Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Homebrew Tips from the Masters#3: Sanitation

The third installment of homebrewing tips, which I bugged some Canadian brewers to dish out, covers sanitation. Brewing is basically the art of selective neglect. Your wort is a rich environment for any number of cultures to feed upon. But tasty beer can only be made by allowing a fairly narrow spectrum of yeast strains — or a handful of bacteria, in the case of some wild or sour beers — to ferment your wort. If you're not careful, undesirable cultures will infiltrate and utterly corrupt what you are trying to achieve. In a nutshell: your wort is Iran, and if you allow a single mullet to gain entry, the whole place will explode into a decadent cesspool of repulsive culture.

Sanitation refers not only to keeping your brewing equipment a. clean (as in, free of dirt) and b. sterile (free from bacteria or unwanted yeasts), but also to controlling the whole environment in which you brew. You might think you're a clean-freak, but your dwelling place harbours countless organisms that are easily transferred to your homebrew if you don't handle everything carefully. Prior to boiling, your wort may also contain unwelcome bugs, so you're up against it from the start. Here are a few tips from Canadian brewmasters for keeping on top of things.

Protect yourself from unwanted cultures
All of the brewers advocate stringent cleaning procedures. Your kit must be rigorously scrubbed and free of any dirt of particles before you can even start thinking about sanitizing it. This means that you must be vigilant about the condition of your equipment. If any cracks, fissures, nooks, or other recessed areas develop in your carboys, tubes, airlocks, etc etc, they must be replaced immediately. Bacteria is remarkably resistant when it has a place to hide.

Jason Meyer (Driftwood):
Keep it clean, or you’re wasting your time. Iodophore is a pretty good sanitizer, but you need to ensure the equipment is scrupulously clean before you can sanitize it.
Sanitation itself usually involves the use of certain chemicals that eradicate bugs without leaving tough-to-remove residues that can also make your beer taste like crap. All forms of home-fermenting (including wine and cider making) will need a sanitizing agent for best products, but some chemicals are better suited to beer-making than others:

Steve Cavan (Paddock Wood):
sanitize!!!  Do not use metabisulphate. It is fine for wine, but disaster waiting for  beer. Iodophor is a start, but really Star San is the only one that I would consider.  We have stuff mixed in the brewery which we give away to homebrewers.
Choice of containers is important too. Second-hand carboys are cheap, but make sure you know that they were only used for brewing beer, and not wine-making or penny collections, prior to purchase.

Terry Schoffer (Cannery):
If you have a love for wine that’s great, but remember, your beer doesn’t! Beer should never be brewed in the same containers as wine has been made in. Small cracks can harbor Lactobacillus, which will totally destroy all your hard work making that perfect brew. 
Again, if you are unsure how to properly sanitize your kit, call your local brewer. They will tell you what to use, where to get it, and if they are as saintly as this lot claim to be — they might even hand you some for free. Remember, cleanliness is next to hopliness.


  1. All moved in Dan! Once we're settled it's brew time. Keep these handy tips coming!

  2. Here's a question. I was given a brew kit that comes with a large bag of wort, and in the instructions it doesn't say anything about boiling to sterilize. Do you think something has been added to this wort to keep it bug free? Seems strange to me.

  3. It's probably extract. If it's like syrup then you have a bag of extract, which has already been boiled. Just dump in your primary, add water, then add yeast at the right temp and you'll have beer soon.

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  12. Thanks for sharing these handy brewing tips! Home brewing is now become family tradition of many people. So it's more than a business. I have a special booklet which contains Home brewing recipes and this book is passing from ancestors. I guess its age is more than one century now.