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Infection/Quality Problems: what we should know

Discussion in 'Beer Talk' started by cavedave, Jan 5, 2016.

  1. cavedave

    cavedave Poo-Bah (2,254) Mar 12, 2009 New York
    Beer Trader

    Right now we are in the midst of a large craft beer infection problem. Right now on social media folks are discussing Bourbon County variants being infected, and it seems likely that some or maybe even many of the Coffee and Barley Wine variants were released with infection.

    Much misinformation around, and undue concerns, and under-reactions too, as well as many questions I believe we all would love some answers to? Many answers around also, but they are scattered, and there are other questions that need answers. A good thread could be like a clearinghouse for infection info to help folks with this or any future beer infection problems.

    We are a tremendous resource here, and I hope the smartest of us can chime in on:

    -What is infection exactly?
    -Is my beer infected?
    -What should we do if we suspect our beer is infected after we open it?
    -What are the best ways we can handle our beer if we are concerned it might be infected (unopened)?
    -How should we handle our dealings with breweries to try and get our money back/etc.? What has worked in the past?

    Any questions YOU guys have, let's post them here and let those who know answer them. And let's keep this an info thread and civil. Any answers you guys have to questions we ought to ask, please post those as well.

    Also gonna leave this link to a search that brought up a few good past discussions that might give some insight into all we are talking about on those other threads too.

    Past infection talks

  2. utopiajane

    utopiajane Poo-Bah (2,389) Jun 11, 2013 New York

    I think this is a great idea. ^ @cavedave Here is what I know and I have had only a couple infected beers. In each case the beer tasted sour or spoiled, off or tart. There's one thing that beer usually isn't and that is so bubbly that it gushes out of the bottle when opened. BUT to illustrate my point duvel that I bought last june for drink with the duvel day had been sitting since before xmas the previous year I am sure. Once opened it made lots of bubbles and disappeared mysteriously. meaning that the entire bottle yielded about 3 fingers of beer after all the gushing. It practiclaly exploded out of the bottle once uncapped. A bottle conditioned beer that is active will not stand a loose cap or recapping. My duchesse that I was trying to drink and keep capped on the desk kept popping off. It will pop off. Infected is something that can happen and who is responsible? Is the beer ruined? It's like a right of passage almost at least it seems that way to me.
  3. stealth

    stealth Defender (607) Dec 16, 2011 Minnesota
    Beer Trader

    What is an infection? When unwanted bacteria and/or wild yeast infiltrate an otherwise 'clean' beer. ie: Shit got into the beer that brewers did not want there.

    Is your beer infected? Does the carbonation seem extreme compared to other bottles within the style or previous vintages of the same beer? Did it gush? Does it smell metallic (when it should not), tart, sour, like lactic acid? Does it taste like lactic acid? taste tart/sour? Are the flavors muted and washed out, with the sourness/tartness dominating? If these symptoms describe your beer when they shouldn't be present (ie: you aren't drinking a wild ale to begin with), then yeah, it most likely is. You often 'know'. Once you have a few infected beers you will often know within seconds when you experience them again.
  4. drtth

    drtth Poo-Bah (3,222) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    From what I've heard/seen online it seems that any brewery that runs a barrel aging program runs the risk of having an infected beer from one or more of the barrels, and that often that infection is not discovered until after bottling and distribution of the beer for sale.
  5. LeRose

    LeRose Meyvn (1,179) Nov 24, 2011 Massachusetts
    Supporter Subscriber

    @cavedave - I think the first bullet point you make is the critical one (well, combined with the second). There's plenty of resources for "off flavors", but how many of those are actually due to infection? I found this list a while ago and it does a decent job linking infections to different organisms. I included the Part I document - some of the flavor faults overlap. I think "off flavor" might just trigger the infected response, but it isn't necessarily true.



    And organisms that cause infections in one beer are responsible for goodness in other styles, right? If you don't want Brett or Pedio or Lacto characteristics in a beer, then isn't the beer technically infected with those undesired organisms? Basically what @stealth is pointing out above.

    Defining what is and isn't an infection seems to be the hard part, especially if people are just throwing the term out there to describe an off flavor.
    billverstein, BartS, nsheehan and 5 others like this.
  6. spicoli00

    spicoli00 Zealot (543) Jul 6, 2005 Indiana

    This is from John Palmer's "How to Brew." These links detail many problems and off flavors and their causes: http://howtobrew.com/book/section-4/is-my-beer-ruined/common-off-flavors

    Below is the one that is usually associated with "infection."

    Symptom: It smells like vinegar.

    Cause 1: Bacteria In this case, it probably is. Aceto bacteria (vinegar producing) and Lacto bacteria (lactic acid producing) are common contaminates in breweries. Sometimes the infection will produce sweet smells like malt vinegar, other times they will produce cidery smells. It will depend on which bug is living in your wort. Aceto bacteria often produce ropy strands of jelly which can be a good visual indicator, as can excessive cloudiness, after several weeks in the fermentor (although some cloudiness is not unusual, especially in all-grain beers).
    Cure: If you don't like the taste, then pour it out. Lactic infections are desired in some beer styles.

    Cause 2: Wild Yeast/Bacteria Two other bugs are also common, Brettanomyces and Pediococcus. Brettanomyces is supposed to smell like horse sweat or a horse blanket. Raise your hand if you know what a horse smells like. From sweat, I mean. Anyone? I think Brettanomyces smells like leather, myself. Pediococcus can produce diacetyl and acidic aromas and flavors.

    One man's garbage can be another man's gold though. These two cultures and Lacto bacteria are actually essential to the Belgian Lambic beer styles. Under other circumstances and styles, beers that taste like Lambics would be discarded instead of being carefully nurtured and blended over a two year period. Lambic beers have a pronounced tartness with fruity overtones. This type of beer is very refreshing and is excellent with heavy food.
    Cure: Be meticulous in your sanitation or investigate Lambic brewing.
    deford, vabeerguy, LeRose and 5 others like this.
  7. TongoRad

    TongoRad Poo-Bah (2,031) Jun 3, 2004 New Jersey
    Supporter Beer Trader

    Isn't fear of cross contamination the reason that New Belgium started pasteurizing certain bottles? It would seem that other brewers should follow suit.
    FarmerTed likes this.
  8. M_D_S

    M_D_S Initiate (114) Jun 19, 2015 California

    Agreed. I think you will see a number move to flash pasteurization as a means of controlling microbiological integrity, particularly those with large wild/barrel-aged programs.
    2beerdogs, TongoRad and cavedave like this.
  9. nick0417

    nick0417 Aspirant (213) Jun 13, 2014 Illinois

    This is a wonderful thread, @cavedave. Thanks for starting it. While I have a tenuous grasp of causes for infection, I assume folks here can often more detailed information, which is good seeing as how I have two bottles of 2015 GI BW in the cellar right now.
  10. Ranbot

    Ranbot Devotee (462) Nov 27, 2006 Pennsylvania

    Some good information about beer defects, including infections are in this article written by a cicerone: http://drinks.seriouseats.com/2013/...-skunked-beer-diacetyl-dirty-draft-lines.html

    On infections specifically it says (underlines by me):
    "One more term you may encounter if you're downwind of a beer geek's ramblings is infection.This is a beer that has unintentionally been partially fermented by wild yeast or bacteria. An infected beer could display a wide range of characteristics.

    The byproducts of these accidental fermentations almost universally taste terrible. A good first indication of an infected bottle of beer is overcarbonation—wild yeast and bacteria can usually eat a range of sugars that normal brewer's yeast cannot, and the continued fermentation in the bottle will trap that excess CO2 in the form of bubbles. In dramatic cases, this can result in a "gusher." Your kitchen counter will be absolutely covered in signs of infection if that's the case.

    You'll be able to taste other indications of infection. Look for an unexpected sourness or the aforementioned diacetyl and acetaldehyde—both could indicate an infection.

    Again, let the pitchfork stay in its holster until you've sourced the cause of the problem. Poor sanitation is always to blame when it comes to infections in beer, but improperly maintained kegs and draft lines are just as likely to be the cause as the brewers themselves.

    If you suspect an infection in a beer sending a polite, informative email to the brewer usually gets a good response. As mentioned above infections often don't become apparent until long after the beer leaves the brewery, so customer feedback can be crucial for brewers. Give them any batch numbers, bottling dates, purchase dates, pertinent observations, and tastes of the beer so they can try to confirm/track down the problem. Last summer I suspected something was off in a Long Trail beer from a mix 12-pack and sent them an email with that information. They thanked me for the information, said they would check their archived samples of the beer, and offered to reimburse me for the mix pack. I got a check in the mail from them a few weeks later, which I put towards another Long Trail purchase.

    Do not contact the brewer about an infection on social media (Facebook, Twitter, online forums, etc.). If you want to be taken seriously and have the best chance of getting a response then send an email.
  11. cavedave

    cavedave Poo-Bah (2,254) Mar 12, 2009 New York
    Beer Trader

    I believe Deschutes and Short's solved their problems that way also.
  12. sweetcell

    sweetcell Initiate (76) Dec 6, 2013 Maryland
    Beer Trader

    yes, this is why NB pasteurizes (they use the same bottling line for clean and sour beers).

    no, other brewers shouldn't follow suit necessarily, IMO. let's not go overboard here - just because GI has this problem, with the variants, doesn't mean that all beers should be pasteurized. i can't imagine that pasteurization improves flavor. for sours, it stops the beer's evolution (NB sours won't change over time in the ways that an unpasteurized sour will).
    thepenguin, Zaphog, sharpski and 2 others like this.
  13. Jacobob10

    Jacobob10 Poo-Bah (1,598) Feb 23, 2004 New Jersey

    Correct, and there are other measures that can be taken to prevent infection. Here are some of the QA/QC measures The Bruery decided to take after infection issues in 2013. They mention pasteurization as a last resort:
    They also moved operations of all their beer fermented with wild yeasts as well as oak-aged sour ales to a new second facility (Bruery Terreux) that handles fermentation, barrel aging and packaging.
  14. TongoRad

    TongoRad Poo-Bah (2,031) Jun 3, 2004 New Jersey
    Supporter Beer Trader

    I definitely agree with your last part, and I would prefer if sours would develop over time.

    But thinking about the GI situation, what I have seen posted was that the wild yeast from one of the sisters contaminated the BA beers. For their setup it would be better for all involved if at least their BA beers were pasteurized.
    LuskusDelph likes this.
  15. Dupage25

    Dupage25 Aspirant (283) Jul 4, 2013 Antarctica

    I remember several years ago when one batch of Night Stalker followed by a few reports of Dark Lord had autolysis problems and people were incorrectly describing these beers as "infected." Nice to have a thread like this to correct such errors.

    I don't think the Bourbon County line would suffer much flavor change from pasteurization to be honest. I'd like to see them test it out on a single variant next year just to be sure before they do it to the entire line, but the vast overwhelming majority of the intended BC flavors have little to nothing to do with yeast flavors changing in the bottle over time. Boulevard started flash-pasteurizing their barrel-aged high gravity beers and nobody seems to notice a change.
    TongoRad likes this.
  16. Dupage25

    Dupage25 Aspirant (283) Jul 4, 2013 Antarctica

    What's confusing to me is that the infected BCBB reports mention sour flavors, which I wouldn't expect from wild yeast but rather bacteria. Perhaps they use a yeast+bacteria culture rather than add them separately?
  17. 2beerdogs

    2beerdogs Poo-Bah (1,863) Jan 31, 2005 California
    Supporter Subscriber Beer Trader

    The Bruery started using flash pasteurization even though they knew this would freak some "wild ale" fans out.
  18. gopens44

    gopens44 Poo-Bah (1,834) Aug 9, 2010 Virginia
    Beer Trader

    Super thinking @cavedave and I'd say that perhaps having a quality or infection sub forum in beer talk or releases could be of help going forward.
    creepinjeeper and JLaw55 like this.
  19. 2beerdogs

    2beerdogs Poo-Bah (1,863) Jan 31, 2005 California
    Supporter Subscriber Beer Trader

  20. Mothergoose03

    Mothergoose03 Poo-Bah (1,997) May 30, 2005 Michigan
    Supporter Subscriber

    Short's did start pasteurizing their beers to help prevent infected beers going into distro, but they also discontinued bottling beers that have a poor shelf life and higher risk of infection because of certain ingredients such as peanuts. Hence they don't bottle their PB&J or Goober Stout, and I'm thinking the list also includes their S'Mores Stout. However, I think they still brew these beers for serving in their pub, but I don't know if every beer gets pasteurized, including those mentioned above since they are small batch and pub-only, or their sours.
    MIbeer27, Zaphog and cavedave like this.
  21. CB_Michigan

    CB_Michigan Aspirant (207) Sep 4, 2014 Illinois
    Beer Trader

    This may be a dumb question, but are certain beer styles (or certain adjuncts) more prone to infection than others?
  22. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (3,063) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    Tom, it sounds like Bruery is taking proper QA/QC steps in this regard:

    First, we are testing the microbiological stability of every single clean barrel before the beer is blended together in the brite beer tank. With over 3000 barrels, this is a huge undertaking for our Quality Control department, so now we have two full time employees in this department. We are proud to have a world-class lab onsite at our small craft brewery, and thanks to our lab, we are able to track the health of our living beer at all stages of its life. Not only do we re-test beers weeks and months after their release, we keep archives stored just for lab tests further off in the future as needed. You can read more about our quality assurance practices on this blog post, where more details are explained.”

    Above courtesy of @Jacobob10

  23. spicoli00

    spicoli00 Zealot (543) Jul 6, 2005 Indiana

    This is a great question. Anything that isn't or can't be pasteurized would be likely candidates.
  24. JeremyDanner

    JeremyDanner Aspirant (232) Dec 20, 2005 Missouri

    It's worth mentioning that we pasteurize the beer before it's bottled. Our 750 mL bottles are bottle conditioned/carbonated.
  25. drtth

    drtth Poo-Bah (3,222) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    Yeah, thanks. I saw that when he posted some of it above. Its looking more and more like that level of care is going to have to become the norm for barrel aging programs.
    cavedave likes this.
  26. M_D_S

    M_D_S Initiate (114) Jun 19, 2015 California

    Yes. Generally speaking, low ABV, low BU beers are more prone to microbiological spoilage since alcohol and iso-alpha acid are inhibitory to some bacteria. Also, beers that aren't completely end fermented (i.e. contain fermentable sugar) are also more prone since they have the ability to support growth of just about anything (bacteria and wild yeasts). Also, beers with very low package oxygen levels can support some pretty nasty bugs that small brewers used to not worry about, like pectinatus.
  27. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (3,063) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    Hopefully that is indeed the case. This type of effort comes at a cost (large cost?):
    • Hiring technical staff to monitor the beer in the barrels
    • Drain pouring that barrels which do not meet spec
    NanookinTexas and drtth like this.
  28. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (3,063) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    What types of yeast do you add for the bottle conditioning phase?

    Do you ever bottle conditions with wild yeast (e.g., Brett)? If so, how long do you recommend aging those beers in order for the wild yeast flavors to develop?

  29. cavedave

    cavedave Poo-Bah (2,254) Mar 12, 2009 New York
    Beer Trader

    Who has gotten refunds or other satisfaction in the past? How did you get it? A few have posted on this, we could use some more.

    I got a nice box of schwag from Duck Rabbit. Paul Phillipon actually contacted me for that one after I posted in an "infection" thread. He was very nice and apologetic and made an effort to assure me that the problem was solved. In their case they didn't institute pasteurization, IIRC, they took the brewery apart and super sanitized it top to bottom

    Who has had good luck in this refund process? How did you do it? What should we know about the process?
  30. drtth

    drtth Poo-Bah (3,222) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    The one infected beer I had was from a case I purchased locally. The source of the infection had been found about the time I had drunk the first beers from the case. I returned my case to the retailer and the brewery replaced it with a case of uninfected beer. No problem, no hassle.
  31. JeremyDanner

    JeremyDanner Aspirant (232) Dec 20, 2005 Missouri

    The Smokestack Series 750s are bottle conditioned with DV10, a champagne yeast.

    Yes. Saison-Brett is inoculated at packaging and is bottle/keg conditioned. We store the bottles/kegs in the bottle conditioning area of warehouse for around 3 months to be certain that the beer has noticeable brett character at the time of release.
  32. monkeybeerbelly

    monkeybeerbelly Devotee (479) Dec 6, 2012 New York
    Beer Trader

    maybe a stupid question: but does pasteurization stop the beer from being able to age further? is it just the yeast being killed off by the pasteurization?
  33. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (3,063) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    It depends on whether you would like for your beer to 'evolve' with time in the presence of yeast. Sometimes people purchase some styles of beer with the intention to cellar the beer and the presence of yeast in the bottle may enhance the bottle conditioning/aging aspect of the beer; desirable flavor development.

    The benefit of pasteurization is that it kills all microorganisms in the beer: unwanted microorganisms like bacteria but also any brewer's yeast that may be present as well. IMO this is beneficial for a beer like Budweiser since this sort of beer is not intended to be cellarable.

    Even with pasteurization the beer will 'change' with age but those changes will not typically be for the better: oxidation processes will occur which will result in stale flavors being developed.

    Lucular, LuskusDelph, Aestro and 5 others like this.
  34. monkeybeerbelly

    monkeybeerbelly Devotee (479) Dec 6, 2012 New York
    Beer Trader

    dont most bigger breweries pastuerize for the sake of uniformity? for example; would SN bigfoot age much differently if it was bottle conditioned, or would the development be similar to how it is now?

    As a novice hombrewer I'm just starting to understand the science of yeast and yeast infections. (pun intended)
  35. pagriley

    pagriley Meyvn (1,044) Oct 27, 2014 Illinois
    Beer Trader

    I actually was wondering about this, because I didn't think pasteurization kill everything - it just knocks down most of the microorganisms, so it would improve shelf life and stability, but doesn't eliminate the possibility of bugs coming back over extended periods of aging. It would absolutely have a big impact though and it would make a lot of difference to how long before you even noticed something developing - especially if you kept the beer cold.

    If you wanted to kill all of the bugs you would have to use UHT (Ultra High Temp) pasteurization which is what they do for the shelf stable milk that lasts for 6 months or a year - it is basically sterilizing the liquid. It is a pretty savage process (the liquid is heated to over 280 degrees for a few seconds) and they have to do it with very specialized equipment. Pretty sure you wouldn't want to do that to a beer...
  36. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (3,063) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    I am aware that mega-breweries like AB and MillerCoors generally pasteurize their packaged beers (bottles, cans) for beer stability reasons.

    The majority of craft breweries do not pasteurize their beers.

    I prefer to drink non-pasteurized beer since I have an opinion that pasteurization can have a negative impact on the resulting beers flavor. Some authors use the term of "cooked flavor impact" to describe this.

  37. JeremyDanner

    JeremyDanner Aspirant (232) Dec 20, 2005 Missouri

    Pasteurization takes care of beer spoiling organisms. It's not possible for anything to "come back."
  38. FarmerTed

    FarmerTed Aspirant (281) May 31, 2011 Colorado

    I would think that milk stouts have to be a problem, just because lactobacillus obviously loves lactose. Where there is food, there are bound to be problems.
  39. pagriley

    pagriley Meyvn (1,044) Oct 27, 2014 Illinois
    Beer Trader

    Interesting thanks! That is different than most other food products, but I guess the beer already has other preserving agents (like alcohol for a start!) So that if the microbe load is low enough it is effectively the same as sterilizing.

    Thanks for the info!
  40. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (3,063) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    But hopefully the brewery is practicing proper sanitation so there is effectively no lactobacillus present in the beer.

    I have had a number of commercially brewed Milk Stouts from brewpubs to packaged beers (e.g., Left Hand Milk Stout) and so far I have never noticed any infection related off flavors in any of those beers.

    Ricelikesbeer likes this.
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