Cleaning, Sanitizing & Finally Brewing
The most fun part of brewing is the sanitizing and cleaning! Of course, I’m actually kidding but it will be your biggest time sink. This is the golden reason behind brewing as big as you can. Cleaning time is generally the same in a small or big batch. Cleaning and sanitizing are what keep out unwanted nasties so your beer doesn’t get infected. On a final note sanitizing isn’t the same thing as cleaning. Cleaning removes debris, dust, and crud while sanitizing kills the unwanted bacteria so make sure you do both!
Infected beers are one of the quickest ways to quash your brewing dreams. An infection is an unwanted yeast or bacteria getting into your brew and altering its expected flavor. Just think about taking a big gulp of that big bold stout and getting a tart or sour burst of flavor. A sour can be great but really is not pleasant when you were expecting something else.
First of all, Never ever use dish soap on anything for brewing as it’s extremely easy to leave behind some soap. Seriously go grab a glass and wash it with some Dawn. Leave some water in that “cleaned” glass and just wait a bit to see an oily sheen form from the soap remnants. Save that dish soap for your fancy painted beer glasses… Now, don’t even get me started on putting painted beer glasses in the dishwasher.
There are several options out there for cleaning products. First and foremost I must emphasize that dish soap is not an option here. Just put a drop of Dawn in your hand and watch how long it takes to wash out. PBW is one of the most popular options among home brewers and professionals. I’ll admit it’s great but not the cheapest. PBW does win in the category of cleaning out your kegging system. OxiClean Free is my preferred cleaning method. It’s very cheap and washes out quickly. It’s important to note that only Oxiclean Free is the type you should use because it contains no dyes or perfumes. Avoid an extended contact with metal as Oxiclean can cause rusting or other oxidation in aluminum. My last tip is to watch out when using Oxiclean because it makes everything slippery.
Sanitizing can be done with heat or chemicals. The best chemical sanitizer is Star San by far. Star San is a no wash acid sanitizer that requires no washing in the correct concentrations. It’s quite a quirky product for new brewers because it leaves a lot of residual foam. The foam is your friend and won’t alter your flavors. As they say, Don’t fear the foam! Use Star San on anything that you can’t sanitize with heat or as an extra step on heat sanitized items. Boiling will generally kill anything that will harm your beer but isn’t an option for everything. Boiling is notable because it is the best way to guarantee your ingredients are sanitized and sterile. You’ll be pretty safe if you throw your additional spices and flavorings in the last five minutes before flame off.
There are several tools that will help ease your cleaning burden. A carboy brush is a must for cleaning the bottom of your carboys after a brew. I would suggest a small and big one if you are making both one gallon and full five gallon batches. The brush is also handy for scrubbing out a bucket if you decide to go that route. Be firm but gentle if using a brush on plastic as it can leave scratches. A good no scratch pad will help you with removing labels from bottles. Avoid using metal scrubbers as they will always rust and tend to cause scratches. Scrubbers and sponges are a magnet for germs but are safe enough on the outside of bottles.
Have fun and brew on… just don’t forget your scrubbing!