Sanitizing brewing equipment – what an exciting topic, right?
I can almost hear you exploding with excitement all the way over here.
All joking aside, sanitizing is serious business! Poor sanitizing techniques and processes usually mean a poor final product.
While you might get lucky here and there, if you’re not keeping up with a solid sanitizing routine, your quality WILL suffer.
Good Beer Starts with Clean Equipment
When your beer creeps into temperatures below 170°F, bacteria and other microbes will quickly become your enemy.
All it takes is one slip-up in your process. For example, if you’re taking a gravity reading and forget to sanitize your hydrometer, you risk introducing contaminants into your beer.
It’s not rocket science – it’s about being alert and paying attention to detail.
The more you stay on top of it, your chances of making a great beer begin to elevate.
Will sanitizing brewing equipment properly ensure that you always make good beer? Not entirely, but it will DEFINITELY keep you from ruining a great batch!
And trust me, nothing is worse than having to dump a batch of beer that you worked hard on.
Tips on Sanitizing Brewing Equipment
You are probably aware that sanitizing is one of the most important parts of the brewing process. The problem, however, is a lot of beginners fail to understand how easy it really is.
Seriously – it’s all a matter of repetition, taking your time, and paying close attention to the details.
Without wasting time jabbering on and on, let’s go ahead and dive right in to some of the best tips and practices for sanitizing brewing equipment.
1 – You need to sanitize everything (yes – everything)
It’s the most obvious statement here, yet tends to be the most forgotten.
From your initial brew day until you’re bottling up your final product, anything that may come into contact with your beer will need to be sanitized.
For example, I sanitize everything down to my yeast packet and the scissors that I use to cut it open. It can be argued the risk of an infection by not doing this is minimal, but it’s one extra step that ensures things stay as clean and sanitary as can be.
It’s easy to get careless and forget to sanitize something if you’re not careful. That’s why I always recommend taking things slow. Don’t rush it!
You’ll get better at this as you grow as a brewer and develop your own process and flow. It takes time and can be tedious, but then again, practicing the proper techniques out of the gate will save you a lot of headaches.
My general rule of thumb: When in doubt, sanitize again.
2 – Choose one of the best sanitizers (StarSan or Iodophor)
You may already be familiar with powdered “no-rinse” sanitizers that are packaged with many extract recipe kits out there. While these do work, they typically require items to be immersed in the sanitizer solution for a longer duration (i.e. 2 minutes or more).
If you’re going to be taking your sanitizing more seriously, you need something better and of higher quality. It needs to be consistent and reliable.
StarSan and Iodophor are contact sanitizers, meaning that they typically kill any bacteria on contact.
No waiting or second-guessing yourself. This stuff is the real deal and used by both home and professional brewers across the world.
For convenience and better sanitizing power, again, I highly recommend skipping the powdered stuff and picking up StarSan or Iodophor instead. A huge 32-ounce container of StarSan can be had for around $20, but it will last forever (and no, that is NOT an exaggeration).
One thing to note: If you’re using plastic buckets for fermentation, I recommend going with StarSan. Iodophor tends to stain plastic and can impart an iodine flavor in your beer if the concentrate is too high. This can easily be prevented by mixing your solution according to the instructions.
The stain won’t hurt anything and is purely cosmetic. I’ve never used Iodophor personally, but know many people who do and love it.
In the end, either one of these sanitizers will do, as it boils down to personal preference.
3 – Mix solution in a spray bottle for quick and easy sanitizing on contact
If you haven’t already realized it, there are plenty of times when a couple quick sprays of sanitizer will do the trick.
For example, when a hydrometer reading is necessary, I need to sanitize three things:
- Beer Thief (to retrieve the sample)
- Test jar
Without a spray bottle, sanitizing this stuff can be a royal pain. It means I end up wasting more StarSan than I should.
Once I picked up a 32-ounce spray bottle at the local dollar store, however, it was a complete game changer!
Convenient, simple, and easy – three words that I strive to live by. Roughly 1/2 tsp of StarSan mixed with 30-32 ounces of water in the spray bottle and you’re set.
I find that after the solution is mixed, it tends to remain effective for a fair amount of time. If it starts looking cloudy, the pH drops below 3.0, or you just feel more comfortable with a new mixture, just rinse and repeat with the measurements mentioned previously.
Quick tip: When sanitizing bottles, I usually run them through the dishwasher (no soap) and let them dry. Once dry, I use my spray bottle with sanitized solution and give each bottle a couple quick sprays. I’ll let the solution meddle for a bit, give each bottle a “shake ‘n swirl”, then dump out any remaining sanitizer into the sink.
It’s quick, simple, and I don’t have to waste a big bucket full of solution.
4 – Don’t worry so much about the kettle
One exception to the rule of sanitizing is your boil kettle. Since wort is boiled for an extended period of time, any potential contaminants that could harm your beer will be killed off.
Rather than sanitize, make sure that you wash your kettle (either PBW or unscented dish soap is fine) and give it a good scrub. Doing so will prevent any leftovers from a previous brew finding their way into your latest batch.
If you’re still not comfortable, you can always give your kettle a few quick sprays with your spray bottle. It’s not necessary, but it absolutely won’t hurt anything either.
Develop Good Habits Now so it Becomes Second Nature
You don’t want poor sanitizing practices to be one of the common mistakes that turns your beer into a musty mess, do you?
Point blank – make sure stuff is sanitized, but don’t feel the need to go completely overboard with it. Find a happy medium. This isn’t a high-tech science lab, so use good judgment and you’ll be fine.
At the end of the day, the one rule still stands: “If it touches your beer, it’s going to need to be sanitized.” Take that rule to heart and you’ll be well on your way to preventing infections the best you can!