Sometimes you just need to learn things the hard way.
We’ve been going through a string of bad batches lately. Several of our beers had an aftertaste that should not be present in the beer. Some, like the RyePA, were still drinkable (and actually pretty good). Others, like the porter and brown ale, really were unpleasant.
I went back and analyzed my entire process to try and figure out what was going on. I recently went back to using my 5 gallon brewpot, because the 8 gallon pot was ruining my stove. In doing so, I’m only boiling wort that I extract from the mash. Once the boil is done I add my malt extract, chill the wort, then top off with water.
I knew the partial boil and late extract additions had nothing to do with it. I’ve produced a lot of great brews using this method. I know it works, and works quite well when brewing partial mash and extract with grains recipes. I wondered if I had some bad extract. But I used extract from several different places. There’s no way all of them had bad stuff. Plus most of the extract we use is from Northern Brewer. Their extract is extremely fresh, and of excellent quality. It just couldn’t be the extract.
Finally I did something I’ve read about, but never done before in my time as a brewer: I examined my water. How very stupid of me to ignore it. I’ve read about using a good water source countless times, and never done it. Part of the reason why I never did it was because my tap water was filtered. We had an under the counter filter installed, and it worked well. Over the summer we had to remove it. Instead of getting another under the counter filter, we went with a large Brita “tank” (for lack of a better word) that you place in your fridge. But instead of filtering my brewing water, I just used the unfiltered tap water.
I didn’t think this was an issue initially because at the time I was doing full boils. Boiling the full amount of water used got rid of any chlorine, and my resulting beers were fine. But now I’m back to doing partial boils, and using unfiltered tap water to top off. That being a problem foolishly never even crossed my mind. I believe that gallon or so of unfiltered tap water is the root of the issue. The tap water has chlorine in it. I’ve read that some chemical compounds in hops react with chlorine (if it is present) to produce some unpleasant aromas and off-flavors.
So when I brewed the lager a week ago, I ran everything through the Brita. Yesterday I brewed an IPA, and did the same. Hopefully that eliminates the issue. The downside is I have an amber (which the gravity sample tasted great) and an Irish Red conditioning. Both were brewed using with unfiltered tap water. They are likely going to have an off-flavor. Live and learn, I guess.
Moral of the story: Pay attention to your water!