If you’re a beer enthusiast, have you ever considered home brewing? In the introductory article of our home brewing series, Jared Kovacs shared that duplicating your favourite commercial beer is a good way to start out. Last month, he talked about the essential equipment you need. Today, Jared is back to tell you about the least thrilling but most important part of home brewing: cleaning and sanitizing that equipment.
In last month’s column, Home Brewing Essentials: Grains and Equipment, I talked about the essential equipment needed for home brewing extract or all grain beer. This month we’re going to talk about cleaning and sanitizing it. I know, thrilling. This may not be the most exciting topic, but it certainly is the most important. So, yeah, we have to talk about it.
Controlling the Brewing Environment
Beer is notoriously easy to “infect.” Eeuw — I know, sounds gross, but it’s not that bad. And to be honest, it’s a term that isn’t 100 percent accurate. It would be better to say, “Beer is notoriously easy to contaminate.” We all know, if we have sat through Grade Nine science, that bacteria and yeast love wet, warm and sugary environments. Your wort (remember, beer before it’s fermented) is the perfect place for them to thrive.
Our job as a brewer is to control this environment, as much as we can, by eliminating bacteria and wild yeast so that our brewer's yeast is the only microorganism that’s fermenting and developing the flavour of our beer. The more control we have at every step of the brewing process, the more likely we’ll end up with fantastic beer.
Know Your Micro-Organisms
There are a few micro-organisms you need to aware of. The first is Brettanomyces. It’s a yeast that produces off-flavours that are reminiscent of a barnyard. Yeah, I know, I wouldn’t want that either. The second is a bacteria, Pediococcus. This bad boy produces lactic acid instead of alcohol when it eats sugar, raising the pH level and producing sourness and other funky fun flavours. The third and final bacteria is Lactobacillus, which is one of my absolute favourite bacteria.
If you just asked yourself, "Can you have a favourite bacteria?" you’re not alone. But you can, and this one is mine. The reason is that it’s the bacteria that makes sourdough bread sour and it’s in almost every fermented food we eat. We shouldn’t be surprised to find it in certain beer styles. In fact, you’ll find all of these bacteria and yeast in particular styles of beer. So why are they so bad that we want to avoid them as much as possible? Because unless we are brewing those specific beer styles, the flavours these microorganisms produce will be off-putting.
It would be like me saying I packed you a pizza lunch (awesome!) but instead I gave you a sandwich. It’s not necessarily a bad thing; it’s just not what you expected. Ok, who am I kidding? A sandwich would be sooooo disappointing! The problem isn’t so much that these bacteria/yeast exist, but that they'll ruin the beer you’re trying to brew. Of course, these will make wonderful beers if you know how to use them. However, when you’re starting out, you’re typically brewing various ale’s, IPA’s, porters and stouts. The last thing you want is for your porter to taste like you’re getting punched in the mouth.
How To Keep Bacteria and Yeast from Ruining Your Brew
So how do avoid these bacteria and yeast ruining your brew? You have to do the tedious and monotonous task of scrubbing your equipment clean and sanitizing it. Let me reiterate; this is not a fun job. But it is paramount.
Luckily for us, the task is made slightly easier because we have access to good cleaning products. Any home-brew shop will carry what you need. I use a product called PBW as my detergent for scrubbing everything down because it’s unscented and rinses away fairly easily. For sanitizing I use a product called Star-San. It's super easy to use as it’s a no-rinse product. You spray it on and 30 seconds later you can start using your equipment with the knowledge that you’ve done everything you can. There are other products you can use on the market, but these are by far the most popular with home brewers. Ever since I started using them, I haven’t had a contaminated beer. And that, my friends, makes me a very happy brewer.
That’s a lot of words for a simple concept: clean and sanitize your equipment! Don’t be lazy in this process because your hard work will only help you have the best beer you can.
Brew on friends!
Have you brewed your own beer? If so, share your best tip for cleaning and sanitizing in the comments!
- Home Brewing Essentials: Grains and Equipment
- Home Brewing: Make What You Love – Irish Red Ale
- What Are Nucleated Beer Glasses?
- Canada’s Craft Beer: Cellaring Your Beer
Home Brewing is written by Jared Kovacs. Jared comes from a long line of food and drink connoisseurs. His father was a chef, his grandparents owned a diner, his grandfather is a home brewer, and his great-great-great-grandfather was a brewmaster in Germany. He loves sharing good food, beer (especially home brews), and cider with friends and family. You can follow him at The Hesitant Chef or on social media at Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.