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Sterilizing and Sanitizing when Homebrewing Beer

If you want your beer to taste fresh and be drinkable and enjoyable, you need to protect it from the millions of hungry microbes that are waiting to ambush your brew. Germs are everywhere; they live with us and even on us. Look out! There’s one now!

The importance of sterilizing and sanitizing when homebrewing

Whoever first said that cleanliness is next to godliness probably brewed beer. Scrupulously clean equipment and a pristine brewing environment are the keys to making good beer. Clean doesn’t mean just soap-and-water clean; when it comes to beer, serious sanitation is a necessity. Why?

Fungi and bacteria, the two bad guys of the germ world that you need to worry about with beer, are opportunistic; if you give them half a chance at a free meal, they take it without reservation. (Wouldn’t you, if it were your wonderful beer being offered?) Here’s who you’re battling:

  • Fungi consist of mold spores and wild yeast. Beer yeast fall into the fungus category, but they’re the friendly variety.

  • Only a couple of strains of bacteria show up in beer — usually in spontaneously fermented Belgian beers.

Fungi and bacteria thrive in very warm temperatures — often up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius). Microbial activity tends to decrease as the temperature drops, so cooling down the hot wort as quickly as possible is imperative.

You can’t possibly kill all the fungi and bacteria in your home. The idea is to keep the germs from enjoying your beer before you have a chance to; if they get to the beer first, you may not want it.

Anything and everything that comes into contact with your beer at any time must be either sterilized or sanitized.

  • Sterilizing refers to disinfecting items (such as the brew pot and the brew’s ingredients) by boiling.

  • Sanitizing refers to cleaning and disinfecting all the rest of the equipment by using chemicals (and isn’t to be confused with sanity, which you can lose during all the cleaning you have to do).

General cleaning practices when making beer

Sterilizing and sanitizing your equipment is the sixth step in the brewing process The best place to handle sanitizing procedures is a utility basin or a large-capacity sink. The most effective methods of sanitizing involve soaking rather than intensive scrubbing. The length of soaking time depends completely on the sanitizer you’re using, so be sure to refer to package directions.

Never use any abrasives or materials that can scratch your plastic equipment, because pits and scratches are excellent hiding places for those wily bacteria. A soft sponge, used only for cleaning homebrew equipment, is the way to go.

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