By Chris Jennings
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Now that spring is upon us and the days are getting longer, it’s time to give your homebrewing gear some fresh air. Even if you make beer year-round, it’s still a good idea to examine your equipment in the sunlight where a fresh perspective may help you see trouble spots. Or it may just affirm how awesome you are at keeping your brewing kit well maintained.
Besides the regular cleaning that takes place before and after the brewing process, several pieces of equipment need a more thorough scrub at least twice a year. The most obvious on that list is the boil kettle. Even though you may rinse it with hot water, it could build up beer stone, which is a calcium deposit that looks like a white film over time. Beer stone won’t harm your brew, but it can create an uneven heating surface and prevent the wort from having a consistent boil. The only way to get rid of the beer stone is with a powdered brewery cleaner that has trisodium phosphate, which dissolves the organic matter and prevents the beer stone from sticking to the kettle. One tablespoon of cleaner per 3-5 gallons of hot water — not boiling — should do the trick.
Once you have a clean, shiny boil kettle, you can use that to heat more water and cleaner for your next project. All-grain brewers who use a cooler for a mash tun probably have faced a pretty gnarly “ring-around-the-bathtub” effect in that vessel. To remove the grime, let the affected area soak in hot water and cleaner. Scrubbing should also help loosen the grit. For kettle-made mash tuns, apply the same technique you would use to clean the boil kettle. However, be sure to also soak the false bottom or kettle screen. This will open up any clogged holes and your mash will run more smoothly.
Neither the boil kettle nor the mash tun need this level of cleaning regularly. It’s a good habit to adopt after every 20 or so brews. Occasional deep cleaning will help keep your equipment looking shiny and prevent problems created by neglect.
Left in the Corner
Ever forgotten about some of your brewing bits and pieces for several months only to revisit them and discover they’re growing mold or smell of mildew? Most small parts can be soaked in cleaner and allowed to air dry. For larger equipment, let’s say a glass carboy that never got fully cleaned after being used months ago, you’re going to need some bigger guns. Since carboy glass is not tempered and will shatter if rapidly heated or cooled, do not fill the vessel with very hot water. But some of the chemicals in cleaners are activated at higher temperatures, so cold water isn’t enough. Slowly heat the carboy by adding warm tap water to the container and swirl it with your hand. Top off the carboy with a bit of hot water and cleaner. Let it soak for several hours. Slowly and carefully drain the liquid until you have about a half-gallon left in the bottom. Use that water for any caked-on grime that you can attack with a carboy brush. Once the carboy is free of debris, give it a good rinse and hold it up to the light to see whether you missed anything. After you’ve determined you did a fine job cleaning, let the carboy air dry.
Even if you don’t homebrew, you may have a keg tapping system at your house. Proper maintenance and care of this system will help prevent problems that might come up while you’re trying to enjoy a tasty beverage in the comfort of your own place.
The most obvious areas to clean: the outside and inside of your kegerator. The outside can be wiped down with any appliance cleaner to stop dust and dirt from building up. Keep the inside as cool and dry as possible to avoid mold growth. If you do get some mold spots, a bleach spray is the best way to combat that. Be sure to empty the kegerator, spray down all the surfaces and then wipe it dry. Unplugging the appliance first and allowing it to warm up can also help with cleaning.
Of course, you can see when the kegerator needs to be cleaned, but it’s not as easy to spot draft lines that are getting dirty. Every time a beer is swapped out once you’ve finished a keg, a little bit of liquid is left behind in the lines. Over time, that small amount will grow and affect every future brew you put on tap. For proper maintenance, run a cleaning solution or homebrew sanitizer through your system between each keg. If you’re a homebrewer and kegging your concoctions, simply fill one of the kegs with a cleaning solution and put it on tap. If you don’t have kegs or the ability to fill one with cleaning solution, there are pumps available on the market. Most mount to the front of your system after you’ve removed the faucet and then backflush your lines. Hook up the pump with cleaning solution and then manually pump the liquid through the lines and into a waste bucket.
After a proper spring cleaning, you will notice a difference in the quality of the beer.
Mein Schatz [AG]
Mein Schatz [Extract]
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.