Brewing good quality beer is impossible without good cleaning and sanitation practices. The brewing process provides a rich growth environment for the yeast in the beer - but also a rich growth environment for a host of other bacterial microorganisms - yuck! Even slight levels of contamination will ruin your batch with off-flavors, acids, undesirable aromas, hazes and films.
Fulfill the need for clean
Anything that will come into contact with your wort/beer after it has been boiled should be both washed and sanitized. We will cover the very important differences between washing and sanitizing in a moment. Utensils used prior to boiling should also be washed. Some believe the boil of the wort will kill off any micro-organisms - however if you are a craft brewer or will be serving your beer at an event or competition, best practices are to sanitize any pre-boil utensils also.
Cleaning vs. Sanitizing
Cleaning is the process in which you remove dust, grime and debris from your brew equipment. Sanitizing is a stand-alone step that kills any bacteria and microorganisms that might have survived a physical wash. Both of these steps are necessary - cleaning won’t kill all bacteria and sanitizing won’t remove deposits or grime build-up. Because sanitizers are designed to be used on clean equipment, its ability to kill bacteria are reduced in the presence of debris and dirt. It is best to always clean your equipment right away - yeast and sugar build ups adhere to materials, making them a pain in the butt to remove when dried on. These organic deposits can harbor bacteria, and act as a shield preventing the sanitizer from killing its prey.
What do I need to become a bacteria killing machine?
The obvious answer - cleaning and sanitizing agents that are safe for use for beer production. Brushes can be very helpful to reach tricky places and remove stubborn build up. Be careful using abrasive and corrosive materials like bleach - these can pit plastic and stainless steel if used incorrectly or left to soak for too long, providing more crevices for bacteria to grow. It is also not advisable to soak plastic for long periods of time.
Remember - clean before you sanitize, or else you’ll have teary eyes.
Good old dish detergent is an acceptable cleaning agent for brew pots. We advise that you use one that is dye and perfume-free, to reduce the changes of soap residue causing any off flavors if rinsing doesn’t go as planned. Always be sure to thoroughly rinse cleaned items before you sanitize them. For stubborn stains and build-up, there are a few brewing specific strong cleaning agents available. Powdered Brewing Wash is a great example,and can be found at most brew stores.
After scrubbing and rinsing your equipment, it is time to sanitize! It’s important that anything that touches the wort, fermenting or fermented beer is thoroughly sanitized. Fermentation vessels, any siphoning, bottling or testing equipment are all examples of materials that need to be sanitized. This eliminates the chances of introducing bacteria and microorganisms that infect your brew and cause off-flavors.
Bleach is often an early choice - but we will caution against its use. Bleach is corrosive, and you must take care to ensure you are using it properly. If materials are left to soak past 15 minutes they will pit stainless steel and soak into plastics. Bleach is inexpensive and easy to acquire, but must be properly diluted to be effective. Because of these factors, we recommend using a brew specific sanitizing agent like Star San. Star San is easy to use and requires no rinsing, making it a great choice to sanitize all types of brew equipment.