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Strict Standards: Only variables should be assigned by reference in /home/vikingbr/public_html/viking/wp-includes/functions.php on line 720

Strict Standards: Only variables should be assigned by reference in /home/vikingbr/public_html/viking/wp-includes/functions.php on line 720

Strict Standards: Only variables should be assigned by reference in /home/vikingbr/public_html/viking/wp-includes/functions.php on line 720

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» Make that brew clean!

Make that brew clean!

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There are many variables that will influence the quality of the end product when brewing at home, or even when brewing commercially, but we’re concerned with what we are doing, not those larger mass producers. Things are different at home. Cleanliness is completely up to you and there is a definite tendency towards slacking off a bit in this department after a few successful brews, and when you talk to that bloke who has been brewing for 20 years and never bothers to sanitise equipment and bottles and ‘never has a problem’, it is very easy to sit back and think ‘Hey, do I really need to spend all this time washing and soaking and gassing myself with this cleaner crap? It’s all good, I don’t really need to do ALL that stuff do I?’

If you ever find yourself thinking this, for gods’ sake STOP IMMEDIATELY!


Two things are THE most important elements of brewing, whether it be at home or at the biggest commercial brewery - CLEANLINESS and TEMPERATURE. Do not underestimate these two key elements as they are pivotal to the whole process and tight control of both is essential to great tasting beer. Here we are concerned about Cleaning and Sanitising.
In regards to cleanliness….be anal about it, be very anal!!! Clean and sanitise everything. And by everything, I mean anything and everything that may come within breathing distance of your brew! I use ordinary household bleach, also known as Sodium Hypochlorite.

Sodium Hypochlorite Vs Sodium Metabisulfate Vs Detergent

Different cleaners are designed to do different things. Here’s a rundown on the basics you may have heard about for use in cleaning brew gear.

Detergents, such as dishwashing soaps, are great for heavy duty scrubbing and that initial clean. It is NOT suitable for the sanitization of any brew-gear. Use it for washing out those bottles from the party three weeks ago that are now supporting large colonies of mould, fungus and other strange coloured organisms. Use detergents with nice hot water and make sure you rinse off all traces of soap. If you don’t it probably won’t destroy your brew but it will most likely give it a strange taste that isn’t really in line with your favourite pilsner. I give my bottles a good wash with standard dishwashing liquid, drain and dry them then pack the bottles into boxes so they are ready to use later with a minimum of fuss. Types of box don’t really matter so long as the bottles stay clean when they are stored.

Sodium Hypochlorite (plain household bleach), as the name suggests is a chlorine type cleaner, and a damn strong one at that, so be very careful about where it goes. Even when diluted to the levels we are going to use it is extremely efficient at stripping the colour out of almost anything. It is also corrosive over time and loves to do awful things to stainless steel if it is left in contact for a long time. This is, however, the best and most efficient sanitizer for home brewing and also the one that WILL destroy your brew if you leave any trace of it behind. Chlorine is toxic to living organisms (including the yeast we rely upon) so wear good quality rubber gloves when handling it and only dilute it with COLD or mildly WARM water.
I generally use a mix of about 1\2 cup of straight bleach to 2 litres of cold or warm water. This is a pretty strong solution so, as I said earlier, be VERY carefull about what comes in contact with it, including your skin and lungs – it’s preferable not to breathe the fumes off the stuff. If you don’t like such a strong solution then by all means, dilute it down more, but not to such a point where it’s too weak to do any good – days of soaking won’t be enough to sanitise your brew-gear then. Soak your equipment for about 30 mins then rinse, rinse, rinse! Make sure you have rinsed thoroughly to remove all traces of chlorine from your bottles (or kegs) and then let them drip dry. If you are going to use the sanitised bottles or kegs fairly soon after rinsing then it is not necessary to let them dry, just give them a shake to get out the excess remaining water. If you are going to store them for use later (requiring sanitization before use again) I use a high sided plastic coated wire kitchen sink rack that, if stacked carefully, can hold 48 375ml bottles all happily draining away. I use that particular one for two reasons – It was perfect for holding lots of bottles securely, and it gave me an excuse to buy a better looking one for the kitchen when I grabbed that one for brewing!

Sodium Metabisulfate comes as a white crystalline powder that you dissolve in water, usually something like 3-5 teaspoons per 5 litres of (cold) water, but always read the packet before use as not all manufacturers make it the same. When mixed, it gasses out and affects surfaces that it comes in contact with as well what is in contact with the liquid solution, so you don’t necessarily have to fill that fermenter all the way to the top with the solution, like you do for bleach. As for that gas…. It’s really bad to breathe, and it can produce a fair amount of gas. This gas is dynamite for playing up with your lungs, particularly if you have even a hint of asthma, so keep anyone with that type of condition well away from the area you are working in. If you have asthma yourself then this compound as a sanitisation agent is a definite no-go.
Sodium Metabisulfate isn’t really a full-on sanitizer/sterilizer like Sodium Hypochlorite (bleach) is. Metebisulfate works by inhibiting the growth of bacteria where bleach just plain kills the stuff and wipes the surface clean. It (metabisulfate) is extensively used in the wine industry as a preservative (in very small amounts) so you can lay that bottle of shiraz down and enjoy it ten years later.
We don’t need Metabisulfate as a preservative for beer. Firstly, who the hell wants to wait ten damn years for that beer you just brewed to get to a good drinking stage? Secondly, we use hops as our preservative. Yep, that’s right, hops is added as a preservative in beer, not just for bittering, flavour and aroma.
The up side to using Metabisulfate as your sanitiser is that you don’t have to worry too much if you don’t rinse it all off, it won’t destroy your brew or affect the flavour. However, if you allow too much of it into your brew it will inhibit the natural action of the yeast and you may well end up with a brew that has a poor fermentation and/or little or no carbonation. Not real flash!

So Make Your Choice

Well, now you have a little bit of information and it’s time to make a choice. It’s not the most important choice to make in the brewing process but it is one that is part of your brewing style, the process you feel comfortable with. Try both and then choose. I use bleach because the gas from metabisulfate affects my fiancée badly and was beginning to get to me more and more, and also, besides cost, because bleach is a more powerful sanitising agent, and having to be more careful with the rinsing process falls in easily with my tendency to be a bit of a perfectionist.
Many homebrew shops (and plenty of websites) will advise you against using ‘household cleaners’ (AKA bleach) for sanitising your brew-gear for two reasons:
First, because as stated earlier in this article, you have to be spot-on with your rinsing if you use bleach and the shop doesn’t want you to associate his business with a brew batch that failed (using his ingredients he sold you) because you used bleach and left some in the improperly rinsed bottles – the tendency will be to blame poor ingredients not poor method.
Secondly, Bleach is generally cheaper to buy at your local supermarket than a bag of Sodium Metebisulfate is at your local brew store, and ‘bleach’ just does not sound professional, nor does ‘cheap as chips plain household bleach’ look good on his shelves!