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nodoise

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Hi all
Been brewing for about 4 years now and having problems with my hoppy beers. I’m getting a dry, harsh bitterness that is completely overriding the hop flavour and aroma. Every beer I’ve made with even a small amount of desired hop flavour has this taste. It is present at the end of the boil before pitching yeast and carries through fermentation. It is still there after 2-3 months in the keg. I’ve brewed a few dark beers which still have this flavour, although much more subtle, I think because of the stronger malt flavours masking it.

I do a single 23L batches using BIAB, aiming for 68% efficiency which I usually hit. I recirculate the mash through an external HERMS coil for temp control for 90 mins, then rise to mashout. I pull the bag and generally boil for 60 mins, then chill with an immersion chiller. I use a pump to create a whirlpool while chilling. I brew exclusively on tank water (only option) but recently tried using RO water to rule out any water issues. I adjust the PH of the mash to ~5.4 for most beers and add usually 2-4g Calc Chloride or Gypsum depending on the beer. I also add 1-2ml of Phosphoric Acid to bring the PH down fully. This is measured with a calibrated PH meter. I use liquid yeasts with a stir-plate starter around 1.5L, and oxygenate with pure o2 for approx. 1 min. Usually ferment at 18-20 in a temp controlled freezer. I have a certified thermometer that I use to calibrate all my others with, they read within 1 degree of each other.

The last 5 batches have been Dr Smurto’s Golden Ale, scaled down to smaller batch sizes to try nut out the issue. I recently bought a FWK and fermented it as per my usual process and it tastes great, none of the same harsh bitterness. One thing I noticed was the FWK before pitching yeast tasted sweet, malty with some subtle smooth bitterness where my wort tastes sweet but very harsh and bitter, totally different. The predicted IBU on my beer was 31 and the FWK was 38.

Sorry for the long post but this issue has been driving me nuts for ages and would appreciate any advice or suggestions! Cheers
 

mtb

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Gotta be your water. Got any friends who live in town? Maybe make a trip to fill up a container or two from their tap and brew with it. RO water is a good idea but make mineral additions using a tool like Bru'n Water to be sure you get it right (2-4g Gypsum in RO water doesn't sound like enough, for example)
 

LorriSanga

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Do you use ball valves?

I was getting harsh bitterness in every brew I did and it came down to 2 things.

1. I dismantles my ball values and was shocked at the gunk that was inside. Cleaned.
2. I'm not sure if I'm plain stupid but I've never seen this talked about. While trying to contain harsh bitterness I was obsessing over the balance ratio on brewing software. On brew day I would only drain the mash until I hit SG to get the balance with IBU as close as I could. It still wasn't really helping my bitterness problems. One day while kegging there it was staring at me. While obsessing over my gravity/IBU balance, I failed to notice that I wasn't hitting the batch volume because I would stop draining the mash when gravity was right. I was like 3 liters short when kegging. I adjusted my efficiency, made sure I hit target volumes and never had a problem with bitterness since.
 

Droopy Brew

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Sounds like water but you have taken steps to eliminate that.
What is your hopping schedule and what hops do you use? Put up a couple of recipes. If bitterness is an issue there is a reasonable likelihood it is coming from your hopping. For instance do you use Galaxy or high cohumulone hops early in the boil?
 

nodoise

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mtb said:
Gotta be your water. Got any friends who live in town? Maybe make a trip to fill up a container or two from their tap and brew with it. RO water is a good idea but make mineral additions using a tool like Bru'n Water to be sure you get it right (2-4g Gypsum in RO water doesn't sound like enough, for example)
This was my thought too and part of my motivation in getting an RO unit to rule it out. I've been using Brun water but maybe i will try add some more gypsum or calc chloride to boost the levels up a bit. I should be able to pinch some water off my in-laws next time i'm there to give that a try also.

LorriSanga said:
Do you use ball valves?

I was getting harsh bitterness in every brew I did and it came down to 2 things.

1. I dismantles my ball values and was shocked at the gunk that was inside. Cleaned.
2. I'm not sure if I'm plain stupid but I've never seen this talked about. While trying to contain harsh bitterness I was obsessing over the balance ratio on brewing software. On brew day I would only drain the mash until I hit SG to get the balance with IBU as close as I could. It still wasn't really helping my bitterness problems. One day while kegging there it was staring at me. While obsessing over my gravity/IBU balance, I failed to notice that I wasn't hitting the batch volume because I would stop draining the mash when gravity was right. I was like 3 liters short when kegging. I adjusted my efficiency, made sure I hit target volumes and never had a problem with bitterness since.
Yeah I have 3-piece ball valves throughout and these get fully dismantled, soaked in sodium perc, sanitized and re-assembled prior to brew day.

Re point 2 I full volume BIAB and don't drain the mash as such. I've been hitting my targets for pre-boil, post-boil gravity and volume. Had to adjust my efficiency to get it more accurate early on, but it's been stable for a good number of brews now

Droopy Brew said:
Sounds like water but you have taken steps to eliminate that.
What is your hopping schedule and what hops do you use? Put up a couple of recipes. If bitterness is an issue there is a reasonable likelihood it is coming from your hopping. For instance do you use Galaxy or high cohumulone hops early in the boil?
Tried a few different schedules, including FWH and all late-hopping but no joy. I'll dig out my recipe notes but from memory my last Dr Smurto Golden Ale was:

16g Amarillo @ 60 min
20g Amarillo @ 20 min
14g Amarillo @ 0 min

In the past have used Amarillo, Cascade + Moteuka in different batches with the same harsh bitterness.
 

manticle

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Can you describe where on the palate you detect the bitterness? Back? Middle? Front? Sides?

Anything like the astringent bitterness you get from overstewed tea?
 

MHB

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Interesting, there are a couple of obvious candidates
Water as above , Alkaline water can give hard bittiness - sounds like you have that covered with ROMO water
Contamination, particularly with Alkaline Cleaners
Weighing precision, is it possible that your scales are out to buggery, could lead to massive hop OD and totally over the top salt additions - calibrate scales
Tannin Extraction - Over sparging, sparging with un-acidified water. Badly shredded husks during milling.

There are a couple of other possibilities, but they are the big ones. For mine I would be checking the scales first and looking at the husks post milling second.
Where are you located? would be interested in looking at the process if you're close.
Mark
 

nodoise

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Thanks everyone for all your input

My other thought was maybe my PH meter is on the way out. It's about 18 months old, was about $50 from memory so might look at investing in a decent one.

manticle said:
Can you describe where on the palate you detect the bitterness? Back? Middle? Front? Sides?

Anything like the astringent bitterness you get from overstewed tea?
The wort before pitching is sweet upfront and then dry and harshly bitter, almost tart/sour i suppose. The finished beer has this same character, but without the sweetness. I'm not a tea drinker but the missus is, so I'll give that a try and compare.


MHB said:
Interesting, there are a couple of obvious candidates
Water as above , Alkaline water can give hard bittiness - sounds like you have that covered with ROMO water
Contamination, particularly with Alkaline Cleaners
Weighing precision, is it possible that your scales are out to buggery, could lead to massive hop OD and totally over the top salt additions - calibrate scales
Tannin Extraction - Over sparging, sparging with un-acidified water. Badly shredded husks during milling.

There are a couple of other possibilities, but they are the big ones. For mine I would be checking the scales first and looking at the husks post milling second.
Where are you located? would be interested in looking at the process if you're close.
Mark
I thought it was my scales also, so bought a new set recently and compared with the 2 others in my house, all read 1-2g different. Will have to look into calibrating them.

Re milling I get all my grain pre-milled from the LHBS. I usually get my supplies from Brewman but have tried other suppliers as well with no improvement.

Located on the Central Coast, NSW if that helps. Would definitely be interested in your assistance
 

manticle

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Bitter and sour are quite different and will have different potential causes.
 

MHB

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nodoise said:
I thought it was my scales also, so bought a new set recently and compared with the 2 others in my house, all read 1-2g different. Will have to look into calibrating them.

Re milling I get all my grain pre-milled from the LHBS. I usually get my supplies from Brewman but have tried other suppliers as well with no improvement.

Located on the Central Coast, NSW if that helps. Would definitely be interested in your assistance
Well you wont get a better crack, he has my old 177mm mill, if you are asking for a fine or extra fine crack, try moving to medium.

A 1-2g difference on water salts could be very important, see if you can get a "standard" mass to check against, the one Brewman uses to check his scales is a 5 nines kg mass (999.99g) its actually better than the guy from weights and measures uses.
For single batches I would be looking at a 0.1g scale.

PM me when you are brewing (well gi'me a bit of warning) and I will see if I can get down.
Mark
 

The Judge

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Harsh bitterness could be confused with astringency from over-extraction of tannins. Are you sustaining temps above 78C before boiling? If so the problem could be there.

I also think trying a brew with mains water is the best idea to see if the problem persists with a completely different water profile. Might not produce the beer you want, but will help find the solution to your bitterness issue.
 

nodoise

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MHB said:
Well you wont get a better crack, he has my old 177mm mill, if you are asking for a fine or extra fine crack, try moving to medium.

A 1-2g difference on water salts could be very important, see if you can get a "standard" mass to check against, the one Brewman uses to check his scales is a 5 nines kg mass (999.99g) its actually better than the guy from weights and measures uses.
For single batches I would be looking at a 0.1g scale.

PM me when you are brewing (well gi'me a bit of warning) and I will see if I can get down.
Mark
Thanks Mark - I have been getting it milled fine so will have to try medium. Will let you know before next brew day

The Judge said:
Harsh bitterness could be confused with astringency from over-extraction of tannins. Are you sustaining temps above 78C before boiling? If so the problem could be there.

I also think trying a brew with mains water is the best idea to see if the problem persists with a completely different water profile. Might not produce the beer you want, but will help find the solution to your bitterness issue.
I mashout at 75 C for 10 mins before pulling the bag and ramping to boil. I've checked the temp of my HERMS outflow with my calibrated thermometer and it is spot on. I'm not sure if a mashout is all that necessary for BIAB so might remove it for the next test batch.

I agree, a completely different water source might be useful to further rule out water as the issue. Don't mind if the beer doesn't turn out great, just no foul bitterness would be a major win
 

Robbo75

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Hi all
Had the exact same problem with astringent bitterness when I moved out of Newcastle onto a bigger property with only tank water. Took me six months to track the problem down. Turned out to be my sparge water ph being too high and extracting tannins, once I started adjusting the sparge water ph with lactic acid the problem completely disappeared. Big thanks to Steve at brewman for pointing me in the right direction.
 

Brewman_

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Hey Nodoise,

Feel free to call me. Sometimes the conversation goes to the point the penny drops on something.


Cheers Steve
 

nodoise

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Just a quick update:

MHB was kind enough to help out with a brew day yesterday. About halfway through the boil, he identified the Calcium Chloride i'd purchased was not actually Calcium Chloride, most likely Sodium Percarbonate! It was originally purchased a fair while ago from a retailer of home brew supplies, which I will be contacting.

Next steps are to brew another batch with a new supply of Calcium Chloride from a different supplier and see how we go.Fingers crossed!

Thanks to everyone who offered suggestions and help, and big thanks to MHB for sussing that one out!
 

mtb

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Oh wow.. here's hoping that retailer gives you a stack of store credit.
 

MHB

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You're welcome, it was an interesting problem and the worst case of chemical contamination I have ever tasted, normally alkaline cleaners only appear in trace amounts, not 5g in a mash.
I'm looking forward to hearing about your next brew, particularly in light of seeing your processes which are really good. To me it looks like you were doing everything right and should be getting good beer, here's hoping the next one is a cracker.

I would be giving the retailer the rough edge of my tongue, mixing up a caustic cleaner and a food grade water salt is a pretty serious error, hopefully they will be receptive (no it wasn't Brewman), its cost you a lot of brews and I know how frustrating this sort of problem can be.

Good luck and many good beers in the future.
Mark
 

Mardoo

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On this note, it's always good to double check your brewing salts, and anything you're adding to your brew. I picked up a batch of calcium chloride from an LHBS and it turned out to be perfumed CC used for drying out closets. I always check the smell of things I'm adding to my beer - more from neurotic habit than anything else - and now do it as a matter of practice. Apparently some neuroses are beneficial!
 

Danscraftbeer

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It can be a worry. To know what you've really got. In early days of adding salts I bought some off ebay. I'd state that as a gamble at best, bad choice.
ebay sellers can just be hacks not knowing anything about what they are selling. I asked for Calcium Chloride and got Calcium Lactate instead. They look the same flake granules and got it refunded only to find a simple label stuck over the top of another label. Bloody hopeless.
Likely they just messed up all the labels when they split and packages it all...
 

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