To avoid bacterial contamination in your beer, it’s important for homebrewers to sanitize all their equipment — and that means everything that touches your beer after you finish boiling it.
But when I read about sanitizing in homebrewing books, magazines, blogs, newsgroups and so on, I often run across dire warnings — and something approaching religious hysteria — about sanitization.
“I can’t emphasize this enough!!!”
Yikes. Sometimes I get the impression that these people mop their house with sanitizer before they brew.
Doesn’t the homebrewer’s motto say “relax, don’t worry”? So how did we get from relaxing and not worrying to this Niecy Nash cleanliness thing?
(Niecy Nash is one of the stars on “Clean House,” which I’ve never seen. I’m assuming she got the job because she’s cute and a clean freak, but I really don’t know.)
I’ve been brewing for close to 20 years and I’ve never had a batch turn into vinnegar, or had any odd flavors that I attributed to bad sanitation. And — here’s the kicker — I’ve never been a nut about sanitization.
I even suck on the end of my siphon hose!
Okay, recently I did read that it’s a good idea to clean your mouth with a gargle of whiskey before you suck on the siphon, and I took to that like an Irishman to Guinness. It sounds like a great suggestion whether it helps keep the bacteria away or not!
And, honestly, I have thought about other ways to start the siphon to avoid sucking — like the autosiphon — but I rarely get past thinking about it because sucking on the siphon (1) is so doggone easy, (2) gives me an excuse to gargle whiskey, and (3) … I’ve never had a problem.
So either (1) I’m incredibly lucky, (2) I wouldn’t know a bacterial contamination if it bit me, or … (3) maybe a relaxed, “take it seriously but don’t be neurotic” emphasis on sanitization is good enough.
I’ll pick 3.
And you can read my non-neurotic, “works for me” method of sanitization and decide for yourself if it’s consistent with relaxing and not worrying.
Generally speaking I use bleach — about 1 tablespoon in a gallon of water. It’s cheap and easy.
I say “about” 1 tablespoon because I use bleach in two different scenarios. When I soak my bottles I’m not exactly certain how much water is in the basin. So I overcompensate. For other purposes I follow the 1 tablespoon per gallon rule.
If I’m going to bottle my beer, I blast my bottles with one of those inverted bottle washer things, check the insides for anything gross, soak them in a bleach solution for an hour or so, and then blast them again to rinse.
I wipe down the outside of my siphon with a rag soaked in proper solution (not the stuff from the bottle soaking!) and run the solution through the inside of the siphon as well, then rinse it and hang it to dry.
For the fermenter and bottling bucket, I pour some of the solution inside and wipe everything down with a clean rag and let it sit for a while. Then I run the bleach solution through the spigot on the bottom of the bucket and rinse everything.
I boil my bottle caps.
I don’t use bleach on my kegs. I use Easy Clean. You’re not supposed to use bleach on kegs because it can cause pitting, and it’s a real bummer to watch your beer trickle onto the floor out the side of your keg. (Yes, it’s happened.)
I don’t worry about sanitizing anything before the boil because the boil takes care of that, and I use the boiling wort to sanitize my wort chiller — I simply drop it in ten minutes before the end.
After brewing I wipe down my spoon with sanitizing solution before I stir in the yeast.
This routine works well for me, and I don’t feel all scared and … most important, worried.
I should note that some experienced brewers don’t think much of using bleach and prefer other options.
Okay. All I can say is that bleach has worked fine for me. (Except in kegs!)