Why Sanitize Equipment for Hombrewing?
Have you ever contemplated which step in the brewing process is the most salient to ensure a quality beer passes over your palate? It is an easy answer. Sanitizing! Why you ask? Sanitizing kills, or at minimum, reduces bacteria, microorganisms, and other contaminants that will spoil and negatively impact your beer. Off flavors and aroma occur if you accidentally forget to sanitize specific brewing equipment that will come in contact with your cool wort. The good news is that it is relatively easy to ensure a nearly bacteria-free brew zone!
DETERMINING WHAT TO CLEAN AND SANITIZE
A simple, but required step that must occur prior to sanitizing, is a basic cleaning of your equipment. Sanitizers only work when used on clean surfaces. So, before you sanitize, be sure to remove any dirt, stains, and other foreign matter on your brewing equipment. We’ll touch on this more in the section on cleaning below.
Which brewing equipment needs to be sanitized? Use this checklist as a guide. The best way to know which equipment needs to be sanitized is to ask “Will my cool wort touch this piece equipment?” If the answer is yes, then it needs to be sanitized.
- Stirring spoon: Clean
- Measuring cup: Clean and Sanitize
- Funnel: Clean and Sanitize
- Strainer: Clean and Sanitize
- Fermenter and Lid: Clean and Sanitize
- Airlock: Clean and Sanitize
- Thermometer: Clean and Sanitize
Wondering why you do not need to sanitize your brewpot and stirring spoon? When these pieces of equipment come in contact with your wort, all or nearly all of the bacteria that might be present on these pieces of equipment will be killed because your wort will be boiling.
An additional note, while this guide focuses on sanitizing for brew day, you will also need to clean and sanitize bottles, kegs, lines, and additional equipment used to enjoy your beer in your favorite pint glass.
Cleaning Your Brewing Equipment
To clean your brewing equipment, use any cleanser that is free of any fragrances. The last thing you want to do is explain why your homebrew has a lemon, lavender, or other off aroma and flavor created by your cleaning agent! Your local homebrew shop (LHS) should have options for cleaning brew equipment. One suggestion is PBW (Powdered Brewery Wash) Five Star. The directions on the cleanser bottle will specify what concentration to use and how long to soak the equipment. A basic home pot sponge is perfect for cleaning your brewing equipment. If using a brush, be sure to use a non-abrasive one as this step can damage equipment. Overall, if you follow the directions on the cleanser bottle your brewing equipment will be fragrance free and ready to be sanitized!
Keep in mind that materials should be sanitized immediately after cleaning. If you are not going to brew right away, place all of the equipment in your fermentation bucket (except for your brewing spoon as it will extend beyond the top and not allow the lid to be placed on the bucket) and wrap tightly in plastic wrap.
Sanitizing Your Brewing Equipment
Now for the main event, actually sanitizing your brewing equipment for brew day. The most efficient way to sanitize your brew day equipment is to clean all of your required components in a five gallon bucket. Your fermentation bucket is perfect for this! Sanitizer choices come in one-step (no rinse) or two-step (rinse is required) options and can be liquid or powder. Different sanitizers have different instructions for use. Soak your equipment in sanitizer for the amount of time suggested on the instructions of the sanitizer selected. Regardless of your selection, the key is to follow the directions to ensure proper preparation of your brewing equipment.
Two-Step Sanitizing Options
The most economical sanitizing strategy is to use bleach (two-step process). First, you’ll need to soak all of the required equipment in a five gallon bucket. (Remember the suggested list as well as the rule of “Will my cool wort come in contact with this tool?”) Any equipment that is soaked in the bleach solution needs to be rinsed with boiling water before using to help prevent off flavors with your beer.
Another two-step sanitizer is Beer Brite (a powder option). Once the powder has been dissolved in cold to lukewarm water and the equipment has been soaked in a five gallon bucket, the brew materials will feel extremely slippery. Using cool to lukewarm running water, rinse the materials that came in contact with the Beer Brite until the slippery feeling is no longer present. Once this occurs, you are ready to brew.
One-Step Sanitizing Options
One-step sanitizing options you can purchase at your LHS are BTF Iodophor and Star San. Both options decrease the total time required on brew day because you do not need to add a rinse step prior to brewing. As with two-step sanitizers, soak your equipment in a five gallon bucket and according to the procedures outlined on your sanitizer.
From Sanitizing to Brewing
There is no need to wait for sanitized equipment to dry. In fact, it is best practice to brew immediately after sanitizing. Every second delayed creates an opportunity for a microorganism to contaminate your beer. As you prepare for brewing, place the sanitized brewing equipment on a paper towel or lint free towel. It is also recommended to cover the equipment with plastic to ensure microorganisms do not attach themselves to the sanitized equipment.
Good sanitizing practices will help your beer achieve the intended flavor and aromatic characteristics. Whether it is a one-step sanitizer or a two-step sanitizer you select, follow the directions outlined on the bottle and you will have a brewing environment that is bacteria free! Cheers to a successful brew session!
Daniel Gridley is the pioneer of North Carolina single origin grown hops and malts. Since 2009, Farm Boy Farms in Pittsboro has been cultivating hops, malting locally grown grains and distributing quality ingredients to local brewers. Using a scientific approach, data based decision-making and in collaboration with over 100 microbreweries, malt houses, hop farms and agriculture research facilities, Daniel is creating a new agricultural model in a state that values fresh locally sourced ingredients. Follow the leader @FarmBoyFarms for all things grown in North Carolina for beer.