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Troubleshooting: Cider that tastes like vinegar

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axelboc

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Hi all,

After brewing beer 3 times, with surprisingly successful results, I decided to try out cider.
Unfortunately, the result is this time pretty undrinkable: it burns the throat and tastes a bit like vinegar.
I've got some suspicions on what might have caused this, but I'd really like to get the opinion of experienced brewers.

Here was the recipe:
  • 1.65kg Apple juice concentrate (Black Rock)
  • 1kg Dextrose
  • 500g Lactose
  • 8 Granny Smith organic apples
  • 7g kit cider yeast
And here are some data I collected:
  • Volume: 23L
  • Fermentation time: 5 weeks
  • Conditionning time 2 weeks
  • Priming rate: 8g/L (carbonation drops)
  • Fermentation temperature: 25°C
  • OG: 1.038
  • FG: 1.002
  • Estimated ABV: 4.8%
Now some notes about the process:
  • Nothing to worry on the cleaning and sterilizing front, as I was very meticulous about it.
  • I boiled the whole thing (dextrose + lactose + concentrate) and cooled it down quickly to below 27°C in an ice bath.
  • I cut the apples in chunks, removed their seeds and pasteurized them in pre-boiled water at 70°C for 20min.
  • I rehydrated the yeast a while before pitching.
  • My fermenter is the kind with a Krausen Kollar; not an air-lock (from a Coopers kit).
  • Even though I knew it was a bad idea, I went with the cider yeast provided with the can of apple concentrate. I had some Safale yeast in the fridge, but at the last moment I hesitated and thought that if it was called "cider yeast", perhaps it was for good reason. Also the temperature range of the cider yeast was 23 to 28°C, and since it's pretty hot at my place, I thought it would do better than the ale yeast.
The picture attached shows what it looked like inside the fermenter after bottling.

So as I said, the result is pretty bad, with a strong taste of vinegar. I managed to drink a bottle, but I don't really want to open another one... Funny thing is that the smell is not nearly as bad; the vinegar smell is not obvious at all.

Anyway, my first thought on why it went wrong goes to the high fermentation temperature of 25°C and the cheap yeast. Is this a plausible cause?
My second concern is with the apples. As you can see on the attached picture, it was quite gross in the fermenter at the end of the fermentation. I don't see any black mold, though, so perhaps was it just innofensive foam? Should I have removed the skin of the apples? Should I have removed the chucks of apples at the middle of the fermentation?
Third, I read somewhere that cider requires more conditionning time. Is it true? Is there a chance that the bad taste will disappear after a couple more weeks?
Fourth, was boiling the apple concentrate with the sugars a bad idea?


Finally, if you think the taste will never improve, then:
  • Is there anything I can do that would make it drinkable? (honey, sugar, etc.)
  • Is it even safe to drink in the first place?
  • If it is safe, but the taste cannot be improved, then do you have any idea what I can do with it? Could it be used for cooking, as a replacement for apple vinegar? Any other suggestions are welcome... 23L, that's a lot of apple vinegar

Thanks heaps in advance for your help!

P1050317 - Copie.JPG
 

bum

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The picture is too small to tell for sure but, given that it tastes like vinegar so soon and there's all that white stuff on the apples, $10 says you have a lacto infection.
 

manticle

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If it's sour and you got a white skin, it's likely either lacto or acetobacter. Any fruit flies hovering around anywhere?

If it's aceto, it is apple cider vinegar so you could use it to replace your cider vinegar. As suggested, that is a lot of vinegar - I'd be inclined to bite the bullet, tip it out and start again.

Next time use apple juice instead of water and apple chunks. 20 L of preservative free juice, some yeast nutrient and yeast. No need to pasteurise, easiest thing in the world to do. Boil up some lactose in a little water if you want to hold it back from being completely dry.

High ferment temps won't give aceto or lacto infections, nor will the kit yeast (unless it doesn't fire at all and something else takes over).
 

bum

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Ah yeah, I keep mentally grouping acetobacter and lacto even though I know they are different. Vinegar would be more likely to be acetobacter, yeah? Thanks for the pick-up.
 

Bludger

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Probably time to give all of your friends bottles of Cider Vinegar as presents.
The following is a useful note about making cider, the target is larger scale producers than your average home brewer, but the process is well described. http://www.cider.org.uk/farm.htm This note indicates that air may have been able to get into your fermenter allowing the conversion of alcohol to vinegar.
 

Deep End

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Well, here's my two cents worth, I'm no brew scientist, but I'd hazard a guess that the 5 week fermentation time might of had a little to do with your vinegar.

Like I said I'm far from an expert and have dibbled and dabbled over the years and have only just recently got reasonably serious about my home brews, which incidently are 90% cider now.

But every cider I've made either to the instructions or with a little experimentation here and there has taken no more than 10 or 11 days to get down to where it should be and be bottled. I'm not a fan of leaving it in the FV for any longer than it needs to be there, thats what the bottles are for.

I imagine the yeast would of had bugger all to do with it, the "cider yeast" that comes with the kits I have been using is actually a wine yeast I found out with a phone call to the manufacturer. They wouldnt give me exact details but said it was a wine yeast, works fine anyway.

Anyway opinion over, probably solves nothing, but at least its one more post on my profile.
 

barls

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It's simple it's come from one of three areas.
The first is sanitation which you have said was extensive but you don't say what you did or what products you used.
The second is the soaking at 70 degrees for 20 minutes. I don't think that this is enough pasteurising units to achieve what your aiming for. Ether hotter or longer in future. Last time I pasteurised something it was 70 degrees for an hour
The third is possible from the air while mixing. Can be countered by adding ether sodium meta bisulphate or potassium meta bisulphate directly after finishing mixing and then waiting 24 hour to pitch the yeast.
 

manticle

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bum said:
Ah yeah, I keep mentally grouping acetobacter and lacto even though I know they are different. Vinegar would be more likely to be acetobacter, yeah? Thanks for the pick-up.
vinegar from acetobacter, yes (consider 'acetic') but either infection is possible and both are similarly sour. There's a difference in the flavour they produce but one could be mistaken for the other.
 

Nick JD

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Lactic acid tastes like unsweetened yoghurt. Acetic acid tastes like vinegar.
 

manticle

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I know what they taste like - just pointing out that both are sour and in a brew might get confused by someone.
People think sour and often immediately associate with vinegar. Not being able to taste the cider above, I have no idea if the flavour described as vinegar is in fact vinegar.
 

Nick JD

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manticle said:
People think sour and often immediately associate with vinegar.
They'd have to be at very low concentrations to be confusable.
 

manticle

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Either that or the brewer wasn't familiar with either or both in the context of their particular brew, or both.
 

DUANNE

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the statement that it burns his throat on the way down really does tend towards it being acetic rather than lactic. lactic doesnt generally have the burning properties that acetic has.
 

Bludger

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I agree with Deep End. 5 weeks seems like a longtime in the fermenter.
In my opinion, once fermenting has ceased you should bottle as soon as possible to minimise the time that "greeblies" can get in and do nasty stuff. If you have a small leak, or just open the fermenter up you can allow in air (oxygen) and bacteria/yeasts that are not beneficial.
Besides that, the sooner it is in the bottle the sooner you can drink it.
I bottled my last cider, made from apple juice, after 10 days. To be honest on that occasion I think an extra day or two would have been beneficial. But hey I am nearer 2 weeks than 5 weeks.
On the other hand some experiments in 2 litre PET bottles I have let run for several weeks with no ill effects. Maybe you just got unlucky.
 

barls

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Bludger said:
I agree with Deep End. 5 weeks seems like a longtime in the fermenter.
In my opinion, once fermenting has ceased you should bottle as soon as possible to minimise the time that "greeblies" can get in and do nasty stuff. If you have a small leak, or just open the fermenter up you can allow in air (oxygen) and bacteria/yeasts that are not beneficial.
Besides that, the sooner it is in the bottle the sooner you can drink it.
I bottled my last cider, made from apple juice, after 10 days. To be honest on that occasion I think an extra day or two would have been beneficial. But hey I am nearer 2 weeks than 5 weeks.
On the other hand some experiments in 2 litre PET bottles I have let run for several weeks with no ill effects. Maybe you just got unlucky.
I disagree with you both. Extra time in the fermenter can actually be beneficial as the yeast can clean up the undesirable fermentation byproducts. This extra time can also reduce your sediment in your bottles.
Personally I think it's more than likely come off the fruit you used than bad luck than spending 5 weeks in the fermenter. The one that scores 4o Isb out of 50 last year in the castle hill comp last year spent about 5 months in the fermenter
 

axelboc

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Thanks all for your quick and great replies! I haven't seen many forums with such a responsiveness!

Anyway, in terms of taste, it's really more like vinegar than unsweetened yoghurt.
What I get from most of your comments is that for vinegar to have been produced, the content of the fermenter must have been exposed to air.
Would that be because of my cheap fermenting bucket's Krausen Kollar? I always leave it on for the entire duration of the fermentation, as I'm concerned the process of taking it off would have a worst impact.
I never had any problem with it before when brewing beer.
Isn't oxygen necessary for the fermentation to occur anyway? Then what's the tipping point between producing cider and producing vinegar? It makes me wonder, as Deep End and Bludger suggested, if it has something to do with time. Perhaps in my situation (a bucket with a Krasuen Kollar), timing was crucial and I should have bottled after 2 weeks?

Glad to hear that some of my theories where wrong (yeast, high fermentation temperature).
By the way, if I'm wrong about the taste and it is a lacto infection, I suppose it would be dangerous to consume?
 

bum

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Barls' advice in regard to the treatment you gave the apples seems the most likely than it being airborne to me.

A lacto infection is not inherently dangerous to consume - there are traditional/commercial beers that are deliberately infected with such bugs. There may be local wild strains that can cause harm though. Hopefully someone else can confirm/deny.

Despite my shabby terminology above, it really does sound like your infection is acetobacter rather then lacto though. My understanding is that it isn't harmful to consume (please research this for yourself before doing so) but it will taste worse over time.

If it isn't already too late, be sure you give the fermenter a really good clean before you reuse it. Hot sodium percarbonate soak then a good, strong bleach soak. Consider ditching it altogether if finances allow. If you read enough threads on the matter you'll see even experienced blokes can find it very difficult to get such bugs out of their breweries.

[EDIT: changed first paragraph, added bit about drinking acetobacter infect brews]
 

GalBrew

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axelboc said:
Thanks all for your quick and great replies! I haven't seen many forums with such a responsiveness!

What I get from most of your comments is that for vinegar to have been produced, the content of the fermenter must have been exposed to air.
No, oxidation of finished beer will not result in a vinegar formation (there are various other threads that can educate you on oxidation). Infection of your finished beer with acetobacter will. Odds are the apples you used are the route of infection as bacteria are on everything. I agree though, that you should give your ferementer a good clean with hot PBW or even bleach to remove any traces of your infection.
 

manticle

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Acetobacter requires oxygen in order to grow but needs to be there in the first place (fruit flies are a great vector)
 

axelboc

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Makes sense now.

So I guess I'll use apple juice next time!
Thankully, I did give a very good scrub to the fermenter with percarbonate right after bottling. Just to be sure, I'll bleach it this week-end.
So much work wasted in bottling! Can't believe I'm gonna have to clean all those bottles again...

Thanks all for your help!
 

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