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The Importance of Cleanliness

For the typical chef, adhering to acceptable sanitary practices absorbs a relatively modest amount of effort compared to other aspects of cooking. In home brewing, however, sanitation is normally the most time-consuming task. Additionally, doing it right requires much attention to detail.

A variety of bacteria and other micro-organisms (in addition to the cultured yeast that you add to the brew) find beer to be a very hospitable environment. Luckily, none of these are dangerous to your health. Still, they can create "off" flavors or even completely spoil a batch if the infection is extensive enough.

That said, a reasonably careful home brewer can take adequate measures to protect against infections. The measures are directed towards:

  • any vessels that hold beer during fermentation, maturation or bottling
  • tubing used to transfer beer between vessels at various stages in the process
  • bottles and caps
  • any other instruments that come into contact with the beer

A few drops of ordinary household bleach per gallon of water makes a cheap, easy to use sanitizing fluid. However, bleach is toxic to yeast, and its residue thus can hamper fermentation. It also can leave unpleasant flavors and aromas. Accordingly, after using bleach-based sanitizing solution, you must thoroughly rinse off the residue with clean tap water.

Alternatively, there are other specialized sanitizing agents on the market whose residue does not have these potentially damaging effects. Most of them are powders that you dissolve in water. While rinsing is not mandatory with these, it is still a good precaution.

Finally, home brewers should be ready to replace any plastic implements, containers or tubing that come into contact with beer once they have become either scratched or discolored. At this point they may be harboring pockets of bacteria that resist removal, and which can spoil a batch of beer.

Taking proper precautions about sanitation can ensure that your beer stays fresh and tasty over long periods of storage once bottled.

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