Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Nick’s Brew Day: Part 2 of 3 – Sanitizing

As you might recall from my Previous Post , I sort of left you hanging. Never fear! Unlike “Lost,” “Heroes,” or the 2005 National Hockey League, I won’t leave this cliffhanger for next season. We’re on to stage two: Sanitizing. Arguably the most important part of beer-making, it’s extremely easy to bungle this step and ruin your entire batch.

First, A History Lesson:

Ancient Vikings, well known for their wonderful hygiene and excellent grooming habits used to make beer without Billy Mays telling them how to clean their underpants. They relied mainly on the boil to clean and sanitize their brew and tools. They also kept around an heirloom mold stick which they intentionally used to infect their brew with the necessary bacterial agents. It’s not really fair to call it a mold stick though, since mold (i.e. penicillin) would likely clean the beer or make a kind of non-dairy cheese drink. But I digress, we’ll save the thrilling discussions of Alexander Fleming for a later date.

Once the yeasty beasties turn the sugars to alcohol, they basically pee in their own pool to the point that it becomes toxic to them and most other kinds of microbes, stopping fermentation (and limiting the ABV.) The Vikings had it right; we want our brew to be very dirty, but we need it to be the right kind of dirty. As an aside: Beer was one of the only ways to carry palatable water on ships. Keep that in mind next time you get Montezuma’s revenge on a Mexican cruise.

The world is a plethora of life. With wild yeast and fecal coliforms literally blowing around all over the place, it’s a wonder that we can make beer with any predictable characteristics; that’s not even counting all the filth under your fingernails.

The rule of thumb with sanitizing is, if you put something you sanitized down on something that you did not, it is dirty again. This little rule causes endless anguish unless you keep all your tools in the cleaning solution. Pre-boil this is a little less important, but once you’ve cooled the wort down to below 175 F, it’s prime for colonization.

There’s not a whole lot to say about the actual action of cleaning. I started by putting a packet of PBW in the primary fermenter and adding a gallon of water. Since the hose was one of those old fashioned brass ones, when I turned it on it whipped around like a spitting cobra. I contained the threat, and sprayed it at the PBW. This is where I blasted myself in the face yet again (I’m losing count). The pressure from the hose was so severe that it reflected soap and water directly at my face. I really recommend the gun type of hose nozzle for this reason.

After scrubbing my tools and buckets, I added more water and left the stuff I’d need later to soak. I put Star San in my bottling bucket, and after rinsing, put my tools inside for the second stage of cleaning. That’s really all there is to it, but it took about ninety minutes. It’s like doing a lot of humongous dishes.

Stay tuned for the thrilling conclusion in “Bubble, Boil, Toil and Trouble,” coming at you next week. Fecal coliforms are fart bacteria, by the way.


  1. Thanx for clarifying Fecal coliforms. Now I feel like the Uncleane

  2. Haha- thanks for not leaving us hanging like "Lost!"

  3. Uh oh! No farting allowed near the beer!

  4. If you ever become great beer makers, make a non-alcoholic beer for the people who can not or will not drink alcohol. Then I will be right there.
    When you decide to scale up expect to change your formula.
    Enjoyed your writing on this. You kept me interested.

  5. Hey, thanks for the comment! I'm actually not entirely sure how non-alcoholic beer is made, since the carbonation usually comes from the fermentation process. I have however sampled the wort before putting in the yeast, and it has a delightful hoppy tea flavor. If we ever had a brew pub maybe we'd offer wort tea to those who do not drink alcohol.

  6. I read most and liked it , good job I brewed for 30 years and yes it is interesting .

  7. Great and interesting blog ...
    Congratulations on posting ...

    Kisses in your heart ...

  8. Just started brewing here, last night as a matter of fact. Looking forward to brewing again, and will stay tuned to this blog for any and all nuggets of wisdom I can glean.