Thoughts on Cleaning and Sanitation (I: Airborne Contamination) 


Wort being chilled with an immersion chiller. The kettle is covered loosely with a lid. Steam from the boil sanitized the lid. I also drape clean T-shirts over the kettle while chilling to prevent airborne microorganisms moving vertically through the crack in the kettle lid.

Recently, I posted an article advocating that brewers think about cleaning and sanitation as a matter of degree rather than a “good enough”/“not good enough” dichoctomy. In this article, I’ll share some ideas to move your cleaning and sanitation practices from “good enough” to just a bit better than that. For the sake of completeness, I’ll cover some familiar ground, but I think there are a couple ideas in here that are not well appreciated in the homebrewing community.  [Read more…]

A Better Way to Think of Sanitation

DSCN0716There are many ways you can improve at brewing. You can learn new ideas and try new techniques, ingredients, or equipment. You can work on perfecting the things you already do on brewday (or when formulating recipes, serving your beer, etc.). And in one case, simply changing how you think about something may lead you to being a better brewer.

You’ll often hear brewers ask if their beer is infected. (I’ll skip, for now, that it is much better to refer to beer that is soured or spoiled by microorganisms as contaminated than as infected.) There is really only one answer to that question. (OK, there’s two, and one is, “no, but it’s contaminated.”) And that answer is “yes . . . to some degree.” [Read more…]

Top 10 Steps Towards Brewing Better Beer


The first five of which I’ll post today.

When I started brewing, information of how to make the best quality beers was just starting to emerge. These days, there is an abundance of information on homebrewing, and sometimes it can be overwhelming. Sorting important information from minutiae or the latest fad can be hard. As such, I’m going to present what I think are the top 10 most important aspects in brewing. This top ten list is presented as both an informed opinion on what the most important aspects of brewing are, and an argument for their ranking.

The list will cover things that are important to brewing quality beer. I’ll ignore economics, among other things, and just focus on what is most important to making outstanding beer. I will assume that the brewer can already manage to produce a drinkable beer. Incredible foul-ups or intentionally ruining items farther down the list could ruin a beer, and argue for a different ranking of items, but I’m trying to help brewers who are actually attempting to brew good beer and can reasonably hit the temperatures, volumes, and durations required on an average brewday.

I’ll start this list at the top, rather than doing the usual countdown, because I want this list to be an argument. (And by argument I mean a set of statements meant to support a central thesis, not a shouting match.) And, it is easier to understand my logic if start at the top. 

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Our Dullest Article To Date (Intro)

Screen shot 2015-05-12 at 1.58.53 PMThis will be the dullest brewing article you’ll ever read. It will stretch out over several posts, spanning several weeks. Nothing in it will be exciting. However, you should read it if you are serious about brewing. It’s nominally about cleaning and sanitation, but it’s really about brewing the cleanest beer possible.

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Can You Cut Corners? (I: Cleaning and Sanitation)

DSCN0716The reason I brew is to have fun and make the highest quality beer possible. I believe that, in order to brew the best beer possible, you need to pay attention to each and every step in the process. The highest quality beer comes from an extreme attention to detail. Still, I am also aware that brewing can be very forgiving. (And also, I’ll admit that there are times I just throw a batch together, because I’m running low on beer.)

Fairly often, in response to articles I write, a brewer will respond with a faster or simpler method of a technique I’m describing. (“Why go through the hassle of injecting oxygen in your wort when you can just use a whisk to aerate”) In this series of articles, I am going to describe what happens when you cut corners in various stages of brewing. My intent is to argue that doing things “the right way” is your best option. However, I’m aware that some brewers — for reasons to do with time, space, or money — may use this as a guide to where to cut corners. That’s fine with me. I’m not trying to force everyone to brew exactly as I do. (And just so you know, I think there are many valid paths within the boundaries of “the right way” to brew. I’m also aware that some brewers may have time, space, money, or other constraints that limit their options when it comes to brewing.) I’m just hoping to point out the likely outcomes that may accompany rushing steps, skipping steps, or generally cutting corners.

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When is Sanitation Most Important?

DSCN0716Keeping your brewery clean and sanitized is one of the most important aspects of being a good brewer. Brewing equipment should always be clean, and anything that touches wort or beer should also be sanitized. Contamination can occur at any stage in the brewing process; however, it is more likely at some times than others. In this article, I’ll explain when wort or beer is at its most vulnerable and what you can do about it. The upshot of this article is not that there are times when you can take shortcuts with cleaning and sanitation. Rather, I will argue that there are certain stages where you should take extra precautions.


Factors Affecting Contamination

Wort or beer can become contaminated at any time in the brewing process. However, there are some points at which a contaminant is more likely to be able to take hold. Several variables affect the ability of contaminating wild yeast or bacteria to live or grow. The key variables are temperature, alcohol content, pH, oxygen, nutrient availability, and competition.

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