Jul 20 2016

The Bourbon County Stout Recall and the Slow Havoc of Lactobacillus Acetotolerans

goose island bourbon county recalls

The recall of more of Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout this week has me fascinated on this ongoing story that began with the recall of the coffee stout and barleywine, but now has spread to the Bourbon County Stout Original and Proprietor’s. To be clear, I have little concern or interest in conspiracy theories about why this happened, or to kick a brewery when it is down. Especially when they are doing the right, and very expensive, thing of doing a recall.

What is really interesting to me is the bacteria that is causing this souring. These beers are high in ABV and IBUs, which is a pretty hostile environment for lacto to grow and thrive in. This bacteria was identified by a lab as lactobacillus acetotolerans, which is a new one to me, and it was originally discovered in rice wine vinegar and it has a very high tolerance for acetic acid.

It appears that they are still trying to figure out how the batches got infected, but one theory is out there that it happened in a transfer or a bright tank rather than from the barrels, although that appears unlikely. That will be an ongoing investigation for GI which is complicated by the many steps that occur once these beers leave the barrels and then go from tank to truck and then back into a tank and through a bottling line. There are many points of failure there, and they must be difficult to manage and monitor.

What is interesting is that when plating these beers and looking for contaminants, most of the things that a lab is testing for will grow in 5 days. The lacto acetotolerans appears to be an outlier in that it grows very slowly and may not show itself until after 7 days or more. This slowness is atypical and makes it an unusual bacteria for a brewery to discover through standard procedures.

The overly easy answer to this is that you flash pasteurize the beer in the future to insure that stability, and that is probably something that GI is contemplating. This is certainly a bit of a mess, but it is rare situation and contaminant, and they are doing all the responsible things they can to make this right with the beer that has already left their docks.

The question that a sour beer geek like myself is asking is “what can we do with this new lacto?” Pedio takes a long time to develop in a beer, but we are patient with it because it gives us much more sour complexity than we find with lactobacillus. I wonder if the final affect that lacto acetotolerans has on a beer is desirable and worth that time it takes to become apparent, as well.

Ed and I had joked on Twitter about finding a recalled bottle and ramping up some of that lacto, and I think he has found trader for a bottle of this glacial moving destroyer of beers. I look forward to seeing if this is a cool, new souring agent for our quivers, or just a nightmare for the GI guys.

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