How to sanitize beer making equipment – environment friendly solutions

Today is bottling day. My first beer bottling day ever! After brewing day came the 6 days of primary fermentation. The instructions in the ingredients kit recommended performing a secondary fermentation – which I did and waited patiently for 2 more full weeks. Now my Belgian (Style) Ale is finally ready to be bottled for the conditioning part of the process. This is when you want to make sure you understand HOW TO SANITIZE BEER MAKING EQUIPMENT.

Sanitizing is extremely important when brewing beer. It might even be the number one concern. The reason is, wort is a warm, moist and nutrient rich environment that is perfect for yeasts and bacteria to grow. If unwanted cells invite themselves to the party … chances are you will end up with a funky tasting brew! My first experiment is promising and I don’t want to ruin my next batch …

So, I did some research to find out.  I have not tried most of these products and methods.  Given my short experience as a new beer maker at home, I have cleaned and sanitized my equipment so far (on brewing day, and before racking for secondary fermentation) with the products that came with my brewing kit – what seems to be some generic oxygen-based cleaner “easy clean”, and an Iodine-based sanitizer, “Io-Star”. Before bottling, my beer turned out clean and aromatic, so I must have sanitized correctly.  However I learned from this research what product(s) and methods I will use moving forward and why.

  • what CLEANING PRODUCTS are recommended
  • What PRODUCTS TO USE TO STERILIZE
  • Preferred TIPS and SANITATION METHODS in the home brewing community

How to sanitize beer making equipment bubbles

Sanitizing – what does it mean?

Commonly speaking, sanitizing means “to make sanitary by cleaning OR sterilizing”. When it comes to home brewing, SANITIZING actually means “cleaning AND sterilizing”. When brewers speak about sanitizing, they actually mean sterilizing, which means killing or removing all forms of microorganisms – so, for the sake of consistency, I’ll speak about CLEANING and SANITIZING.

You CLEAN to remove all VISIBLE grime and dirt off all your equipment. Most of the time cleaning is a PHYSICAL METHOD, such as washing, scrubbing, flushing, rinsing … after using a cleaning agent. The sanitization process simply won’t work if you have dirt left on your equipment.

You SANITIZE to remove all unwanted wild YEASTS and BACTERIA. This is the deep clean, so to speak. There are different possible methods. As far as home brewing is concerned, this is done either by CHEMICAL or HEAT treatment. Since we care about the environment, we will briefly mention here which chemicals are natural, harmless compounds.

Cleaning – what products to use?

What is NOT RECOMMENDED:

DISHWASHING LIQUID SOAP – in other words, DETERGENT – you will need to rinse it thoroughly, and might leave a soapy residue that will affect the foam retention in your beer. It might also taint it with artificial scent and taste, as the soap’s perfumes can migrate to your plastic equipment.

BLEACH – you can use it as an effective cleaner (a CAUSTIC CHLORINE solution that breaks up the organic compounds) and it is very affordable, however it is corrosive to metal parts if in contact for an extended period of time. You will also need to rinse abundantly.

RECOMMENDED:

OXYCLEAN – like the name indicates, an OXYGEN-BASED cleaner. It contains percarbonates and hydrogen peroxide, which breakdown into BIO-DEGRADABLE elements, which makes it appealing to me, as environment conscious citizen!

ONE STEP – A no-rinse version of oxygen-based cleaner, claiming to be THE ONLY ENVIRONMENTALLY SOUND cleaner because of its non-alkaline nature. Apparently lots of home brewers clean and sanitize with this only product. One step. It is still advised to use a sanitizer, especially as your equipment gets older.

PBW (Powdered Brewery Wash) – An ALKALINE and CAUSTIC cleaning agent that’s very effective. Also, ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY. It is trusted by many professional brewers.

For copper and brass only – WHITE DISTILLED VINEGAR (ACETIC ACID): Before the first use, clean your wort chiller by soaking it for 15 minutes, no more otherwise, the copper/ brass will start to dissolve. Rinse after each use to prevent oxide or wort deposit that could harbor bacteria.

What sanitizers should you use?

NOT RECOMMENDED:

ALCOHOL – might be useful to sanitize surfaces, such as tables, … your hands… but not so much equipment.

Although glass, metal and HDPE are resistant to methyl, ethyl and isopropyl, some plastics will decompose in contact of alcohol. A 70% Alcohol solution (30% water) is actually more effective than 100% Alcohol.

BLEACH – it will effectively kill germs, but since rinsing is required, it makes bleach not a good sanitizer at this point – I’ll explain in the paragraph below on methods and tips why rinsing is not a good thing after sanitizing.

MOST USED

STAR-SAN – is the most popular sanitizer for home brewing. It is a no-rinse, ACID-BASED, no color, self-foaming agent, with a short time of contact needed, 1 minute. The foam helps get the product in the cracks of the equipment. It is USDA Approved.

IDOPHOR – It is IODINE-BASED – so food industry friendly, also a no-rinse, with little contact time needed – 1 minute, low foaming. Will slightly stain vinyl tubing.

RECOMMENDED

For glass and metal only – DRY HEAT. The perfect application for this type of sanitization is STERILIZING (not just sanitizing) your empty, clean glass bottles in your oven. They need to stay at 350° F for 60 minutes.

HYDROGEN PEROXIDE (ONE STEP or PBW) – beyond being an excellent cleanser, hydrogen peroxide is also an effective sanitizer. It works by oxidizing, meaning burning microorganisms. It also breaks down into water and oxygen after reacting with the organic material, making it VERY SAFE. The more you dilute the solution, the more contact time is required. For example a 3% solution as sold commonly needs about 10 minutes to kill bacteria. It cleans and sanitizes at the same time – And it is no-rinse.

 

Methods and tips on sanitation.

SOAKING – follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Short contact sanitizing products such as acid and iodine based – will work with a 1-minute soak, whereas hydrogen needs 10 to 20 minutes.

SCRUBBING – only use SOFT brushes or cloths, as you don’t want to scratch the surfaces of your equipment

RINSING or NOT RINSING AFTER SANITIZING? – since tap water may contain bacteria and germs, it is NOT RECOMMENDED rinsing after sanitizing. This is why is important to use cleaners and sanitizers that are SAFE for your health and the environment. Another benefits of using environmentally friendly no rinse products such as ONE STEP is that it saves water.

MICROWAVE – technically effectively kills germs but does not work with dry or metallic materials. Could be a solution to sterilize liquids, to prepare for the action of yeasts for example.

DISHWASHER – some people use this to sanitize empty bottles, but it is not recommended as most non-commercial dishwashers won’t heat more than 140°-160° F on average, which is not hot enough at any length of time to properly sanitize.  Also, regular dishwashers are not designed to wash bottles and use up lots of water.

OVEN 350° F for 60 minutes – perfect solution to sanitize/ sterilize empty bottles.

How to sanitize your beer making equipment – what to remember.

Common sense and paying attention to details at all stages of the brewing process are key.

Cleaning is not sanitizing. Both need to be done. Increasing time of contact or temperature normally improves result. Do not overuse chemicals. Watch expiration dates.

Rinse BEFORE sanitizing and immediately after use of your equipment

Scrub gently.

OXYGEN-BASED PRODUCTS serve the two purposes: CLEANING and SANITIZING. For that reason, even if they are at first sight more expensive, they may be still less expensive than buying two products instead of one. They also break down into water and oxygen, two natural elements that are completely safe for the environment. I also learned that they are no-rinse, therefore easier to use and protecting your equipment against the tap water bacteria. To me, this is the perfect solution.

I will continue to use the dry heat of my oven to STERILIZE my clean, empty bottles.

I hope you enjoyed this post. Please share your questions or comments below.

Cheers, and to our health!

Vincent

Sourcing organic beer ingredients – Is it worth it?

The modern organic beer movement started in Germany in 1979, when Pinkus-Müller Brauerei produced the first all-organic beer in recent times, in response to the declining quality of industrial malt. Today the worldwide organic beer market is on the rise, even though it is not mainstream yet, it counts hundreds of breweries and is estimated to grow by close to 7% every year on average by 2025 – according the World Research Future. In this post we’ll look at WHAT TO LOOK FOR when sourcing organic beer ingredients, WHAT BENEFITS are associated to those, TIPS ON FINDING them – without listing producers and suppliers (this will be the subject of a separate post), lastly we’ll speak about USING SPENT INGREDIENTS, as they are great to contribute to your kitchen or garden.

What are organic beer ingredients?

Organic brewing means that you are using only the 4 pure natural basic ingredients needed to make beer, according to the traditional German beer “law of purity” known as “Reinheitsgebot” … a Bavarian law dating back to 1516:

Water, Malt, Hop, and Yeast.

Excluding the use of any additives found in commercial beers such as artificial coloring (blue #1, red#40, yellow #5, caramel ammonia, insect based dyes), high fructose corn syrup, GMO sugar, MSG, many types of sulfites, animal based clarifiers, foam control chemicals (glyceryl monostearate), carrageenan, propylene glycol … just to name a few of allowed but clearly harmful chemicals. As shocking as it may sound, in the USA, the FDA does not require any ingredient labeling for beer!

Organic Beer Ingredients Water

WATER – its environmental quality cannot be certified. It depends on your local supply. I encourage you to know how clean your local water is. The EWG (Environment Working Group) in America has published records on water testing in your area, you may find them here. Always use filtered water with a good system. Reverse osmosis being the best water treatment available at home, carbon filtration is a solid second option. It is most breweries preferred filtration system.

Organic beer ingredients barley

MALT – This is the main ingredient used in brewing. The plants should be certified NON-GMO, free of pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers and non-irradiated. The most common organic certification in America is approved by the USDA (US Department of Agriculture). The nationwide organic agency Oregon Tilth goes further by educating and organizing the market place while offering certification.

Organic Beer Ingredients Hop

HOP – So far, organic hop has rarely been used at the corporate brewery level since “ORGANIC BEER” may be produced with only 95% organic ingredients as opposed to “100% ORGANIC BEER”. Today, hop producers have organized with an Association called American Organic Hop Grower Association (AOHGA) to promote organic farms and breweries. Associate members include Sierra Nevada, Wolaver, Peak …

YEAST – Organic yeast is free of synthetic chemicals, GMO sugars, petroleum-based chemicals, and other unnatural ingredients. Yeasts are cells that belong to the fungi family which includes mold. They can be found everywhere in nature, but they are especially present on fruits and other plants. There are many species of yeasts. The most commonly known is called Saccharomyces Cervisiae and is the widely used the beer industry under many different yeast strains. Besides their chemical function of producing alcohol and CO2 by “eating” sugars, yeasts may also produce in the end product secondary (by-products of the fermentation) aromas and flavors, classified as ESTERS or PHENOLS. Esters are generally desirable and fruit-related, whereas phenols are generally undesirable off flavors and aromas with medicinal or smokey character. Industrial beers rely may rely on artificial yeasts to produce a certain flavor profile, recognizable by its aggressive character.

The benefits of using all organic ingredients

SELECTING CERTIFIED ORGANIC INGREDIENTS above all, gives you a guarantee of QUALITY, and INFORMATION about the products you will ultimately consume. The producer is committed and passionate about his job. To be certified means to follow precise and strict regulations. Because organic producers are often independent farmers, they are more directly accessible. The organic community wants to be by definition responsible and transparent in the long term.

GENUINE TASTE. Assessing taste is a complex and subjective task. However, because organic crops are grown using composts and manure, they have different nutrient than conventional crops relying on synthetic fertilizers, therefore affecting the concentration and complexity of sugars and compounds, affecting the flavors. Working with fresh, local ingredients will definitely allow you to have access to ingredients that are intense, pure and have character. These ingredients should inspire you and give you a sense of appreciation for concepts of season and place.

BETTER FOR YOUR HEALTH. Yes, good beer is nutritious: it is a source of protein and vitamin B, with anti-oxidants comparable to those found in wine, and contains minerals essential to a healthy diet – riboflavin, niacin, zinc, potassium, calcium and phosphorus. Beer also has amazing health benefits such as anti-cancer properties, reducing the risk of cardio-vascular diseases, increasing bone density, helping prevention of dementia and coronary diseases, aiding the digestive system, delaying aging, treating diabetes, kidney stones, hypertension, reducing stress and being a diuretic. Should I say more? Beer is good for you.

BETTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT. Farming organically improves soil fertility, increases biodiversity, reduces the impact of harmful chemicals, reduces the carbon footprint with fewer ingredients being imported or transported over long distances.

HELPING LOCAL GROWERS. Organic producers are not exposed to harmful chemicals. The idea of working in a sustainable way also promotes fair trade practices.

Finding organic ingredients easily

Sourcing organic beer ingredients is getting easier! Thanks to the growing movement of environmentally conscious producers and consumers worldwide.

The purpose of this post is not to provide you with links to source ingredients. This will be the object of a future article. Stay tuned!

Spent ingredients management

As an environment conscious community we aim to reduce waste.

One of the benefits of sourcing organic ingredients is that you will be able to use them beyond the brewing process. A few ideas include:

MAKING BREAD with the used mash. It still contains lots of fibers and nutrients, such as proteins, and even some minerals. You will need to dry the grain in your oven at low temperature (170°) for several hours.  Grind it obtain flour and bake according to your recipe, and … serve it with the beer you produced with it.

VINEGAR may be made from a batch gone bad. Add 16 oz of raw apple cider vinegar with the mother to 48 oz of beer in a glass jar in a dark place at room temperature.  Vinegar needs air, so make sure you have enough air in your container and simply cover it with a towel. It takes about 4 to 6 weeks.

COMPOSTING.  Spent grain contains lots of Nitrogen and should be mixed with carbon-rich materials like wood chips, grass clippings, leaves to avoid a smelly decomposition.  Also make sure you turn your compost over to bring oxygen.

MAKING DOGS’ TREATS.  You can find different recipes online with spent barley. Important: Just do not feed your dog hop, or grain that has been in contact with hop, as it is highly toxic to its system.

Well worth the effort – where to go from there?

I believe quality beer is produced with ingredients that are best when sourced locally and farmed organically. The market for organic ingredients is still a minority, but is emerging steadily and significantly as people are becoming more HEALTH CONSCIOUS and recognize the benefits of SUPPORTING A LOCAL SUSTAINABLE ECONOMY. I believe sourcing organic ingredients will allow to produce beer with INTEGRITY, CHARACTER AND TASTE.

Of one the goals of this website is to help you to source your own ingredients, so please contact me, and I will be more than happy to direct you to vendors you can trust.

Cheers. To our health!

Vincent

Understanding the beer fermentation process

Before you get started with the exciting experience of crafting your own brew, you wonder what the basics of the beer fermentation process are and perhaps you are curious to learn what happens during the different steps of the production. This post is meant to sum up the basic mechanics of the process, described as it may be conducted at home. Please contribute to this article by sharing your experiences, comments and/ or questions.

The beer fermentation process 101

beer fermentation 101 flow chart

What is beer?

In very simple terms, beer is an “alcoholic beverage made from malted grain, flavored with hops and brewed by slow fermentation”

It is produced from 3 basic, pure ingredients:

  • Malted grain
  • Hops
  • Yeast

… and of, course water.

The beer fermentation process includes 4 basic operations:

  1. MASHING
  2. BOILING
  3. FERMENTING
  4. CONDITIONING

An important note on SANITIZING: After the wort has been boiled, it is critical to make sure all the equipment and containers are properly sanitized all along the whole process to avoid contamination, which would impair the action of the yeast and/ or affect the finished beer with undesirable flavors and aromas.

Mashing – the preparation of the wort

Brewing Beer Process Mashing

To occur, a fermentation needs sugars, yeasts and air. In beer making, sugars (mainly Maltose, with some Glucose and other types of sugar) come from the MALT (germinated cereal that is dried or roasted to different degrees). The sweet fermentation ready liquid is called WORT. It is extracted by the MASHING process.

It is recommended to start your first couple of brewing attempts from ingredient kits. By providing you directly with malt extract – dry or liquid, you won’t have to go through all the steps of making WORT. When you are more experienced, you will hopefully want to create your own beer recipes, using the ingredients of your choice.

To make WORT from scratch – here are the steps you’ll have to follow:

First, your MALT has to be crushed through the process of MILLING – resulting in what we call GRIST.

Then comes the MASHING itself, which is done by mixing the GRIST with warm water, releasing the sugars from the MALT.

To complete the preparation of the WORT, LAUTERING is performed. This consists in separating the grain from the MASH using water, a process referred to as SPARGING – and filtering the liquid. In home brewing a bag made of cloth, similar to cheese cloth may be used when the GRIST is soaked or steeped in the warm water, in this case no filtration is required.

Boiling – adding hops

Initially, the brewer would boil his WORT in order to kill any undesirable bacteria.

BOILING will reduce the amount of liquid to the target volume to be fermented.

A controlled temperature is necessary for the whole duration of the BOIL to extract the qualities and characteristics of the hop. Adding hop is referred to as HOPPING. Hop may be added at an early stage of the BOIL, to give more bitterness, or toward during the BOIL to give more flavors, or toward the end to give more aromas. DRY HOPPING refers to adding hop to the cooled WORT. Other flavorings such as spices, or sugar may be added too during the BOIL.

This step is particularly crucial during the beer making and requires special attention, as the temperature is key – a regular rolling boil is what you want, as you add ingredients to the WORT in home brewing, this is when you run the risk to boil over. To prevent this from happening, stirring the kettle as you start will help reduce the foaming. It will also prevent the MALT extract to caramelize at the bottom of the kettle.

The boil usually lasts for 60 minutes.

Fermenting – wort turning into beer, the yeasts doing the work

Beer Fermentation Process Krausen

Generally speaking – not only about beer – there are two different types of fermentation. The PRIMARY FERMENTATION (or ALCOHOLIC FERMENTATION) occurring by the action of the yeast cells, and the lactic acid fermentation occurring by the action of bacteria. Scientists a century ago discovered that enzymes (proteins promoting chemical reactions in cells) were actually responsible for fermentation, a transformation happening inside the yeast cells.

The PRIMARY FERMENTATION is the process that really transforms your WORT into BEER, now containing alcohol. This fermentation takes place in two different stages. In the first stage the glucose will be converted through glycolysis into pyruvic acid – an intermediate compound in the metabolism of carbohydrates and proteins. In the second stage, in an environment with no oxygen, the pyruvic acid will be converted into ETHANOL (alcohol) and CO2.

To start its ALCOHOLIC FERMENTATION, the WORT needs to be chilled down to around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The yeast is then PITCHED (or added). The type of yeast will determine at what temperature the FERMENTATION should occur. Typically an Ale is fermented between 60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit, and a Lager around 50 degrees.

The Alcoholic Fermentation may take between 4 days to sometimes up to 2 weeks, depending on the beer. A visual indicator of what stage of the fermentation you are at is the foamy, coarse head forming and bubbling on top of the beer, called KRAUSEN. It is caused by the growth of the yeast cells. At the end of fermentation the KRAUSEN falls.

A SECOND FERMENTATION is sometimes recommended to produce a clear beer, free of sediment, making a better beer, refining and polishing the taste.

The SECOND FERMENTATION is started when the PRIMARY is almost finished. It is important to make sure most of the yeast have been consumed but CO2 is still being, normally more slowly generated. Normally this is the case around day 4 or 5 of the beer alcoholic fermentation process. CO2 will protect your beer from oxidation and from obtaining off-flavors. At this point, the beer should be RACKED (transferred) into a container with smaller head space and stay there another week or two, before bottling. Lagers need more time to finish their fermentation, because it is performed at colder temperatures. Also beers with more sugar will take longer to ferment completely, because the remaining yeasts will struggle to eat all the sugar, being less active at a higher level of alcohol. The second fermentation may take 2 weeks or more. A Lager will need 6 to 8 weeks.

Conditioning – bottling or kegging

Beer Fermentation Process Bottling

This is the last step in beer making.

In home brewing, the most simple method is to BOTTLE your beer. At this point you have hopefully a clear, delicious beer. However, since most of the CO2 has escaped during the fermentation, it is quite flat. This is the reason why it should be CONDITIONED.

Right before BOTTLING, your beer will be primed with a mixture of sugar and water that will naturally re-ferment in the bottle. The CO2 produced will carbonate the beer and remain in the tightly capped bottle. It will take another 2 weeks at 70 to 75 degrees F. After that, the bottle can be chilled at 60 degrees F. or under to stabilize the beer.

A quicker alternative is to KEG your beer, a method in which you force the desired amount of CO2 into the keg filled with beer. For this you will need tap lines, a regulator (to control the carbonation), a CO2 cylinder, and a keg. Carbonation will typically take 2 to 3 days.

Both a craft and a natural process – further your understanding of fermentation

It’s easy to understand why brewing and fermenting is so exciting. The process combines the intervention of human work, tastes and skills – basically an art – with the work of natural elements interacting in a specific environment.

If you serious about drinking fresh, pure, healthy, and haven’t tried to brew your own yet, I strongly encourage you to start the journey.  This is so much FUN and SATISFYING.

A absolute must reading for beginners and more advanced brewers is the book by Charlie Papazian, Joy of Home Brewing. Go to my personal review of this “home brewer’s bible” for more information.

Cheers, and to our health!

 

Vincent