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Here's my brief story:

Bought a Mr. Beer kit and didn't have a clue what I was doing, and out of impatience would squeeze the fermentor to smell the brew, resulting in an infection. I now have cheap, crappy beer that tastes like a hard-miller cider.

However, I got addicted to home brewing within 5 minutes and ordered a Deluxe kit from Northern Brewer prior to the crappy batch even finishing, with the 2 glass carboys. That time, I actually paid attention, sanitized, and did everything according to the instructions. I used an Irish Red Ale recipe kit.

After about 10 days (barely... barely any activity) I moved it to the secondary fermentor.

Today is 17 days into secondary, and I went to add some clearing drops and took a big sniff. I think... just maybe there's a very faint hint of cider/vinegar, but if it's there it's faint, and could also be insanely paranoid after my crappy 1st brew. I then popped the top of a Killian's Irish Red and maybe, just maybe... there's the same hint of that smell.

I suppose my question is, has anyone used this recipe or made this type of beer and experienced this faint smell? It's not bad... it's not strong, and keep in mind, it might not even be there. Paranoia is getting to me, and if this batch doesn't turn out good I'll try again, but most certainly be disappointed.

Prior to asking I googled and read countless explanations, and people are quick to say infection, but it's super super faint and might very well be the correct smell. Looking for real, simple, experienced it, been there and done it kinda' answer instead of a science book.

Appreciate your help!

  • 10 days and barely any activity in primary. Can you describe the primary better please. Most importantly was there a krauesen ring on top and yeast cake on the bottom of the carboy. A long lag time could have let infection get hold. – Evil Zymurgist Dec 30 '15 at 10:56
  • Sorry for lack of clarity. What I meant was it took about 10 days for primary to complete. – user1447679 Dec 30 '15 at 17:53
  • That's not too bad at all. If you've ever tasted or smelled your starters they can be all over the specrum of funk and still be perfectly ok. Let us know how the final beer turns out. – Evil Zymurgist Dec 30 '15 at 17:59
  • Just an update, I bottled the beer last night and couldn't help but to fill a glass with warm, flat beer to test. It was actually pretty good considering it hasn't even conditioned yet. I think I overdid it on the StarSan, bottles were a bit sudsy when I filled them, might have used a little more than one ounce for 5 gallons of solutions. – user1447679 Dec 31 '15 at 16:03
  • I wouldn't change the starsan ratio, it is made to foam. Five Star Chem does make a low foam version. Or oven bake your bottles to sterilize them. – Evil Zymurgist Dec 31 '15 at 16:06
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The cider / vinegar smell is normal, it is acetaldehyde and is a normal byproduct of fermentation. But it's a temporary byproduct, the yeast will consume it to recover NAD+ from NADH after all oxygen has been gone for a while.

If I recall correctly, even acetobacter needs oxygen to actually make vinegar. So the problem is apparently oxygen more than contamination.

Make sure your fermenter is sealed properly, and that you don't get oxygen into the beer when racking. The current preferred method to prevent oxygen at racking is: don't rack at all - it doesn't help the beer unless you need to keep it in the fermenter for more than a couple months.

I your case, don't worry, but do bottle condition the beer (kegging, with artificial carbonation, would not help this). A little kick of sugar will wake up the yeast and get them to clean up the acetaldehyde.

  • Thank you so much. I did use the secondary fermentor as stated. I also failed to get as much beer as possible into the 5 gallon secondary, so there is a bit too much head space in there. I hope it'll still be okay, oxygen and all. – user1447679 Dec 30 '15 at 18:01
  • One practice that gives me piece of mind to prevent racking o2 exposure is to use a stainless steel tube sealable racking cane. I fill my secondary with starsan sanitizer then purge out with c02 and seal the carboy with foil. The idea is to give secondary racking a good chance of having mostly co2 in the headspace right from the start. – Evil Zymurgist Dec 31 '15 at 14:12
  • @user1447679 you might want to top off your carboy so there isn't much head space. Getting the head above the shoulder significantly reduces the surface area of your beer. – Escoce Dec 31 '15 at 15:45
  • @EvilZymurgist Can you point me to a link or more details somewhere about the prevention of oxygen exposure method you're using? Next batch I'll be sure to fill it up more. My main mistake was not getting all the beer from Primary into Secondary. – user1447679 Dec 31 '15 at 16:05
  • @user1447679 honestly I've not seen the practice documented anywhere. It's just something I came up with, but I can't be the first I'm sure. It's fairly simple fill with sanitizer and force out with co2, I first did it with corney kegs so my beer never touched air using the in/out lines. I'll try to find some pics. – Evil Zymurgist Dec 31 '15 at 16:11
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I understand what you are talking about. I get that paranoia with every batch. In my case it is with fruit wines, meads, and ciders. Sometimes the mind plays tricks. If you sanitize decently you shouldn't worry to much. People are obsessed with sanitizing and much of it is overblown. People have been making beer, wine, and liquor for ages and until more modern times sanitation was sketchy at best. Up until very recently bleach was used to sanitize and now you would think bleach was born of the devil and will ruin a batch 9-out of 10 times...Which was probably an invented issue by the makers of niche sanitizers to sell more product (though brewing sanitizers are much easier, safer, and non-rinse is a tremendous selling point, and the product is well worth it).

When I am ready to bulk age a wine, I usually have my moment of paranoia. There is sometimes a slight vinegar smell, and when I take a taste there is a sharp biting aftertaste. It doesn't taste great. A lot of times though, I just pull out a bottle of red wine vinegar and have a smell and taste and immediately go, "Ahh OK, the wine is not vinegar..."

A lot of times the yeast feeding frenzy which creates the alcohol will just overpower a batch leaving you to question both your taste buds and your nose. Most of the time it just needs some time to age. The aging mellows out the bite. Since fermentation should be finished and the product racked off the yeast, all the flavors will start to come together and you will be surprised with the result. It's kind of the magical brewing process. I've had a fruit mead that I was paranoid about, and thought was horrible and a disaster after secondary fermentation, especially because honey is a somewhat expensive ingredient. I bulk aged it and after six months I was wondering about it and took a taste, and it was really good. After a year, I finally bottled it and it was the best batch I had ever made.

Just have some faith in yourself and the process, and don't start throwing things until it's fully complete!

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