Cleaning Your Equipment
All brewing equipment needs to be properly cleaned before you use it, each and every time. As our equipment is specific to brewing we will use a cleaner that is also specific for that purpose. This means no household cleaners, detergents or bleaches of any kind should go near our fermenters or our bottles.
Detergents will never wash away properly and your yeast will not like the sudsy residue, which will also destroy the head retention ability of your beers. While using a strong solution of a household bleach like ‘Janola’ will kill bacteria it can actually still leave grime on the surface, basically making it invisible, by bleaching out the colour of the dirt. This is like when you throw a dose of chlorine into a swimming pool, it kills the algae and the water looks blue and clean but the sides of the pool are slimy to touch. It is also really difficult to neutralise after use. So what should you use? We source especially for our brewers (and for our own use too) a product called “Bottlewash Cleaner”. This is also commonly called the ’pink” cleaner.
The pink colour isn’t actually an active ingredient, it is a safe colouring product so that the cleaner is easily kept separate from the white steriliser that we use afterwards. So if you’ve had a batch of Bottlewash for ages and its faded or gone white with keeping there is no need to throw it away, its just as good as when you got it! I honestly know of no other cleaner available that is up to the task of keeping my brew gear clean, is safe to handle and as cost effective. It is safe to use on all equipment whether it is plastic, glass, stainless steel or rubber. In simple terms Bottlewash is made up from Cleaning Soda and Chlorine. Cleaning Soda is a safe alternative to using Caustic Soda and will not burn skin when contacted. This has a gentle “foaming” action and will get into the ‘pores’ that exist in a surface, especially on plastic, and remove the build up of grime from use. Bacteria need a place to breed. Any residue from your brew but particularly any yeast left will give bacteria a perfect breeding ground. By using Bottlewash solution inside your fermenters and bottles you should be able to lift all dirt away from all the little nooks and crannies. Let the cleaning soda do the hard work and you’ll hardly need to use a bottlebrush at all. The amount of chlorine in this product is actually very low giving off only a light smell. Bottlewash is intended to be used with nice hot tap water (approximately 55C. or hotter) and this combined with the chlorine will kill off the nasty “bugs” that will try to breed in your equipment.
Now we don't wish to alarm you by telling you this, but all brews will have some level of bacteria in them. This includes all of my brew’s, yours and all commercially fermented products too, actually all food products do. By using a good solution of hot Bottlewash on every surface to remove resi-due and kill bacteria we aim to keep it under control so we will not taste, smell or see their effects. These bugs simply harm the brew by the way, they are not the sort of bugs to do you any mischief or make you sick. Each person has their own tolerance or “threshold” level to a bug, one person may pick up a bad taste for instance where another person finds no fault. There is many varieties of bacteria, mould, fungi and wild yeast that are available in the our environment and they would love to have a party in your brew. Bottlewash will usually take care of these bugs, often for many years. The chlorine dose will also remove any odour from the pre-vious batch and in doing so will stop cross contamination (taste and smell) so that one fermenter can be multipurpose in its use. As it removes build up on surfaces it will help to keep your plastic fermenters looking white and clean.
Any product has its limitations however and over many years of good use the ‘build up’ on a surface such as a fermenter becomes too great and the bacteria start to affect the quality (finished taste and smell) of beers, ciders and wine so the fermenter should be replaced. You may notice your fer-menter is looking a lot more brown than white after a long time. We would recommend a well used fermenter should be replaced say every 5 years to avoid problems. Muntons (UK) actually recommend earlier at only 3 years!
Using Bottlewash;The recommended dosage rate is one teaspoon (5 grams) of Bottlewash to every litre of hot water used. Always remove the worst of the previous brew’s residue i.e the yeast sedi-ment and any yeast ring around the top, by rinsing under warm water first, before adding the Bottlewash solution. For ‘lightweight’ cleaning on new, or near new fermenters, you’ll need to use only a few litres worth of solution to clean. Swirl the solution around until you are satisfied all surfaces including the tap spout, rubber o-ring (if applicable) and lid are clean. Watch the colour of the solution as you pour it out. If the solution remains ‘pink’ then the fermenter was basically clean to start with but remember you have still killed the surface bacteria. If the solution comes out ‘clear’ then there was a small amount of grime build up that has been removed. If the liquid comes out a kinda ‘slimy green’ colour the equipment was pretty dirty and we would recom-mend you repeat the cleaning process one more time to be sure its done properly.
If the equipment is older, is left in a poor condition or is a long time between batches then a more heavy duty clean may be required. If you are unlucky and have an infected brew you will need to do extra cleaning too. Use as much solution as necessary, filling the entire barrel if required and soaking overnight. Or put say 5-10 Litres of solution in the fermenter and lie the fermenter on its side in the sink. Rotate the fermenter after a few minutes until all sur-faces are well soaked. Make the solution as hot as the equipment can handle to kill the bugs but remember bottle brushes cant handle really hot water. If this treatment is neglected the next brew may be a disaster and need tipping out. Don’t forget to do the stirring spoon, brew bottler, airlock, o-ring, bungs etc, at the same time. Always put equipment away clean (and dry) if you don’t intend to do another batch for a while.
The easiest way I’ve found to clean beer or wine bottles is to stand them up in the sink and fill them with solution rather then trying to submerge them in a sink full of liquid. Use about 1/2 teaspoon of Bottlewash per 750ml bottle. Half fill them with nice hot tap water, cover the opening with your palm and shake well. Fill to brim with more hot water and let stand as long as you feel necessary. About 10 to 30 minutes later I shake the solution back out again watching the colour as previously described. If necessary I get a bottlebrush into each bottle, this is more important if you don’t rinse the bottles clean when emptied originally or on glass beer bottles which for some reason build up a ‘film’ inside over time.
Be cautious on handling all your glass equipment as Bottlewash can make the surface a bit slippery, so hold tight. You should rinse all equipment over well with water, hot or cold is fine, to remove any traces of chlorine. While it is o.k to clean a small amount of time in advance it is preferable to clean immediately before the final sterilising and then use. Even if I store my equipment “clean” I always repeat the process before using to take care of any bacteria that may have colonised my equipment during that time. Bottlewash is perfectly safe to use on any brand of Spirit Still and Pressure Kegs. So always remember that you are achieving two objectives when cleaning with Bottlewash, washing grime away and preventing bacteria from using your equipment as a holiday resort.
Sterilising Your Equipment
We need to physically clean equipment before we can sterilise it. Products that claim to be ‘sterilizer/cleaners’ generally don’t do a great job of either and by their nature require rinsing off at the end, whereas a true sterilizer does not require rinsing and should be the last thing to touch equipment before the brew does.
The traditional product to sterilize all your fermenters, accesso-ries and bottles is‘Sodium Metabisulphite” (or Sodium Met. for short). Sodium Met is often misunderstood even by the most experienced brewers. It is often referred to as a ‘cleaner’ for bottles for instance. Sodium Met solution is as efficient at cleaning equipment as simply swirling cold tap water. We need to clean properly with Bottlewash first. Brewers also expect that Sodium Met will kill (100%) of bacteria on contact, it doesn’t, your cleaner needs to be able to do this. While Sodium Met solution will ‘inhibit’ bacteria by contact its primary func-tion is to fill an environment, such as a fermenter or bottle, up with an inert gas (Sulphur Dioxide/SO2) and push all the oxy-gen that previously occupied that space out. When there is no oxygen (or air) present that is when it is sterilized. While we could use other gas types, CO2 or NO2 for instance, SO2 is cheap to produce and is favoured by commercial breweries and wineries for the same function.
Common questions are “Will it kill the yeast” and “Won’t I taste it?” Quite literally the answer is no to both of these. It will not harm your yeast, which is also why it doesn’t kill bacteria, and we don’t need to rinse it out before using the equipment, the starting strength is really low and any remaining residue would be totally diluted away, with the addition of 23 litres of wine, wash or beer added on top of the few droplets left in. Sodium Met is also the choice of ‘preservative’ in most com-mercial food, drinks and meat and known to do you no harm. Never eat a sausage off a BBQ again if you don’t want some Sodium Met. in your tummy! Commercial winemakers have understood the properties of sulphite and burnt sulphur sticks to produce SO2 gas for sterilising their equipment for centuries.
Using Sodium Metabisulphite;After the Bottlewash is rinsed off the equipment it is ready to be sterilized. Add one teaspoon (5 grams) of ‘white’ Sodium Metabisulphite powder per litre of cold tap water used. The equipment does not need to be filled to the brim, in fact a few litres of solution is plenty to sterilize a normal size fermenter, Use 3-5 litres of clean, new solution. Never store and re-use solution, at the recommended strength you can actually breed bacteria and contaminate another brew if you do try to recy-cle it. Allow the solution to stand inside the fermenter for around 15 minutes giving it time to fill up with gas and dis-pel out all theoxygen.Then run some out through the tap spout, rinse over your stirring spoon, thermometer, hydrome-ter etc,. Drain the fermenter completely but DO NOT rinse. Sterilizing can only be done immediately before use as the gas will dissipate and break down soon afterwards.
To sterilize your bottles, mix up some solution and pour a little into each and every bottle. To sterilize 30 bottles re-quires about 3-5 litres again. Do not pour from bottle to bot-tle as you can cross contaminate with the sterilizing solution if a bug has been virulent enough to survive the Bottlewash step or you forgot to clean properly! Also put the solution into the bottles rather than the bottles in a solution in the sink. The gas will go into the air and up your nose rather than stay inside the bottles. People who refuse to use Sodium Met due to sneezing or coughing have usually, by mistake, used it in this way. You’ll also use a lot more product if you fill up your bath tub with solution! If you are badly asthmatic then be a little cautious of the gas and open the kitchen window to air out any vapours. Don’t forget to do your caps, hose, bot-tle filling tube at the same time. Drain the bottles, but do not rinse, and use immediately.
It is really important not to rinse out the solution, or gas, at the bottling stage for beer and wine, or when racking a fin-ished wine into storage into your carboy or demijohn. If your brew goes into a gas environment it is “cushioned” and pro-tected from air. Without the gas it will actually absorb air and can spoil from infection or oxidise. If you want to reduce the yeast sediment deposit in your beer bottles definitely do not rinse, sodium met used in conjunction with your bottle filler will be responsible for keeping your yeast sediment to a much smaller level in your beer and ciders.
If you are a distiller you do not need to use Sodium met on your Spirit Still, Carbon Filter equipment or your spirit bot-tles. It is perfectly ok for you to use it on your wash fermen-tation though.Sodium Met needs to be stored dry and in a good containerif you are buying a refill pack. If moisture gets into the powder it will “activate” and produce its gas in your container. If its really smelly and/or gone into hard lumps when you open your jar then it really needs replacing. Don’t buy to far in advance of needing it and use a dry teaspoon to measure it out and reseal the jar tightly.