The Cleaner the Equipment the Better the Brew: Cleanliness is Critical to a Successful Homebrew

One of the simplest ways to ensure that your home brew turns out well is to make sure all of your equipment is clean and sanitized. Remember that everything your beer comes into contact with has the potential for introducing unwanted bacteria into the beer, which can result in an entire batch of beer going bad. There is nothing more disappointing than opening up a nicely chilled bottle of home brew only to discover that the beer has soured and become undrinkable. Cleaning and sanitizing your equipment allows you to reduce the amount of bacteria and wild yeast that comes into contact with your beer before fermentation causes the yeast population to grow to a concentration that will ensure there is no contamination in the fermentation process.

Cleaning and sanitizing your equipment are in fact two separate steps. Everything that you will be using to make the beer needs to be cleaned before use, but only the equipment that will come into contact with your beer after boiling will need to be sanitized. You might also want to consider dedicating your home brewing equipment solely to home brewing.

Cleaning your beer equipment means removing all traces of soap and oil from the equipment. Soap and oil residue in your beer can cause problems with the appearance of your beer as well as with the flavor. Cleaning your beer making equipment means actually washing it with water and some form of cleaning solution. While regular (unscented) dish soap can be used, remember that you will have to rinse off every trace of the soap before continuing in your home brewing process. This can sometimes be difficult and time consuming. Another idea is to buy a specialized cleaner made for home brewing equipment. Such cleaners are designed to rinse away easily and can be found at most home brew supply shops as well as online.

The next step is sanitizing everything that is going to come into contact with the beer after its been boiled. The equipment which comes into contact with the beer before or during the boiling process will be sanitized by the boiling. The big things here are your carboy (or brewing bucket) and the bottles you intend to use. Also remember to sanitize things like spoons or ladles you intend to use to transfer the beer from the stock pot into the carboy, your funnel that allows you to poor the beer into your narrow necked carboy, and any plastic piping you are using to siphon your beer into its next container. Sanitizing means allowing the equipment to soak in a sanitizing solution of one part bleach to ten parts water for ten minutes or more. You can buy specialized sanitizing solutions at your home brew supplier, if you prefer not to use bleach. Just keep in mind that most of these solutions will need to be diluted. Also be sure that you rinse off every trace of sanitizing solution before adding your beer, as sanitizing solution residue can be fatal to your brewer’s yeast and cause your beer to fail for lack of fermentation.

The easiest way to sanitize your bottles is to bake them in the oven. Simply rinse out each bottle to ensure that there is no residue on the bottom, then bake them for ten minutes in an oven that has been heated to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Be sure to allow your bottles to cool before filling them with your beer.

Many home brew supply shops sell plastic buckets for the transfer and fermentation of your beer. While these buckets are often cheaper and easier to use than glass carboys, keep in mind that glass is easier to sanitize. Plastic can become scratched, leaving niches for bacteria to hide and potentially ruin your beer. You might consider investing in a glass carboy if you intend to become serious about home brewing.