One of the most important lessons for those new to beer brewing is proper cleaning and sanitation. All around us there are invisible bacteria, germs, and wild yeast that like your beer as much as you do. These microorganisms are unwelcome guests to the party, however, because if they get into your beer, they can contaminate it and infect it.
It is the home brewers job to provide the yeast a healthy environment during fermentation, and to give the yeast a head start before these other organisms can take hold. Certain precautions must be taken during the beer brewing process to prevent contamination. That is why it is critically important that you are thorough in cleaning and sanitizing your beer brewing equipment.
It is important to note that cleaning and sanitation DO NOT mean the same thing. Sanitation goes beyond simple cleaning. Chemical sanitizers must be used in the beer brewing process to eliminate the majority of the microorganisms on the equipment beyond what simple soap and water can accomplish alone.
Sanitation is extremely important in the beer brewing process, especially for the new home brewer. Good sanitation habits are a very important part of the learning process, and something you must master and practice every time you brew. Contamination can occur at any time in the beer brewing process, and result in “off” flavors and poor tasting beer. Often, when beginners experience flavor issues during their first few batches, it is the result of poor sanitation practices.
Fermentation is the controlled growing of yeast, and the healthier the environment you provide the yeast, the better it will do. Unfortunately, a healthy environment for yeast is also a healthy environment for all the things you do not want in your beer–the microorganisms, including germs and bacteria. By using proper cleaning and sanitizing of your beer making equipment, you ensure that contaminants are kept to a minimum, and that your yeast will be well fed and not interfered with. Remember, happy yeast makes great beer, which makes the home brewer happy!
Here is a quick breakdown of the differences between cleaning, sanitizing and sterilizing to clarify. Cleaning and sanitizing are not the same thing. You need to clean your beer making equipment first, then sanitize it.
Cleaning is the process of removing the visible residue, the dirt. In other words, what you CAN see. By itself, cleaning is not enough for a clean fermentation.
Cleaning agents will remove surface dirt, but do not kill a significant amount of microorganisms. However, cleaning is still an important part of the process because if dirt is not removed, it can provide a place for microorganisms to hide. This would make sanitization almost impossible.
Sanitizing, which can also be called sanitization or sanitation, is the process of killing off most of the microorganisms on your beer making equipment. Homebrewers use sanitizing solutions to sanitize their equipment. However, these solutions cannot eliminate any microorganisms that are not on the surface of the equipment–ones that are hidden in dirt or residue inside the equipment.
This is why it is important to clean properly and thoroughly before sanitizing. Sanitization removes the majority of microorganisms, but some may remain. However, not enough that they seriously compete with the yeast for nutrients.
Sterilization is the process of killing every living cell in and on your beer making equipment. It is not usually necessary to sterilize for the home brewing process. Because you bring your wort to a boil, the heat of the boil sanitizes the wort. Therefore, sanitation prior to boiling is not necessary.
However, once the boil is complete, and the wort temperature drops below 160 degrees (Fahrenheit), it is critical that every precaution be taken to ensure proper sanitation all the way up until you drink the first beer. All beer making equipment that comes into contact with the cooled wort and fermented beer must be sanitized, including your hands and anything else that comes into contact with the equipment.
This includes carboys, buckets, better bottles or whatever you use for fermenting; chillers, spoons, stirrers, and any other utensil; racking cane, bottling wand, auto siphon, bungs, stoppers, airlocks, bottles, caps, kegs and anything else that can/will touch your wort/beer. As you learn more about beer brewing, you will see there are many ways to control the flavor of the beer during the beer brewing process. But the most important factor and first lesson for the new brewer is cleaning and sanitizing.
This is why the beginning beer kits have simplified the process of brewing beer. It is critically important that you first master the very basic steps of the beer brewing process first., before you start to worry about how to manipulate the flavor of the final brew. And one of the most critical steps of the process is learning good cleaning and sanitization habits.
It has been said that good beer brewing is 75% cleaning. When it comes to sanitation, there are several options for what products you can use. The pros and cons vary, but the important thing is that you use something.