So today I went back to Zok's. I could go on and on about how great it is there. It was even better this time than last time.
Today there were three other guys there. Bill Hincks was there, and it was great fun to meet him in person. Now I have a face and a voice to the email correspondence. Then there was a guy named Andy Jackson there, who is from Mystic. He had a beer made with Spruce, and on top of that, Zok was just saying, "there's this other guy that makes a good beer with some Spruce in it..." Then there he is! And there was one more guy, whose name I didn't get. But he was nice, too. It was the five of us hanging out for a while, sampling various beers. Just cool, really. Never had anything like that at any other homebrew shop.
But, what does this have to do with a sour Pre Cut Ale With Fir, you might ask, except for the fact that Andy brought a pine beer, too? I brought a bottle of Pre Cut with me, so Zok could try it and analyze the nature of the sour taste. He detected a sour taste, but decided it wasn't lactic, and was probably not an infection. Further anti-infection evidence is the fact that the bottles aren't absurdly fizzy. Lactic bacteria devour sugar that beer yeast won't touch. The feakin' bottom feeders of the yeast-microbe world, and that's saying something. So if the beer was infected by lactic acid, souring bacteria, it would keep fermenting until the beer was so fizzy it spouted forth from the bottle as soon as you opened it. This is not the case - Pre Cut is just a normal carbonation level, whatever that means...
So the final diagnosis is that Pre Cut was just too Fir-infused. The sour taste could just come from the tree. It was overwhelmingly voted "resiny". The two full boughs of Fraser Fir, stick and all, was too much for those little three gallons to take. It might have been something extracted from the sticks put in the beer. Heck, it might have been something that they sprayed on the tree while it was growing. In fact, I caught a whiff of the same sour smell from another old piece of the tree that the kids were playing with today.
So in the end, I might have replaced all my plastic crap for no reason. But better safe than sorry, and the stuff was dirty. Furthermore, I really drove myself crazy with the "why" and "how" of the infection. I guess I will sleep well tonight, knowing that I didn't really do anything wrong, except just used too much Fir with too many sticks in there. Next time, I'll just use the needles.