Sanitizing Brewing Equipment – Why It’s Crucial to Making Great Beer

sanitizing brewing equipment

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.

You need StarSan or Iodophor.

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
  • Hydrometer

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!

The 5 Best Brew Kettles Available (and What We Like the Most)

best brew kettles

Let’s state the obvious right out of the gate: if you’re brewing beer, you’re going to need a brew kettle.

However, the type of kettle you end up choosing is going to depend on a few things:

  • Your budget
  • Your preferred batch size
  • Your demand for quality and durability

Depending on where you fall, this can make the decision on what to buy a little tricky.

The best brew kettles out there are, in my opinion, ones that will typically hit all of the 3 points I listed above.

Since I often hear new brewers looking for a kettle that will meet those demands, I thought a write up covering the best brew kettles on the market would fit the bill.

That said, if you’re looking for a new kettle, you’re in the right place.

Breakdown of the Best Brew Kettles

Many new brewers often start their journey with a cheap stockpot/kettle.

While these kettles work for your first few batches, they’re truly made for cooking. They’re not designed to stand up to the rigors of brewing.

You need, at the very least, something that is durable and built specifically for brewing.

Is it going to be the cheapest thing you’ll buy? Hardly. 

It will, however, be an investment that will last for a long time. You take care of a brew kettle and you’ll get many years out of it – guaranteed!

Now before I break everything down, I want to state the following:

  • I am assuming that you will be brewing 3 to 5 gallon batches, as the kettles below are no smaller than 8 gallons. Batches of this size will allow you to achieve a full-boil.
  • I only cover kettles of this size because 5 gallons is typically the standard batch size for homebrewing.
  • If you plan to go bigger or smaller than 5 gallon batches, you can find many of the same kettles in a larger or smaller size.

Make sense? Good! Now let’s get down to the good stuff…

#1 – Ss BrewTech 10 Gallon with Ball Valve

Ss Brewtech is quickly becoming on the of the top names in the homebrewing industry. Their build quality is unmatched, so it should come as no surprise why their signature Brew Kettle is my favorite.

Constructed using heavy-duty 18 gauge 304 stainless steel, this kettle can take a beating and still look and perform as good as it did on the first day! The sturdy (and comfortable) silicone covered handles make handling and transporting hot wort an absolute breeze.

On the inside, you’ll find internal etched markings to ensure your volume is always at the right level. A trub dam helps filter out unwanted particles into your fermenter as it funnels through the 3 piece ball valve. The result – cleaner (and clearer) beer.

Personally, I use this specific kettle for my mashing (along with the false bottom and temp gauge, which can be purchased separately). Once I made the switch, I haven’t looked back since. It has been worth every single cent!

No leaks, no rust, no trouble. It’s a solid piece of equipment from a company that earned my trust right out of the box!

If there is any brew kettle that gets 100% of my respect (and then some), it’s this one.

Read more about it here: Ss Brewtech 10 gallon Brew Kettle

#2 – Bayou Classic 10 Gallon with Ball Valve

Another common brand name in homebrewing is none other than Bayou Classic. They are known for producing a variety of reliable brew kettles in all sorts of sizes.

Their 10 gallon kettle is made from heavy-duty 20 gauge stainless steel. Compared to the Ss Brewtech above, it is slightly thinner, but still durable enough to use as a brew kettle (especially for the typical 5 gallon batch size).

At first glance, you will notice the handles are not silicone coated, which means you’ll need some extra care when handling (as steel handles tend to warm up quickly, depending on the heat source). Regardless, the handles are durable and sturdy enough for simple handling and transporting.

Some folks say they’ve experienced issues with the ball valve, however, you need to ensure that it is properly installed. Too many times I see people overtightening when installing, which can lead to more issues. Hand tight is all you need.

I use this as my main boil kettle in my current setup and haven’t had any issues thus far. It’s lasted quite a few batches and serves it’s purpose well.

And if that weren’t convincing enough, the price won’t empty your bank account.

Check it out here: Bayou Classic 10 Gallon with Ball Valve

#3 – MegaPot 8 Gallon with Ball Valve

The MegaPot 1.2 is another fantastic, durable, and reliable kettle directly from the folks at Northern Brewer. If you’re brewing standard size batches, this is yet another kettle that can get the job done.

Similar to the Ss Brewtech Brew Kettle, the MegaPot 1.2 is an absolute beast! Created from nice and thick stainless steel (0.8mm, or 20-gauge wall thickness), it’s another kettle that can take a beating in your home brewery without losing any durability. Silicone coated handles make moving this monster safe and easy. No need for oven mitts or washcloths here!

Due to it’s smaller size (compared to 10 gallon kettles), batches of 5 gallons and lower are ideal. It’s also perfect for BIAB (brew-in-a-bag). The easy-to-open ball valve gives you total control over the flow of your hot wort as you transfer it to your fermentation vessel.

What about water volume? Internal etched markings have you covered (one at each gallon). No more guessing games or “eyeballing it” – one quick look inside is all you need.

Albeit on the more expensive end, if you’re looking for something less than 10 gallons in size, this is one of the best brew kettles to fit the bill!

See more on this kettle here: MegaPot 1.2 8 Gallon with Ball Valve

#4 – Kegco 8 Gallon Brew Kettle with Ball Valve

Rounding out the best brew kettles with ball valves is the Kegco 8 gallon brew kettle. Similar in nature to it’s “cousins” above, it’s construction of 304 stainless steel makes it a durable and reliable piece of equipment.

Batch after batch, you’ll have no problems transporting and moving hot wort in the kettle, thanks to the silicone coated handles. Full-boils of 5 gallon batches are a piece of cake, with plenty of headroom to prevent boilovers.

The only downfall that I see with this particular kettle is that it is slightly thinner than some of the other models listed here (22 gauge stainless). Still, it’s stronger than many kettles on the market and will last you many years (with good care, of course).

Similar to the SsBrewtech Brew Kettle, the Kegco can be purchased with or without the thermometer attachment. If you plan to do BIAB, the thermometer makes an excellent accessory. It’s convenient and allows you to monitor your temps during the mash without having to open up the lid and release heat.

See more on this kettle here: Kegco 8 Gallon Kettle with Ball Valve

#5 – Bayou Classic 10 Gallon without Ball Valve (for those with a smaller budget)

If you’re looking for something simple and easy on the wallet that still gets the job done, this has your name written all over it!

The Bayou Classic 10 gallon stainless brew kettle is perfect for new and old brewers alike. It is budget friendly (less than $60) yet still has same build as its bigger brother (kettle with ball valve previously mentioned above).

One of the pitfalls of this kettle is the most obvious – no ball valve. This can make transferring wort into your fermenter a bit tougher, as you’ll need to dump it in rather than let it flow from the spigot. If you’re brewing relatively small batches on your own, there is no need to worry. This will work just fine.

If you’re a BIAB brewer, this kettle is the perfect size, accommodating 5 to 6 gallon batches at full-boil with ease. No silicone coated handles on this puppy though, so you’ll need to pay extra attention when handling.

Again, for a kettle that’s under $60 in price that allows you to boil full-size 5 gallon batches without any issues, it’s an absolute steal!

Check it out here: Bayou Classic 10 Gallon Brew Kettle (without Ball Valve)

Remember: Quality Goes a Long Way

When it comes to the best brew kettles, any of the 5 mentioned above are tough to beat. They all have their differences and similarities, but in the end, it usually boils down to the minor details and personal preference.

However, if I had to pick one as the best of them all, it would be the Ss Brewtech Brew Kettle. It’s nothing but solid build quality and has durability that is unmatched, hands down!

Seriously – these things can take a beating brew day after brew day, and they will still hold up as strong as they did on the first boil. It’s the reason why they are one of the top brands in homebrewing equipment today!

Before I let you run off, remember this – in homebrewing, quality is always worth paying a few extra dollars for. You’ll spend more upfront but save fistfuls of money in the end.

Tough to argue with that now, isn’t it?

5 of the Best (and Most Popular) Fall Beer Styles You Can Brew Today

fall beer styles

Right around late July/early August, I get a little antsy knowing the release of my favorite fall beer styles are on the horizon.

Living in the Midwest, the summers are usually VERY hot and humid. And while I like drinking and brewing lighter, more refreshing beers made for the summer, it’s really the fall styles I’ve grown to love.

Could it have something to do with the fact that fall is my favorite season?

I mean, you’ve got football, leaves changing colors, and the right temperature where a hoodie and shorts are the perfect combination.

Oh, and the beer? Pssh…it’s like buttercream icing on a cake!

Besides, how can you argue with college football Saturday’s and NFL Sunday’s along with your favorite fall style homebrew in your hands?

Brewing Fall Beer Styles

You know where I’m going with this…

Whether you like it or not, fall is on the way.

That means it’s time to wrap up the summer brews and start thinking about what you’ll make when seasons start to change.

For those new to brewing, this can feel overwhelming at first. With so many options, it’s hard to choose the perfect beer.

But that’s what makes homebrewing what it is – there are no limitations to what you can do!

It’s what makes small batch brewing even more fun and interesting. More variety, more experimentation, and less hassle (in my opinion anyway).

Don’t worry – if you’re having trouble trying to figure out what fall beer styles would suit you best, we’ve got you covered!

Below, you will read about 5 of the best (and most popular) fall beer styles available for you to brew. This should start to swirl some ideas in your head about what you’ll whip up next.

Style #1 – Oktoberfest

oktoberfest

Once the leaves start changing colors, the sweet taste of Oktoberfest is right around the bend.

Originating from Bavaria and known commonly as a Märzen, this annual beer is a perfect fit for the fall. It’s medium to full malty body and beautiful amber color makes it one of the most sought after beer styles around this time of the year.

In order to brew this traditional style in its proper form, you would need the proper equipment, as it needs to be lagered. Many homebrewers start brewing this style in the early months of the year (March/April) so that it can lager and mature to produce the crisp bite and mouthfeel it is known for.

Of course, you could always mimic the style as an ale. The product produced won’t be as authentic, but it’s close enough.

That means you can brew this now and still enjoy it by the time October hits your calendar!

Short on time? Give this one gallon kit a shot: Craft A Brew Oktoberfest 1 Gallon Recipe Kit

Style #2 – Pumpkin

pumpkin ale

The whole “pumpkin craze” is either a “hate it or love it” kind of relationship. Either you go all in or you avoid this style like the plague.

For many, however, fall means pumpkin spiced beers will be in full force. And if you’re anything like me, you’re a sucker for a good pumpkin beer!

What’s I love most about this style is the versatility. From a lighter bodied ale to a dark and thick porter or stout, there are plenty of ways for you to come up with something unique and flavorful.

While many pumpkin beers utilize real pumpkin (either in the mash or racked to secondary), the key to a great pumpkin beer comes down to the spices you use. If you’re formulating your own recipe, remember to start off easy. You can always add more spice in, but you can never take it out!

Whip up a proven batch of Pumpkin Ale with this: Northern Brewer Smashing Pumpkin Ale 5 Gallon Recipe Kit

Style #3 – Red/Amber Ale

red ale

While many red and amber ales are brewed throughout the year, there is something special about them in the fall.

Maybe it’s the fact that the red, brown, and orangish hues line up with the colors of the leaves changing?

Or could it be the perfectly balanced toasted malt profile and creamy mouthfeel making it one of most popular styles of the season?

All I can tell you is that I’ve brewed some amazing red’s in the past, and they are now a must-have style in my fall lineup!

But it gets even better…

You see, there’s another thing to note about red/amber ales in the fall: the range of bitterness is quite wide. From mild, roasty, and toasty to thick, malty, and hoppy, it’s easy to brew up something that suits your palate.

Regardless of your favorite twist on the style, one thing is for sure: red and amber ales make a great partner at a bonfire on a cool fall night!

You might dig this: Brewer’s Best 1 Gallon American Red Ale Recipe Kit

Style #4 – Brown Ale

brown ale

If you think pumpkin beers are “too trendy” and red/amber ales don’t knock your socks off, you might be more of a simple kind of guy or gal.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. There is something to be said of a beer that doesn’t need to pull out all stops to make it great.

That, my friends, is where the brown ale shines!

This classic fall style typically has a well-balanced blend of nutty and roasted notes. Toffee and caramel flavors may also shine through, creating an incredible infusion of flavors and aromas.

Brown ales are often easy to brew and don’t require a complex grain profile. Simple, effective, and downright delicious!

Can you think of anything better than sitting on the porch on a brisk fall afternoon and feeling the smooth caramel and toffee flavors hit your tongue as the leaves rustle nearby?

I didn’t think so.

One of our favorite Brown Ale kits: Northern Brewer 5 Gallon Nut Brown Ale Recipe Kit

Style #5 – IPA

barrel aged ipa

I know, I know – your eyes are probably rolling around a little bit. An IPA being a fall beer? Isn’t this something that you can have all year?

If you find yourself asking those questions, you’re not wrong. IPA’s are a flagship style and will always be in the craft/homebrewing scene.

Much like some styles above, however, there is something different about IPA’s in the fall.

That’s when the heavy hitters really start to come out. Beers loaded with hops, filled with bitterness and bite, and ABV numbers higher than most are more common in the fall months.

As an example, on a commercial level, you will typically see more Double IPA’s from September to November. These heavily hopped “big beers” are also thicker and much higher in ABV.

In other words, it’s like IPA’s big brother.

You’ll also find Black IPA’s tend to take a larger presence around this time of year. Dark and bold in flavor, yet still nice and hoppy like any regular IPA makes it perfect for the fall months!

Like many of the beers above, there is something amazing about sipping a nice and thick IPA when the night is young and the air is cool and crisp.

Seriously – just brew up a batch or two. You’ll be “hoppy” you did (sorry for the cheesy pun, but I had to)!

Here’s a perfect fall IPA with a twist: Craft A Brew 1 Gallon Oak Aged IPA Recipe Kit

Brew Up Your Favorite Today

As you can see, the change in season brings out many of the best and most celebrated fall beer styles.

If you’ve been having trouble figuring out what to brew as the leaves begin to fall, now you know. Brew one style or brew them all.

As George Zimmer, the founder of Men’s Warehouse might say, “You’re in for a treat. I guarantee it!”

Do you have a style or favorite recipe that is your “go-to” in the fall? Let us know in the comments below!