Steamtoberfest: Patient Zero

IMG_3947I brewed Mocktoberfest Ale in 2012, just before brewing my first lagers. In 2013, I decided that I would go ahead and use lager yeast, using the water bath method to try to keep the temperature down.

I saved several water bottles and froze them, then rotated four at a time from the freezer to the rubbery-plasticy tub of water that I placed the carboy in and filled with water. I draped a towel over the top of the tub to keep in the cold, not an easy task in August.

Switching the water bottles out twice a day made this one of the my more labor intensive batches. So, of course, it was my first batch ever to get infected.

I made one terribly foolish mistake. I used a plastic carboy topper, which fit over the outside of the carboy, instead of a normal rubber stopper. These things are good for the beginning of fermentation because they let more CO2 out than the airtight rubber stoppers. I discussed the fact that I had issues with blow off after switching to plastic carboys. My blow off tube doesn’t fit properly in the larger openings of plastic carboys and the very active fermentation of the first couple days after brew day often blow the rubber stoppers right out of the carboy.

IMG_3945The plastic toppers are nice for letting the extra gas out, but they also let stuff in. During that crazy fermentation, there is so much CO2 being put off, that nothing has a chance to get in. As soon as it calms down, though everything from oxygen to wild yeast to bacteria can get in. And that is what happened.

A pellicle began forming on top of the fermenting beer. It was thin and white with lines forming a spiderweb that looked like old, cracking paint. At first, it started to smell a bit solvent like. It was not pleasant, but rather than dumping it, I decided to just move it into my closet and wait and see what happens. It is still there. The pellicle is still there.

It has bubbled up on occasion, big swamp like bubbles. I look at it almost every day, but I haven’t opened it up or done anything to check its flavor or aroma in about a year.

IMG_3946With this batch hidden in the closet, I gave the recipe another go, this time switching back to ale yeast because time was now of the essence. That batch got infected, too. As did a batch that I had brewed before that was just about ready to bottle. I will cover that batch tomorrow and explain what I think happened.

For context, I brewed the first Steamtoberfest on July 22, 2013. Then I brewed the batch I’ll be talking about tomorrow on August 20, 2013 and the second attempt at Steamtoberfest on August 24. Hopyard Harvest was my next batch on September 4. This really was the dark time. All of these batches were disappointments and I have to admit that I was starting to question my my continued brewing. I took a little break, not long, but if that next batch hadn’t worked out, I don’t know if I’d be writing this right now.

I’m going to skip posting the recipe for this beer for right now. I hope to some day do something with the beer, whether that is using it to blend with another beer, turning it into vinegar, bottling it straight or dumping out… I don’t know, but I will definitely post about it one way or another.




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