect that it might be a case of horses for courses in that some beers do better with more or less sugar, so expect that results may vary\y. That said, I have found 80 grams just perfect for my Irish Miner stouts.

Basically, I'm saying results may vary, experience and personal preference will guide you.

If you are priming with a different volume of beer, I suggest you try this priming calculator.

Some beers go better with different CO2 levels - using a monograph


priming beer nomongraph sugar levels



































I think we mentioned above that some beers just feel better when they have the right amount of carbon dioxide in them.

Too much fizz and that mouth feel doesn't work, too little and that lager might seem flat. 

This nomograph can help you work out how much sugar you need for your particular kind of beer.

The advice on using it is from howtobrew:

"To use the nomograph, draw a line from the temperature of your beer through the volumes of CO2 that you want, to the scale for sugar. The intersection of your line and the sugar scale gives the weight of either corn or cane sugar in ounces to be added to five gallons of beer to achieve the desired carbonation level."

Here is a list of typical volumes of CO2 for various beer styles:
  • British ales 1.5-2.0
  • Porter, Stout 1.7-2.3
  • Belgian ales 1.9-2.4
  • American ales 2.2-2.7
  • European lagers 2.2-2.7
  • Belgian Lambic 2.4-2.8
  • American wheat 2.7-3.3
  • German wheat 3.3-4.5

How to prepare the sugar to add to the batch


There are a couple of ways to do this. 

You could simply add sugar to your fermenter and wait for it to dissolve. It's a pretty simple method but not very efficient and may take some time to ensure an even spread.

I suggest you mix some up with hot water in a sterilized pot (maybe even boil it) and let it cool a bit.

You then open up the fermenter and gently stir it in, without disturbing the sediment.

Leave it to sit for 10 - 20 minutes and then begin your normal bottling process. Indeed, you could sanitise your bottles while you wait.

I suspect you could also use icing sugar as well as that's just finely cut up sucrose so it should dissolve easily.

Try not to stir up the sediment!

Using a 'secondary' or bottling bucket


There's a fair argument to be made that when batch priming your beer, using a secondary fermenter or bottling bucket is the way to go.

The concept is that you siphon the beer from the original fermenter into a second vessel.

This way you are able to bottle without disturbing the yeast and other brewing bi-products that have fallen to the bottom of the original fermenter. 

The idea is that this improves beer clarity and further reduces the amount of sediment that will form in the conditioned beer bottles (and on pouring from those, again reduced the chance of sediment going into the beer glass).

If you are siphoning into a secondary, I suggest you have your sugar solution all prepared and in the secondary, before you add the beer as this will help ensure the sugar dissolves properly in the brew.

This will also help ensure that your batch brewed beer will have a consistent sugar volume and each beer should behave the same - i.e. produce the same amount of fizz and head with each pour.

Don't over prime!

home brew too much sugar explosion
Try to avoid over sugaring beer!

I'm trying to avoid using too much sugar in my beers as I don't want them to be too fizzy or explode in a mess all over the kitchen. So, beer this in mind.

If you add too much sugar, you will cause these problems so we recommend you consider the numbers above.

Priming with other flavours


Dextrose and sucrose do not add any flavours to the beer. They simply are eaten by the yeast and converted into more alcohol and CO2 which goes into the beer.

You can prime with other things such as honey and brown sugar. Some brewers have been known to use brown sugar with stouts. Honey can be used with hefeweizens and blondes. I have found that using too much honey can leave a beer feeling a bit 'dry'.

You could even melt down some jelly beans if you want to give your beer a really sweet flavour!

You can also use molasses. If you're brave...

Remember, temperature can affect CO2 production


Once you have bottled your beer, you need to consider storage temperature. 

It's best to initially store your beer in a warm place. 

This will encourage secondary fermentation to commence (this is sometimes described as bottle conditioning). The ideal temperature range is between approx 18 - 25°C for 5 to 7 days. 

After that period, you should leave them in a much cooler place with a temperature range between approx 8 - 12°C. 


And then as per standard conditioning practice, we recommend waiting three weeks before having a wee sample.

Can you use dextrose instead of sugar for priming?


Corn sugar and dextrose are the same thing! Dextrose is actually the most popular priming sugar, so feel free to use it with your priming.

Success!


Very happy to report the ale I primed is very drinkable, with no bottle bombs occurring and a very consistent level of bubbles! 

Using Amylase Enzyme to reduce starch in beer

using amylase to increase attenuation of beer
I'm a hungry enzyme...

Mashing enzymes such as Amylase powder convert the starch in beer malt into soluble sugars


With this knowledge, the home brewer can manipulate enzyme activity to can control the fermentability of their wort.

Amylase enzymes are proteins. Their specific role is to 'catalyze biochemical reactions', which means that they enable a reaction to occur quickly and crucially at the temperature of living organisms (talking yeast here).

While we are talking about brewing, it should be understood that enzymes are vital for human life as they significantly speed up the rate of virtually all of the chemical reactions that take place within the body's cells. Along with lipase, they are crucial for having a healthy digestive system and for metabolism. There is amylase in human saliva - digestion starts in the mouth after all!

So, brewers use amylase to ensure an efficient break down of the malt into maltose and sugars - meaning there is more food for the yeast to eat, meaning you get more alcohol - this is called attenuation.

The one - two punch of alpha and beta amylase in starch digestion

In a brewer’s mash, we are concerned with the activity of two main enzymes, alpha and beta amylase, and their effect on starch.

A starch molecule, as a basic description, is a group of glucose molecules linked together. Enzymes will break those links allowing yeast to better ferment.

Alpha-amylase contributes to the digestion of starch by breaking internal bonds between the glucose molecules. As the starch molecules are opened up, they break into a range of intermediate sizes.

In comes beta-amylase which further digests these newly sized molecules mostly into maltose—a sugar of two glucose units—but also to glucose itself and to the three-glucose molecule maltotriose. You can add glucoamylase instead of beta as it does the same job on starch.

This will occur effectively when the wort is properly pH balanced and the ideal temperature has been realised.

These two compounds are also great to break down corn type adjuncts when making spirits (just watch that methanol production eh?)

When to add amylase enzyme to the wort


The temperature of your mash is key to how effective amylase.

In terms of timings, some brewers will add amylase immediately after adding strike water or about 30 minutes or so into an extended all-grain mash taking longer than 60 minutes.

If you increase the temperature immediately after adding amylase you're working against yourself.

Amylase works best at 150-155°F. Much higher than that and the enzyme is destroyed by the heat. 

A common practice is to hold it at its activation temperature for an hour to allow full conversion of starch, then cool it rapidly to your fermentation temperature once the gelatinization of the malt/starch is complete.

This wiki advises:

The ideal situation you want is to attain is one in which your mash rests at a temperature between 66° and 70° C (150°-158° F) to allow the amylase enzymes to do their work. The colder the rest, the more fermentable sugars will be available for fermenting, and therefore the higher alcohol content in the final beer. The hotter the temperature, the more unfermentable sugars will reach fermentation, and thus the fuller the mouth-feel. This is, of course a comparison of otherwise duplicate mashes. Remember, the enzymes will work outside their optimum temperatures, so given an adequate amount of time, all starches can be converted to fermentables.
We suggest you read the whole wiki as it gives a very sound scientific description of mash temperatures and the various methods use you can use enzymes with. This page is a great read too.

Why ph of the mash is important for enzyme action


The pH level of your beer (both mash and wort) affects the way your beer turns out in several ways. Enzyme function is affected by an out of whack pH level, the efficiency of your hops can be manipulated and it affects how well your yeast ferments your brew.

Brewers test for pH using meters - a sample is taken from the work and an electrode is used to take the reading - pH is then adjusted accordingly using chemicals like calcium chloride or lactic acid.

This video gives a really great introduction into using alpha and beta-amylase and its relationship to beer mash:



Extra for experts: Does adding enzyme to the mash influence the taste of the beer?

⇒ Steinlager Classic Clone Recipe

sexist steinlager advertising from the 1980s

Steinlager clone recipe for homebrew beer


There's plenty of evidence around to suggest that Steinlager is one of the greatest beers that has ever been produced.

Despite the trend to craft beer drinking, Steinlager beer is holding it's own in the market.

Kind of...

Steinlager homebrew recipeThis is due of course to a strong marketing campaign* by Lion Nathan - it's the official beer of the all conquering All Blacks, the fact it's a New Zealand household name and the fact that it's actually a good beer to drink.

It really is, beer snobs need not contribute their opinion!

If you've found this page, chances are we do not need to sell you on Steinlager being a good drinking beer - and if you want to clone it, here's a Steinlager clone recipe that might just help you get an approximation of what many consider to be one of New Zealand's finest beers.

And just so there's no confusion, we are talking about Steinlager Classic, the original Steinlager beer.

Not this "Pure' version of it they market these days and let's be clear - there's no way we are even going to consider a Steinlager Tokyo.

That is simply marketing a new beer for the sake of marketing a new beer.

It has no soul.

Steinlager Classic, now that is a beer that has tradition, aspiration, balls and of course great taste.

A beer that you can actually have a good crack at making a homebrew clone!

Hops used in Steinlager

The actual recipe for Steinlager is a closely held trade secret, so it's a bit of a guess what goes into it but well-educated taste buds have been able to offer some handy insight.

Steinlager is noted for its key ingredient of the so-called 'green bullet' hops. 

This hops is unique in that it was developed in New Zealand and it delivers a traditional bittering quality and hop flavor, ideal for lager making.

It's popularity has meant it's now a flagship hop within the New Zealand brewing industry.

So your Steinlager clone will at the least need bullet hops!


How to make a good clone of Steinlager beer


So there are two ways to make a Steinlager clone. One way is rough as guts, and the other is your more refined home brewing process...

Making a good Steinlager clone using a beer kit:


You will need the following ingredients:
Prepare according to the usual method of making beer with kits and dammit, Jim - make sure you sanitise your gear!

Cold storage of your lager will be very handy - leave it in the shed?

Extra for experts: If you are trying to make a Steinlager Pure clone (hey, it's your life), note that Pure uses Pacific Jade hops, Nelson Sauvin hops and possibly some green bullet too.


Steinlager clone recipe for more seasoned brewers


If you're into boiling your wort and getting the timings of the hop additions just perfect, here's some a Steinlager clone recipe that seems pretty handy.

It comes from a bloke called Timmy:


  • 4.00 kg Pilsner, Malt Craft Export (Joe White) (3.2 EBC) Grain
  • 0.25 kg Carahell (Weyermann) (25.6 EBC) Grain
  • 0.15 kg Carafoam (Weyermann) (3.9 EBC) Grain
  • 0.15 kg Wheat Malt, Malt Craft (Joe White) (3.5 EBC) Grain
  • 60 min 20.00 gm Green Bullet [13.50 %] (60 min) Hops
  • 10 min 15.00 gm Green Bullet [13.50 %] (10 min) Hops
  • 10 min 25.00 gm Northern Brewer [8.50 %] (10 min) Hops
  • 10 min 0.50 items Irish Moss (Boil 10.0 min) Misc
  • 1 min 25.00 gm Northern Brewer [8.50 %] (1 min) Hops
  • 1 packet Budvar Lager (Wyeast Labs #2000) Yeast-Lager

You'll have an estimated 1.056 original gravity and final gravity of 1.014 and approx 30 IBU.


There are other Steinlager clone recipes around but they are more or less the same as this one.

One or two seem to suggest that the beer contains Hallertau Hops but others have countered that was an older version of the beer.

Indeed, given the green bullet hops wasn't first produced until 1972 and that Steinlager has been around since the late 1950's, the beer drunk since at least 1972 has a different hops than what the originally beer started with - which is probably no biggie as it was in 1977 when Steinlager was crowned the world's best beer.

It also won the Les Amis du Vin Award (a beer competition of renown) again in '78 and '80 so it's the green bullet hops that helped win the world over.

This article has a sweet history of the beer as it became popular around the world.

* How about that poster eh? Classic sexist advertising from the 1980s.

Check out this Panhead supercharger clone recipe.

What are yeast traps and is my beer infected?

yeast trap beer

A yeast trap sounds like some kind of disposal system to catch wasted yeast however, more simply a 'yeast trap' is when some yeast floats to the top of your wort during fermentation. Some brewers call them 'yeast rafts'.

Dead yeast floats to the bottom.

In this case, we speculate the yeast has simply clumped together after it has been pitched on top of the wort.

It's nothing to worry about.

This has happened to us before. 

We've chosen to leave it and day by day the clumps of yeast slowly disappear from the top - the yeast cells have probably got to work fermenting as they damn well should.

So, the advice here is that if your wort looks like this a day or two after pitching the yeast, there is nothing wrong with your batch of beer. All it needs a little bit of time to come right.

Beer infections, on the other hand, will look a bit different.

First up, ask yourself a question. 

Despite what you may be observing floating on your beer, how does it smell? 


If so, then yes, your beer is probably infected and you'll need to dump it. 

But first, you have to taste it. 

Is it rank? 

Does it taste like some kind of demon that was juiced in a blender then left in the sun?

You gotta dump it. 

Bad luck skipper. 

But.

But. 

But. 

There are lots of things that can grow on the top of the wort that look less friendly than a simple yeast raft. 

Like this abomination:

infected beer wort

White film or flakes on top of the beer wort is fairly common and they form after the Krausen goes back to where it came from. 

They are often referred to as pellicles. 

They are usually harmless and when your beer is ready, you can simply bottle your beer. 

So no drama Llama, carry on.

Except when in this particular case, the beer was bad:

infected beer pellicle


You can avoid the pellicle going into your beer by racking into another drum or simply keeping an eye on the level of the remaining beer in the fermenter as you bottle. You can always siphon the beer under the pellicle into a secondary drum before you bottle or keg from that new one.

This may feel like a goods news post - there are ways however that you beer can become infected and thus undrinkable. Which serves as a constant reminder to sanitize your brewing equipment

Can I get methanol poisoning from home brew beer?

methanol poisoning from beer

Can I accidentally make methanol when home brewing beer?

Update: You may have arrived at this page because of the story coming out of South Africa where a couple died after drinking homebrew. There are limited facts on this sad case - Fact checker site Snopes will sort it one day for sure but until they do, we can be pretty confident there's no chance methanol from home brew beer killed them.

-

From time to time I see potential brewers ask if they will accidentally make methanol when foraying into beer production.

This is because methanol is quite a dangerous alcohol.

It is toxic to the human body and can have some very nasty effects - ranging from blindness to the worst of which is death.

Everyone has heard the stories of some Russian sailors on a fishing boat going blind from drinking homemade spirits right? Drinking this kind of 'rocket fuel' is just a hazard of the job eh?

First up, the answer to the question is that the ordinary beer home brewing process makes the alcohol called ethanol - not methanol. So you can't get methanol poisoning, no matter how much extra sugar you add.

That's in general though - some methanol can be produced but at such minor levels that have no effect on the beer or effect on the body when consumed.

Fruit beers that contain pectin could have slightly higher levels of the spirit but the effect is still negligible.

So from that perspective, there's no risk of making a beer batch of methanol and going blind. It's more likely that you will just get blind drunk or meet Darth Vader!!

There are however some genuine risks if one is distilling alcohol - backyard operations can indeed produce batches where the methanol content can be lethal (or more sinisterly methanol is added deliberately and sold on the bootleg market). It's for this reason, most countries in the world have made the distillation of spirits illegal - plenty of stills can be bought on Amazon though!

It is allowed in New Zealand but only for personal consumption.

The science of distillation is quite complicated and there appears to be an of myth around methanol production. The key point to understand that if you are homebrew brewing beer, there's no risk of making a killer brew.

Distillation on the other hand... stay away from that unless you've been properly trained.

What is the treatment for methanol poisoning?


Methanol toxicity is the result of consuming methanol.

The horrific symptoms may include a decreased level of consciousness, poor coordination, vomiting, abdominal pain, and a specific smell on the breath. The famous effect of decreased vision or blindness may start as early as twelve hours after exposure.

The blindness is caused by the methanol being broken down by the body into formic acid when then has a debilitating and damaging effect on the eye's optic nerve.

Is there a cure for methanol poisoning?


There is a cure!

The sooner the antidote, fomepizole, is taken, the increased likelihood of a good outcome for the victim.

Other treatment options include dialysis and consumption of sodium bicarbonate, folate, and thiamine.

This is of course, not medical advice. If you have a consumption incident, seek medical services assistance immediately.

I saw a query from a gentleman who decided to drink a glass wine after having left the bottle open for 2 months. The wine was disgusting, he burned his throat and he described that he felt like he had a headache. He wondered if the wine had turned into methanol so as to explain his condition.

It's more than likely that the wine's ethanol had not converted to methanol, instead, it was probably oxygenated and had become a vile vinegar!

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