Friday, February 27, 2009

Fermentation Friday - Cheese it! It's the fuzz!

Cleanliness is next to godliness. Old phrase. It has its origins in ancient Hebrew, someone who may or may not be full of shit once claimed. But the expression has more than age to lend it credibility. Science, practical experience, and riding the bus all bear this out. Letting sanitation slip is something you'll pay for in the end. Let your car stay dirty, it'll be more prone to rusting. Let your body get dirty, and you get hit on by Brad Pitt. Let food you're cooking get dirty, and some guy with mutton chops projectile vomits chicken fried steak into a stranger's yard as his car sits with blinkers on in the middle of the road. But in the home brewing world, being dirty can lead to even more horrific results.

Now, Paddy and I are pretty careful when it comes to cleaning our brewing equipment. We dish out the no-rinse pretty generously, and even give it a rinse with hot water after that, in spite of the product's name. It's served us well, other than the fact that it will most certainly kill both of us in some rare or possibly even as-yet-undiscovered way. Every time we open the container, the powder becomes airborn, and we invariably inhale some of it. It can't be good for us.

But even with being so cautious and clean, there have still been some failures related to sanitation. Three stick out in my mind.

Ginger beer. Beer with ginger. Simple idea, right? It was an interesting experiment we'd hoped would lead to epic drunkenness. We essentially brewed up a really light beer with a shitload of ginger in it. 2 weeks later, we had something surprisingly interesting, but it lacked the sweetness we had hoped for. So we decided to blend in some sugars and let it sit for awhile. A quick sample spiked with sugar seemed to confirm this was the way to go. So we heated up a small amount of water on the stove, and began stirring in various sugars. The water was at a simmer. I asked if we should boil it, and Paddy said "Nah, it'll dissolve just fine this way." (If you're keeping score, this was the mistake.) We cooled it, poured it in, racked it into a carboy for good measure, and let it sit with a fermentation lock on it. Two weeks later, we anxiously opened up the carboy and took a big whiff. It smelled like someone had pissed in a sweaty gym sock.

If we had sterilized the sugar water we added, we might have had a couple cases of a wonderful sweet, bitter, alcoholic concoction. But instead, we dumped the awful swill down the drain and chased it with Clorox. Fail.

Wine has had the similar problems twice for Paddy and me. Once was a strawberry wine that ended up moldy. Brown fuzz climbing up the sides of the bucket. Yeah... that shit got Cloroxed before dumping it. I commented that it made the whole room smell like a pool, not bleach. Paddy would later open his pool for the first time, and learn in his research that was the smell of death. Then, most recently, we brewed up a bucket full of blueberry fail. Or rather... didn't brew it. Which was the problem again. Paddy tells me the bucket is currently filled with green fuzz, so at least we're achieving some variety in our mold cultures.

So to close it all up here, I'm going to boil the ingredients for all my beers and wines from now on. I mean, just boil the shit out of it. Literally. Kill anything that's in there. That, and hold my breath when scooping out the no-rinse.

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