To sanitize or not to sanitize? Let me put it this way: To dump a batch of beer or enjoy an ice cold homebrew? Yes, keeping your equipment sanitized is that important. You can cut corners and make mistakes during the brewing process, and still end up with drinkable beer, but sanitization is one area where you don’t want to cut corners! There is nothing worse than spending your day brewing, waiting for weeks through up to two stages of fermentation, spending a few hours bottling, waiting two weeks for it to condition, then you grab one to sample and – BAM! Mount Beersuvious erupts in your living room spewing undrinkable beer everywhere. Yes, Best Brewing Friend, Brewman Dave has done this, and shamefully I’ve done it more than once. No one wants to see a batch of beer dumped, but contamination due to poor sanitization practices can cause the beer to turn out that bad. Best case scenario, you have a friend who will step up and take it off your hands, and console you while you anguish over the loss of a batch of beer.
Ok, I’m sure now, that everyone is depressed and in tears over the thought of the previous scenario. But wait, that was the ghost of brews past! With the wisdom and knowledge that you’ve gained from Brewman Dave’s errors, you won’t have to make these mistakes.
There are a plethora of sanitizing options available and I’m not going to cover all of them. I use Star San brand sanitizer. This is a concentrated liquid sanitizer, which is a no rinse formula. No rinse means that any residual amount left on you equipment is safe for consumption. NOTE!!!! As with any product make sure you read all cautionary statements and follow manufactures instructions !!! The brewman always likes to play it safe and I hope you will too! Now back to the topic at hand: Sanitize everything. It’s okay to be redundant and re-sanitize everything that will come in contact with your beer from the time the boil ends, until the time it’s bottled or kegged.
There is, dare I say, one time during the brewing process when sanitization isn’t as critical, although I tend to be paranoid and sanitize anyway. During the mash process it is not as critical because you will be bringing the wort to a boil for a hour or so which should kill any hidden, microscopic bugs. When I refer to bugs, I’m not talking about insects, although they can be an issue too, especially in Central Ohio. For the insects I use cheese cloth to keep stink bugs, lady bugs, and any other flying insects out.
Here’s a Funny story: I had brewed an IPA and it was bottling day. In my basement, where I was getting ready to bottle, there was a major fruit fly infestation. It was so bad you couldn’t leave anything uncovered at all. So, using cheese cloth, and putting the cap on the bottle as filling was complete, I was able to keep it a fly free zone. In the name of taking a bad situation and making it positive, thus my ‘Fly-P-A’ was born. It’s a very citrusy ale which has since turned out to be one of my favorite brews.
Disclaimer: No flies were harmed in the brewing or bottling process.