By Chris Jennings
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Much like everything else in the homebrew world, there is a seemingly endless array of cleaning and sanitizing solutions to choose from. Given that it’s that time of year where “spring cleaning” is the popular topic, we thought it would be a good time to compare and contrast some of those options. There are a number of opinions of which product is best. However, it is true that some are better than others — it all depends on what fits your needs.
Cleaners are the chemicals we use to break up debris and give our kettles that shine. They can do everything from descaling that beer stone buildup on your boil vessel to breaking up the dried yeast in your carboy.
The most common would be an oxygen-cleaning agent, like unscented OxiClean or Powdered Brewery Wash (PBW), which is like unscented OxiClean with trisodium phosphate added. For the most part, these white powdery cleaners work best with hot water. Naturally, every chemical company has its own fancy name for these products, but the formula is the same. It really only comes down to price point.
Avoid chemicals that have odorous oils — like OxiClean with lavender. Also steer clear of all soap products. They tend to have added scents that can leave residue on your equipment, causing every batch of beer to have the same flavor and aroma.
Sanitizers come into play during the second phase of the cleaning process. These chemicals make sure nothing contaminates our award-winning brews. There are several different solutions available, but the most-common and longest-used sanitizer is bleach. Yup! Bleach works great to kill absolutely everything with the added bonus of affordability. There is a downside, though. Once you’ve applied the bleach, the equipment needs time to completely dry or you need to rinse everything. Either way, you risk contamination.
The next most common sanitizer is an iodine-based product such as Five Star Chemicals’ IO Star, a low-foaming iodophor sanitizer. These types of solutions are also relatively inexpensive. However, if not diluted properly — they can give the beer an iodine taste. The sanitizers also don’t have much of a shelf life once mixed and can cause issues for people with a shellfish allergy.
The final category of chemicals are acid based. This would include Star San, made from food-grade phosphoric acid, and PuriSan, which uses peracetic acid. The biggest difference between the two is that Star San is infamous for foaming (unlike PuriSan).
Whatever sanitizer you decide upon, be sure to dilute with water. The iodine based sanitizers won't last to the end of the day. Either of the acid-based sanitizers can be stored for future use in spray bottles or fermenters if you make a batch that’s larger than what you’ll need for one brewing session. You can tell the solution has gone bad when it turns a milky-white color. You can do the same with bleach, but it is impossible to get that flavor out of your beer if you aren't careful.
Unfortunately, there is no such thing as an “all-in-one” cleaner/sanitizer. Yes, technically once you have cleaned something it is pretty well sanitized. But unless you use a sanitizing agent, there is no way to be positive that you killed everything.
The next time you brew and you’re waiting to add hops to the boil, use that downtime to sanitize instead of just pouring yourself another pint from the keezer. Keep this guideline in mind: sanitize anything that will touch your beer after the boil, including plastic buckets, glass carboys, bottles and kegs. Keep a spray bottle full of sanitizer handy when bottling, kegging or transferring as well. If you stay on top of cleaning and sanitizing, that’s a sure fire way to keep the award-winning beers flowing instead of pouring them down the drain.
Weizen Not Hefe [AG]
Weizen Not Hefe [Extract]
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.