Sanitization is perhaps the most vital step that must be consistently undertaken during the entire process of homebrewing process, yet it is perhaps the one aspect of homebrewing that is most often rushed or overlooked. Problems with sanitization are the number one reason why homebrew beers fail. Imagine the disappointment that you would feel if you had carefully performed every task flawlessly, from brewing to bottling, and eagerly cracked open that first bottle after more than a month only to find that the homebrew tasted more like hoppy yogurt than beer. This is a situation that occurs all too frequently when homebrewers do not vigilantly sanitize any piece of equipment that comes into contact with the beer. Even brief contact with an un-sanitized spoon or other piece of equipment could be enough to destroy the entire batch.
It is important to realize that much of the brewing process is set up to create the perfect environment for yeasts to metabolize the sugars in the wort to produce alcohol and carbon dioxide. Unfortunately, conditions that are ideal for yeast are also ideal for a host of other microorganisms who create metabolites that are not pleasant at all (at least not when they wind up in beer). The microorganisms are rampant in the natural environment and cover ever surface that we touch, including our own skin. Therefore, if we do not remove these microorganisms, they will grow and thrive in the nutrient rich environment of the wort and ruin the beer.
The best way to remove these microorganisms is to soak every kettle, bucket, spoon, and other device that will come into contact with the beer in a sanitizing solution. Many homebrew kits will include special antibacterial cleaners, but it is possible to achieve results that are just as good using a mixture of hot water and bleach. Simply soak your instruments in the solution prior to use, and then rinse them thoroughly with hot water before introducing them to the brewing environment. Should any sanitizing agent make its way into the beer it will kill the brewing yeast and destroy your homebrew as surely as any microorganism. It is important to remember, however, that no human pathogens are able to survive in beer, so you will not get sick if you forget to sanitize a piece of equipment.
On bottling day, it is important to sanitize all bottles and caps, as well as the hydrometer, the container that holds the priming sugar, and any other piece of equipment that will come into contact with the fermented homebrew. However, even if all of these items are thoroughly sanitized, there is still another way for batch destroying bacteria to enter the mix. It is a common practice to suck on the tube that leads into the racking bucket to start the siphoning action. This practice has ruined many a batch of otherwise high quality homebrew because it allows microorganisms from the mouth to enter the brew. Even the most conscientious brusher, flosser, and mouthwash user still harbors an amazing number of germs in their mouth that would love nothing more than to destroy a nice new batch of homebrew. It is possible to start the siphoning action in other ways that do not require mouth contact. These ways include using a pump as well as filling the sanitized tube with water which will prime the siphoning action.
It is very easy to forget to sanitize a piece of equipment and, for this reason, more homebrews are destroyed by poor sanitization practice than by any other cause. Get in the habit of always thoroughly sanitizing and rinsing every piece of equipment immediately before use. After a while this will become second nature, but it can be a chore when you first start homebrewing.
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