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What is the best homebrew sanitizer for making beer?

best products for santization

Chances are you found this page because you are looking for the best sanitiser to use with your homebrewing.

Smart move, brewer.

You know why right?

You know because every decent beer maker knows that to make a good beer you need to have all your equipment and bottles sanitized so that your brew is not spoiled by nasty bacteria.

Have you ever had a batch ruined by a lack of proper cleaning or sanitisation?

So then, let’s cut to the chase, here’s a list of what are the best sanitizers to use when making beer or even cider or wine.

Choose what you want but no whining about ruined beer if you don’t properly prepare your gear before you make that wort!



Star San - the best comes first

Product Details

If you want to use a product that will destroy all the microorganisms that could screw up your beer, then Star San is the sanitizer for you.

It's described formally by the manufacturer as "a self-foaming acid sanitizer ideal for brewing, dairy and other food and beverage equipment."

It is an extremely effective bactericide and fungicide and is not affected by excessive organic soils. Star San also reduces water spotting and can be used without rinsing under the proper concentrations. STAR SAN is a blend of phosphoric acid and dodecylbenzenesulfonic acid."

So as bonus then, when using Star San there is no need to rinse it from your beer bottles or the carboy when can be pretty handy when all you wanna do is make beer!

One can use Star San as a spray on or for soaking gear and beer bottles. Used at a ration of one ounce to 5 gallons of water it will do a damn fine job of keeping those bacteria at bay.

It is probably the most well known and well recommended sanitizing product known for home brewers.

This bloke said of his use of it in his Amazon review:

"This works great and is very easy to use. I just followed the directions on the bottle and had no issues. I like that it doesn't have to be completely rinsed just allowed to dry."
The only down side is that the manufacture knows this and you can be charged an arm and a leg for it!

Iodophor


iodophur for home brewing cleaning
Iodophor is another popular sanitiser adopted by the beer brewing community. Iodophor has been traditionally used by the food service industry and medical industry to sanitize equipment but it works just fine on your brewing gear.

Iodophor is a three-things-in-one iodine product. It's a detergent, germicide and sanitizer.

The solution takes approximately 10 minutes to sanitize your equipment and like Star San, it's a no rinse product when used at the recommended concentration.

This Amazon review is telling:


"I had been using bleach to sterilize my stuff but too often had bleach aftertaste in my beer. Since moving to BTF Iodophor, my batches taste great and have the hoppy aftertaste I want and not a mix of hops and bleach."

It is a good idea to keep it way from your clothes because it will stain them. So wear old clothes when preparing your solution and be careful!

That said it is odourless, tasteless, and easy on your hands.

Powdered Brewery Wash known to many as PBW


This cleaning product was originally used widely used in commercial breweries (hence the name) but over time countless home brewers across the country have cottoned on to how they can use it for sanitizing their brewing equipment. 

It's one of the most commonly used santisiers and for good reason as it works!

Go onto any beer brewing forum and you will find season beer makers raving about this product.

Go on, google it now and you'll quickly find we are not exaggerating about how good this cleaning product is. If you are looking for some guidance about how to clean your brewing equipment, they will probably say use this powdered wash.

PBW is also pretty handy for removing beer labels from bottles.

Make your own substitute PBW with basic ingredients


You can also make your own version of PBW as a substitute using ordinary home products.

Basically what you do is combine a home brand like TideOxiclean, or Napisan with a product that has metasilicate as an ingredient - we've found that many home DIY brewers use a cleaner called Red Devil TSP/90 to fill that part of the equation. Mix them together in 70 / 30 ratio in favour of the laundry soak and you've a home DIY sanistizer!

Now this last one is a pehaps a bit of a surprise however, it's tried and true for many home brewings.

Are y'all ready for this?

Laundry soakers as sanitizer


That's right, it's probably already sitting on your laundry shelf.

Here's a handy trick, this chemical is basically what you might know as Tide or Napisan or any product with a brand name that tries to use the word 'oxy' as in oxygen cleaning or oxidization agent.

That's right, most of the fancy laundry soaking products have sodium percarbonate as a key ingredient!

Chances are you already have some in your home laundry so feel free to use that.

I have done so several times with no problems whatsoever!



Bleach


When I was a young lad I used to work as a cleaner in a butchery. Once of my jobs was to clean the bin which housed all the meat scraps and bone that could not be made into mince or whatever.

That bin sat outside all week until Thursdays when it was emptied and then it was my job to clean it.

Because you know, maggots.

So I would prepare a bleach solution to clean it out, kill the maggots and most importantly get rid of that smell that was created when the hot sun beat down on that damn bin all week.

One week I managed to accidentally kick the bucket of bleach solution over and it went all over one of my brown boots.

No big drama right?

No drama until I looked down a short while later and my boot had turned mostly orange.

And that's when I learned truly the power of bleach!

But brewers have known for much longer that bleach can be used to clean home brewing equipment.

It's pretty cheap, readily available at supermarkets and it does the job of clean bugs and bacteria in its path.

All you need to do when using bleach is to make up a solution with the ration of 1 tablespoon of bleach to 1 gallon of water ( or 4 mls per liter). You then need to soak for about 20 minutes and the santization should be done.

The thing about bleach though is that it can have a bit of a strong pungent smell. While at the suggest use ratio, you probably don't need to rinse it off your gear, we strongly recommend that you do.

Given that Star San is pretty much good to go after less than a minute of contact, we suggest that if you can afford it, you use that and don't muck around with bleach.

It might stop up from changing your shoe color too!

-

There are other options out there too - caustic soda, using boiling water, cooking in an oven and using an autoclave etc.

So there you have, there's plenty of choices out there for the best homebrewing santisizer. To our mind, it comes down to three areas of choice:


  • The more you spend, the better the quality and ease of use - so it's clear then that PBW and Star San are the best bets there 
  • If you are lookin for a mid range price, try a product with sodium percarbonate 
  • If you want cheap and cheerful with a longer sanitization time, you'd go with a standard bleach. 

In the end, all roads lead to Rome!

Should you use plastic instead of glass to ferment beer?

using plastic for brewing
I saw on the 'net there had been some debate on NOT using plastic fermenters because of the risk of beer infection.

I thought this was a subject worth investigation further.

All I ever use is plastic fermenters and having only ever had once incident of infection which occurred to two different fermenters used in the same batch, I could be confident that I've never had an infection caused by using a plastic fermenter.

So what's the argument from the naysayers?

The reasoning is that given plastic is more easily scratched than glass those scratches can harbor bacteria  So, the risk of infection is greater.

This seems a reasonable argument right?

And the simple solution would be to not scratch the plastic as you are cleaning and sanitizing right?

Given my experience and the fact there are millions of plastic fermenters safely and happily in use around all corners of the globe, then there is nothing much to worry about.

That's provided of course that you follow a proper cleaning process before you add your beer wort for primary fermentation. 


Any decent beer brewer will tell you that the number one key to beer making success is by adopting methodical cleaning and sanitisation practices every time you make beer.

We've covered this need before, but our favorite trick is to use sodium percarbonate and not being shy about using boiling water to kill bugs. Home brewers around the world often swear by the ability of PBW to get their brewing gear brew ready.

So, to be clear I don't see the threat of infection as a reason to not use a plastic fermenter. Sure, if they get too old or scratched the you might totally want to replace one but on a cost basis when compared to glass carboys, they are a lot cheaper, indeed a check on Amazon shows that a carboy is generally roughly twice the price.

Indeed, if you are new to home brewing, the use of a plastic drum is a great way to start where you don't have to worry about damaging the glass!

Oxygen and beer aging


Aging beer is perhaps a reason that you may wish to use something other than a plastic fermenter. The reasoning here is that it's a bit easier for oxygen to enter the beer via plastic than it is beer.

If you weren't aware, other then when first mixing the wort, beer is best brewed with minimal exposure to O2 - and it's the same when bottling your beer as well.

That said the difference in permeability between glass and plastic arguably negligible when you consider most oxygen exchange is occurring through the bung and airlock.

ALSO, if you are trying to mimic the effect of a barrel aged beer using oak, then some brewers do consider that some oxygen will help!

What you could do is do your primary fermentation in plastic and then if you intend to age a stout or whatever for a long time, you can transfer it to a secondary glass carboy.

Also bare in mind that by making such a transfer you do create an opportunity for oxygen to enter the beer.

What ever way you go, you totally need to keep your vessel free from a large amount of oxygen entering as it can assist with the growth of mould or other nasties and we really don't want that do we?

As you can see, it's a vicious cycle of contradictory information!

When to add more sugar to your beer and when to use less



Sugar!

It's a silent killer say the health specialists.

It's the devil's food!

Diabetus!

And yet we need sugar to make beer.

The real question is how much do we need to use?

That answer to that question is kind of like when Gandalf says to Frodo in The Fellowship of the Rings: "A wizard is never late, nor is he early, he arrives precisely when he means to.”

Which kind of says to me you should use as much sugar as you need or as little as you need depending on what you need to make great beer.

Sounds like some ropey logic right? 

Hear me out.

Have you ever had a beer gusher

It's when you open your beer and whoosh! the beer zings out in a foaming stream and your beer drinking experience is ruined. 

It looks a bit like this:



So in that sense, you don't want to add too much sugar to your beer if you are bottle conditioning with sugar.

But if you are wanting to increase the alcohol content (ABV) of your beer, then you will need to add more sugar at the primary fermentation stage.

And thus it's about knowing when to add sugar to the beer and when not to.

Let's talking about increasing the ABV of your beer


When when your beer wort is undergoing fermentation what happens is that the beer yeast eats the sugar and that produces alcohol.

More sugar for the yeast to eat should mean more alcohol production right?

Too easy.

Yes, adding extra sugar to your beer will, in in the main, increase your ABV.

A big caution is that the more sugar you put in, the more pressure that you place on the yeast. The more alcohol that is produced, the slower the rate at which fermentation occurs. A keen player will consider adding more yeast nutrients to the wort which may give the original yeast a new lease of life and extend fermentation.

Remember though, the more sugar you add, the more sweet your beer will taste and the greater chance your beer will have that classic 'bad homebrew' taste.

Instead of sugar being used in the primary fermentation stage, many (most?) brewers will use dry malt extract (DME) as their sugar source. If you are wondering where to get some DME, your local brewing shop will have some - it's usually the main ingredient found in beer enhancers!

As a rough guide, an extra pound or 1/2 kg of DME will add an extra half percent to your beer. Doubling that will give you an extra whole percent.

Roughly.

There are some alternative sources of sugar that you might be interested in using too.

Maple syrup, honey and brown sugar can all be used as well but remember, like jelly beans, they will influence the taste of your beer.


So that was adding sugar to beer but what about using less?


Perhaps you are looking to drop some weight and might want to have a lower calorie beer to help with that. 

Is adding less sugar to your beer the solution?

No.

The best solution is to cut back on your drinking and get out in the sun and do some fun shit with friends and family.

But if you're looking to get a well conditioned beer that won't explode when you open it, cutting back on the sugar when it's time to bottle your beer is a fine idea.

There are two main schools of thought when bottling beer. One is that you can 'batch prime' the entire batch of beer in one hit or you can add sugar individually to each bottle.

I've been a fan of the latter as doing it feels like I'm really being involved in the process of making beer.

However after many gushers over the past year or so, I've come to the conclusion that for myself, batch priming beer is the way to go.

It also means that I'm adding less sugar to my beer as I am using a single measured amount of sugar to carbonate my beer rather than by adding random teaspoons measures of sugar.

What is a 'session' beer?

What is a session beer?


What is the definition of session beer? 


I saw this question asked in a beer oriented Facebook group and I thought it seems such an obvious question that it didn't need an answer but then I realized not everyone drinks like a fish! 

A session beer is oft considered to be a beer which has an alcohol content of around 5 percent ABV or less.

The concept of this is that in a 'session' of beer drinking, you won't get hammered by drinking 5 beers at 5 percent as you may just do if you have 5 beers at eight percent.

So basically before the rise of craft beer, most beers were session beers - as history beers have been from 4 - 5 % ABV.

And there in lies the rub - the word session for beer has been totally abused by many craft brewers and their promotion campaigns and now it feels like every damn beer is pitched to beer drinkers as being a session beer. 

Even beer reviewers have started to throw it into their articles as if it adds a sense of romanticism to beer.

It doesn't and it devalues the meaning of the concept.

So a session beer is historically a beer of traditional strength. The more modern craft beer meaning of a session beer is any beer !

We wonder if the boys from U2 ever made homebrew? Check out their song You're The Best Thing About Me. It's a cracker of a tune. 

The best and cheapest beer wort chillers guide

how to cool a beer wort with a chiller
When making beer, the key part of the whole exercise is getting fermentation occurring as quickly as possible once the wort has been prepared.

The trouble is, the wort is usually bloody hot and if you add yeast to the wort, it will die a miserable death.

Like the T-100 in Terminator 2.

So what can you do?

It’s simple.

You may wish to consider investing in a wort chiller.

Let's cut through to the deal:

Our featured wort chiller - Copperhead Immersion Wort Chiller


copper head immersion wort chiller

The two stand out features of this chiller are that it comes with 25 foot copper coil for efficient cooling and its vinyl tubing comes with the standard garden hose connection that we mentioned above.

It also features:
  • All copper coil construction is easy to clean and will conduct heat better than other metals.
  • Ensure secure tubing with proprietary barbed fittings. Eradicate shooting streams of water that make a mess in your brew cave.
  • Drop-angle connections provide insurance against contamination.
  • Dimensions: 9 inches wide, 16 inches tall to the bend, 3/8 ID tubing
Check out the pricing on Amazon.

Here's a guide on why you might want to use a chiller


The use of one can improve the quality of your beer in several ways.

The first is to protect the beer against infections.

While the wort it is still hot bacteria and wild yeasts are inhibited from toying with your beer which is a good thing but it is very susceptible to oxidation damage as it slowly cools.

An efficient cool down can prevent this damage from occurring.

It also prevents the production of dimethyl sulphide. This compound can produce off flavourings in the beer so obviously, you’d want to remove the risk of this being produced as much as you can.

Ideally, the conscientious brewer should aim to get the wort to below 80°F ( 27°C) before oxidation or contamination has a chance to occur. The use of a wort chiller will get you there in no time.

The ‘cold break’ and ‘chill haze’


You may have heard of ‘chill haze’. This is a really common cause of beer cloudiness where the wort has been boiled and the cooling process has not generated enough ‘cold break’.

The cold break is the proteins from the beer that are precipated to the bottom of the beer by the cold temperature.

Using a copper wort chiller allows for an effective way to get more cold break forming and thus reduces the chance of chill haze in your finished beer.

The less crap in your beer, the better it will taste.

A tale of two chillers


There are actually two basic types of wort chillers: immersion and counter-flow.

Immersion chillers are the simplest and work by running cold water through the coil which immersed in the wort. The heat of the wort is transferred via the copper into the water which is quickly is carried away 

Counterflow chillers work in an opposite manner.

The hot wort is drained from the pot via the copper tubing while cold water flows around the outside of the chiller.

What does the garden hose have to do with chilling beer?


You should look to buy a wort chiller that has your standard garden hose connection. 

This allows for brewing outside on a nice summer's day or connecting to a laundry sink faucet as your chilling water source. 

That can give you some room to breathe outside rather than managing all kinds of cooling shenanigans in the kitchen!

Go for quality

You get what you pay for so look for wort chillers that cool efficiently, don’t leak and will last many brews so don't cheap out.

Just as you should always get the bigger brewing kettle, go for the quality but affordable wort chiller. 

In the long run, it will be wort(h) it.

What are hops and what effect do they have on beer?


What are hops and what do they do to beer?

Hops is what makes beer taste wonderful!

At their most basic form, hops are the cone-shaped flower of the plant known as 'Humulus lupulus'. 

Hops may be added to the beer wort to impart a bitterness which balances the sweet malt flavour of beer.

Hops can be used to create a variety of tastes and to offer unique aromas which enhance the drinking experience. 

Beer makers of the last millennium recognized that hops was a crucial element of brewing good beer. It was the Germans who were amongst the first beer makes to recognize their need. So much so, it became the law that only hops could be used in beer as opposed to other beer flavoring such as anice (aniseed), heather and roseword. 

The beauty of the hops plant is that its varieties give different qualities to the beer.

The climate and location of where the hops are grown help determine these qualities but most importantly, the alpha or beta acids of the hop causes the greatest contribution. 

Hops also offer the ability to act as stability agent, preventing spoilage of the beer (hence Indian Pale Ales were shipped to India from Great Brtitain were heavily hopped). It's properties allow the beer yeast to thrive over any other potential contaminants.

It also helps with head retention and acts as a natural clarifier agent.

Hops also contain oils which add to flavour. Hops can be added at different points in the brewing process and the differing temperatures will also have an affect on those oils and flavour. 

Hop associations to certain kinds of beers 

Certain kinds of hops are commonly associated with particular styles of beer or beer from certain regions.

Here's some common examples: 
  • Pilsner beers have became nearly synonymous with the four popular 'noble hops' being the varieties of hop called Terrnanger, Spalt, Hallertauer and Saaz. Saaz hops in particular are associated with the brewing of lagers, most for the aroma that has become associated with the beer. Pilsner beers are known as traditionally coming from the Czech Republic.
  • The English Golding hop has become the signature hops of English ale. The Fuggle hop is another popular hop used for ale. 
  • America has become a home for hop production and many new varieties from old favorites have been developed. American hops are recognized and appreciated all around the world for the bold, and often intense flavors they impart to beer. American hops are often described as being citrus like, however that's a most rudimentary description.
Hops in pellet form
Hops in pellet form

What form do hops come in for brewing?

Hops can distributed as pellets, plugs or whole leaf. 

What hops should I use in my beer brewing? 

It of course depends on what kind of beer you are trying to make. If you are making beer clones or following recipes, you probably want to follow what other brewers have found to work well. 

Here's a list of some common hops that are often used by home brewers and ones I have used myself:
  • Cascade: This is an extremely popular american hop. Known for it's floral hop trait, it is often liked to a grapefruit. Cascade is known as a versatile hop variety that is popular for bittering, finishing and dry hopping of pale ale and American style beers.
  • Czech Saaz: as mentioned a popular hop for pilsner and lager style beers. Saaz offers a delicate, mild floral aroma.
  • Green Bullet: offers a traditional bittering quality and hop flavour. A Kauri like giant of the New Zealand brewing industry this hop is closely associated with the world renowned Steinlager beer. Green bullets is best consider a bittering variety typically lager beers.
  • Motueka Hops: Hey, I'm a Kiwi so why not promote a second Kiwi hops? The Moteuka hops comes from the region it is grown in, being the top of the South Island of New Zealand. Very suitable for more traditional style lagers, especially the increasingly popular Bohemian Pilsener
  • Golding hops are good for bittering, finishing and dry hopping a range of ales
If you are a beginner brewer looking to use hops for the first time, we feel confident enough from our experience with using these hops that you won't go wrong -  as long as you match them to your intended style of beer.

We have a fond memory of a brew which used both cascade and green bullet hops to make a loosely approximate version of Steinlager.

It was a fine brew!

And so from that you can take that it is OK to add different hops together to get different flavours and aroma!

When do I add hops to my beer?

Typically the beer wort is boiled with hops before it is cooled down to begin the fermentation process. The timings of when to add the hops in the boil can be critical as the different timings can cause the hops to work differently on the beer.

If you are making your own wort (as is, not using a beer kit) then it's best practice to follow a tried and true recipe, at least as you start out.

You can of course become more adventurous when you have a bit of confidence in your beer making skills!

If you're at that point  you'll want to understand that the process is sometimes known as the “hop schedule”. A hop schedule will lists the length of time that the hops should be in the boil, not the amount of time you should wait to add the hops.

This allows you to making your timings correctly. The rough guide is the longer you boil the hops, the more bitterness they will impart. The shorter you boil them, the more flavour will be added.

If you are using a simple beer kit, you have two choices when to add hops. You may add them when you bring all the ingredients of the kit together, or you can add them near the end of the fermentation process. The choice is yours, and in our experience, there doesn't appear to be much of a difference in the end result. 

Where can I buy hops?

Your local brewshop will typically have a wide selection but there are online stores everywhere, we recommend NZ's Brewshop but internationally you'll have some good luck buying on Amazon.

Extra for Experts:


Recipe for making a substitute PBW beer equipment cleaner

There are many facets of beer making that are important:

The right hops.

The right temperature at which to brew.

The right yeast.

The right size kettle.

The right whatever else you think is important.

But as any cook, painter, website designer or astronaut will tell you, preparation is the key to success and the father of successful brewing is making sure that your beer making equipment is clean!

We've previously recommended PBW as a literal solution to cleaning your brewing equipment as it is a proven cleaner and degreaser.

But as a branded home brewers product, PBW can cost you some real cash money. Many brewers swear by and believe in it's value but if you are looking to get a substitute product at a cheaper price, there's a handy wee trick you may wish to try to make your own version of PBW.

What you are going to do is replicate the two main ingredients of PBW to make your own recipe.

We are looking to source these two active ingredients in PBW.
  • Sodium percarbonate 
  • Sodium metasilicate

So where does one find these ingredients in home products?


The good news is that you might already have the percarbonate on a shelf in your laundry at home!

Many washing machine soaker's main ingredient is the chemical we are after.

By example of brands we are talking Tide, Oxiclean, or Napisan.

For the metasilicate, we've found that many home DIY brewers use a cleaner called Red Devil TSP/90. You can find it on Amazon or local stores such as Walmart, Lowes or Home Depot.

using red devil to clean beer

The TSP stands for  tri-sodium phosphate. That chemical is not actually used much in America due to environmental concerns so the TSP/90 is actually a substitute product, hence the meta-silicate!

Confusing much?

So how to prepare this combo?



Now, mixing chemicals found in the kitchen or laundry can be dangerous but we are not using chlorine or ammonia here so we are on safe ground to mix our formula's ingredients.

The ratio prepare is 70% Oxiclean with 30% TSP/90 - by weight. This mixture gives you your DIY version of PBW.

How much to use?


The concentration is 1 ounce per gallon of water which equates to 30 grams per 3.5 litres which is basically about 10 gram per litre.


Safety precautions


While Red Devil TSP/90 contains no Phosphorous, lye or other abrasives and the laundry soaker is pretty benign, it is prudent to use gloves during use.

You can then use your cleaner in the usual manner to soak and scrub your fermenter and other brewing equipment.