You speak to any head brewer at any brewery all around the world and they will tell you the same. Most of their job is cleaning. Cleaning and sanitising equipment before brewing and cleaning and sanitising equipment after they’ve brewed. Cleaning and sanitising fermenters, bottles, canning lines, kegs – everything that beer is going to touch needs to be clean and sanitised. There’s a real good reason for this, to ensure the beer is the best tasting, highest quality it can be. As a brewer once told me when I first started out, “if you think it’s clean, clean it again!”
Why is cleanliness important?
You don’t want to produce an off flavour beer because you got lazy in your cleaning and sterilising of equipment. Off flavours like Chlorophenol, Metallic and DMS are a result of bacterial infection due to poor cleaning of fermenters. Brewing is just like any kind of food prep, you want sterile surfaces and equipment and you want to ensure everything is cleaned and washed thoroughly before and after use.
Why can I use to clean my gear with?
Everyone has their favourite cleaning agents. For me, I swear by no rinse sanitisers for my brewing equipment. I use it for the fermenter, bottles, spoons, jugs and thermometer. No rinse sanitiser (sodium percarbonate) is exactly as it’s called. There’s no requirement to rinse after using it to clean. Simply dilute the powder/crystal form in warm to hot water and use on your gear.
Another great no rinse sanitiser and cleaner is Starsan (also known as StellarSan). 100% food grade non rinse sanitiser, containing phosphoric acid, perfect for most brewing material and surfaces. The sanitiser foams up on use and the residue foam also acts a yeast nutrient, so perfect for fermenters and will help out your next brew!
StellarClean is a powerful brewery wash that many people use for cleaning stainless steel equipment like all in one systems, mash tuns, kettles, fermenters and kegs. An alkaline detergent that uses active oxygen to remove carbon or protein soils and is a good alternative to caustic soda and chemicals. This is also a good choice for a cleaner as it does not require excessive heat as do most caustic based cleaners.
Sodium Metabisulphite is a bacterial inhibitor that is mostly used in fermenters to protect them in between uses. Just add a small amount to a few litres of water and swish around the fermenter. Being a powerful chemical compound, it will have a strong odour and can be an issue for people with respiratory issues and will require thorough rinsing after use.
Pink stain remover is a form of alkaline based, powder brewery wash which is used for cleaning and sterilising equipment. Used to allow equipment to soak for a period of time before cleaning and rinsing off.
All of these cleaners should be used as per the instructions that come with them. You can use sponges and soft cleaners with
the above and on your equipment. I would avoid using steel wool, kitchen scourers or any hard bristle cleaning aids.
Some sites and forums on the internet will tell you products like Napisan and bleach can be used to clean your gear. While technically it can, the risk is not thoroughly washing and rinsing after using these products. They have a tendency to remain in brew gear and will affect the flavour of your next brew.
When do I clean?
Before and after every brew day. Clean all the equipment before use and again after use. You don’t want the risk the chance of
any bacteria or infection getting into or on your brewing equipment. Don’t leave it after a brew day until the next time you use it as it will require more hard work to clean off all the grime and caked up remnants from hops, grain and yeast. Plus you’re just opening yourself up to bacteria’s and it will not only ruin your beer but will ruin your equipment in time as well.
No one loves cleaning, but if you love great beer and making great, flavoursome, tasty beers – you will learn to love cleaning. Cleanliness is next to godliness and godliness is beer!