Further disaster on the homebrewing front. Our first ale of the autumn, brewed the weeks ago, is infected in some way.
This is a weird one though, as it tastes and smells really different to the last infected batch. It smells like a malty lambic, or maybe like scrumpy cider. It tastes quite interesting – as well as the sour notes, which dominate the initial taste, there’s a bit of butterscotch, blackcurrant and apple. The malt flavour is still there and in the finish, it’s definitely more beer than vinegar. And there are hints of a slightly medicinal, phenolic flavour that could indicate the presence of Brettonomyces, as far as we can tell from a bit of reading around the subject.
In a weird way, it’s actually rather nice. It’s obviously not what we intended to brew, but I’m quite tempted to bottle it, leave it for a few months and see what we end up with.
Perhaps we have a unique wild yeast strain in the marshes around East London which will one day bring beer geeks on pilgrimage from around the world, and make our fortune… or am I being hopelessly optimistic, and we should just use it to make chutney in lieu of cider vinegar?
We actually used two yeasts for this, neither of which seemed to be working at the time, which might explain how something else snuck in. We wanted to use Fullers’ yeast, so we tried to harvest some from a couple of bottles of 1845. As a back up, we also got liquid Wyeast 1028 going. Neither of these showed any signs of life on brew day, so we pitched them both and hoped for the best. Of course, doing all of this would have greatly increased the chance of infection.
We’ve often wondered with some of our less-than-perfect brews whether the off-flavours are due to contamination.
Now we know for sure that there can be no doubt when your beer is contaminated — it smells like sh*t and tastes… well, you need to spit it out pretty quickly or you’ll be sick.
In a couple of years of brewing, this is the first time we’ve had contamination.
In this case we think the probable cause was clumsiness while adding some pre-harvested stuff from a previous batch. The yeast itself smelled fine, but during the pitching, the outside of the jar came into contact with the beer. And we hadn’t sterilised that, and it had been sitting next to all sorts of interesting raw stuff in the fridge.
If nothing else, it serves as a useful reminder not to get complacent, especially when messing around with liquid yeast.
Apologies for all the talk of faeces and vomit. We’ll get back to more savoury topics from tomorrow.