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How important is sanitation?

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ckohtz

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My girlfriend and I brewed our first batch of beer this weekend. I'm a computer programmer, and she is a microbiologist. From everything I've read, sanitation is very important. However, she basically told me that the fact we're in an open environment and using tap water means that sanitizing the equipment really doesn't do much good. There is plenty of bacteria in the air, and tap water is anything but clean. As long as the equipment is clean, it's as good as it's going to get. Thoughts?
 

rdwj

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Clean is good enough for stuff you use before and during the boil. After the boil, everything you used should be sanitized.

Your water is boiled, so that kills everything that's in it.

Not much you can do about the air
 

Jumbo82

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Its like saying "why bother washing my hands when it only removes 99.9% of bacteria? There are still bacteria." You can't sterillize everything in the process, but can sanitize (there is a distinction). I think the goal is to keep the foreign invaders down to such a level that they are overwhelmed by the yeast that is introduced. Thats my understanding, but I'm no microbiologist.
 

Beerlord

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ckohtz said:
My girlfriend and I brewed our first batch of beer this weekend. I'm a computer programmer, and she is a micro-biologist. From everything I've read, sanitation is very important. However, she basically told me that the fact we're in an open environment and using tap water means that sanitizing the equipment really doesn't do much good. There is plenty of bacteria in the air, and tap water is anything but clean. As long as the equipment is clean, it's as good as it's going to get. Thoughts?
Thats why there are things like 1 step and other no rinse sanitizers and lid and air locks for vessels.
 

Jesse17

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Yes, it's true you can make beer without sanitizing the equipment, and it may be just fine, or it may get infected.

It's also true, that you can just pour your wort into a bucket and let it sit uncovered, and wait for some wild yeast to ferment it. Hopefully the wild yeast find it before some nasty bacterial/fungus. People have fermented foods this way for 1000's of years, without even knowing how it worked.

The point of sanitizing your equipment is to give your yeast the best chance of getting a start in the wort before anything eles gets established. If you wash your Ale Pail, you didn't kill the bacteria/fungus that might have landed in it in the last week or 10 since you used it last. However, if you sanitize it just before using it, now your yeast only have to compete with the MUCH smaller number of bacteria/fungus that landed in it in the few minutes before you add your wort and yeast.

Infected batches DO happen, or it wouldn't be an issue. Wouldn't you rather spend a few minutes sanitizing, rather than finding out $30 and 4 weeks later that something infected it?
 

Beerlord

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Also I want ot point out this is a very good reason to use a starter, we ar't steralizing our equipent, we are sanitizing it, so there may be a few roque bacteria/wild yeast even after doing so (steralizing leaves nothing alive, not practical to do at home) . That being said if you make a starter and billions of healty good yeast and you leave a few hundred thousand of the rogues in the vessel, they dont' stand a chance against the good guys
 
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ckohtz

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I'm with ya. I think the sanitation is an important step (although this is my first batch) because, as stated above, it will give the beer it's best chance. Plus I like to follow directions as much as possible when I'm doing things I've never done before.

As for the water though, only 2 gallons is boiled. Then you have to add 3 more gallons after the wort is dumped into the bucket. She thought we should use filtered water if sanitation was important. But I've also read that tap water is fine in most cities. Our local brewpub guy says our local water works great. So she basically said I shouldn't worry too much about sanitation (yes, sanitize everything) if we put regular tap water in the wort. She's probably right and we'll both learn from experience I'm sure.
 

sirsloop

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Cleanliness is next to godliness! All beer would get infected if we were not pitching in 10 billion yeast cells into the brew. Once the yeast set up shop and produce alcohol its much harder for infections to take hold. The beers most vulnerable time is just after you cool the wort. Its open to the air, bacteria free, full of sugars. If you want to dump that into a dirty bucket and shake without your yeast army go ahead!
 

Beerthoven

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ckohtz said:
My girlfriend and I brewed our first batch of beer this weekend. I'm a computer programmer, and she is a micro-biologist. From everything I've read, sanitation is very important. However, she basically told me that the fact we're in an open environment and using tap water means that sanitizing the equipment really doesn't do much good. There is plenty of bacteria in the air, and tap water is anything but clean. As long as the equipment is clean, it's as good as it's going to get. Thoughts?
In a sense you are right. Good cleaning will get you 95% of the way there. Using a good no-rinse sanitizer like StarSan is insurance on your cleaning. StarSan is so cheap and easy to use that there really is no excuse for not using it (or some other suitable sanitizer like Iodophor).

Remember, we are only sanitizing, not sterilizing. So just tell your microbiologist GF to relax :)

BTW, lots of people (myself included) use unsterilized tap water for all sorts of things like topping off fermenters and rehydrating dry yeast without having any problems at all.
 

Jesse17

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ckohtz said:
As for the water though, only 2 gallons is boiled. Then you have to add 3 more gallons after the wort is dumped into the bucket.
This is why some brewers (including myself) always boil all the water. I boil 2.5 gal. and cool it, then add it to the Ale Pail and cover with a lid and air lock. Then I boil my 2.5 gal wort, cool, and add it to the water that's already in the Ale Pail.

You can also boil your top up water, and leave it in a pot to add at the end if you prefer, but I you need two pots for that.
 

TexLaw

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There really aren't a whole lot bacteria in the air, at least not compared to your hands and countertops and other gear. Keep sanitizing. If your girlfriend wants to get lazy about it, tell her she can work up an unsanitized batch just for herself.

Also, one of the trickiest parts of getting a contaminated batch is avoiding one the next time. Once certain things take hold in your brewery, you might wind up with a "house flavor," and not a very pleasant one at that.


TL
 

Beerlord

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TexLaw said:
Also, one of the trickiest parts of getting a contaminated batch is avoiding one the next time. Once certain things take hold in your brewery, you might wind up with a "house flavor," and not a very pleasant one at that.


TL

I learned that the hard way after making wine out of wild grapes.
 

malkore

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ckohtz said:
As for the water though, only 2 gallons is boiled. Then you have to add 3 more gallons after the wort is dumped into the bucket.
Here you assume everyone does a partial boil, which is not the case. AG brewers must boil every last drop. many extract brewers also do a full boil.

and technically, you should use boiled/cooled water for your 3 gallons of top off, as that would reduce the risk for contamination.

its all about reducing as many variables as you can, to produce consistently good beer that's free of off flavors (from infection or other causes).
 
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ckohtz

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Yeah, I just did what the directions said. It's my first batch. It's why I asked the question. :) Next time I'll probably boil the second 3 gallons too. How long should you boil water to kill everything off?
 
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ckohtz

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I looked it up, 2 minutes under 3000 feet, 5 minutes if above. That's just according to one web site though and relates to drinking water. A medical site says 10 minutes to decontaminate equipment at sea level, 20 minutes over 4000 feet. My guess, 5 minutes is probably good enough for making beer.
 

Jesse17

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ckohtz said:
Yeah, I just did what the directions said. It's my first batch. It's why I asked the question. :) Next time I'll probably boil the second 3 gallons too. How long should you boil water to kill everything off?
If I'm just boiling water, I boil it for 10 min., because that's what most recipes call for when sanitizing your priming sugar.
 

MR. Zak

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in this industry you hear people that work in large and small places alike call themselves a glorified janitor. what we do is make a media that micro-orginisims would love to take over as a lets call it a, bacteria condo. they are happy, if we make it harder for them to get into the front door before the yeast these bacteria will not like the new neighbors and they wont survive as well in a enviroment that has alcohol and co2 in it. so thats why we sanitize and some (like myself) will do it over if we feel we dont get it done the first time
So tell the GF that if she would really like take that beer to the lab and micro plate or sterile filter it and see what happens you would be very surprised what you find and it would be a cool test just to see how clean she keeps the kitchen
but before i get a horde of angry females after me its just a good practice but look into some places in europe and they let the wort cool over night in a coolship open to the air so that gives you an idea about how many thoughts are on this subject
back when I first started brewing, my lady said the same thing so we did a brew with sanitizing and the same batch without just a good clean and I told her that the sanied one was mine to give to our friends and the other one well she just poured out eventually
good luck with your next brew and play around the first beer was probably mabe by some lady in mesopotamia just forgetting some grains in a bucket and hi oh silver we have the most enjoyed beverage in the world
Z
 

Jamo99

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10 out of 10 brewers will tell you that sanitation is the number one step to producing good beer. I have had contaminated batches even when sanitizing, and each one brought a tear to my eye. These were consecutive batches and I didn't realize I had some scratches in equipment till it was too late. I was also not keeping my equipment in contact with my C-Brite long enough. Once I switched to Iodaphor I never looked back.
 

kaptain_karma

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When I first started brewing, I was super paranoid about sanitizing. As I've gained experience, I've let some things slide, but am still very careful. Airborne bacteria and yeasts are not a significant danger. Of those that will thrive in wort, the small amount that will settle into a clean, sanitized bucket/carboy will never be able to compete with the billions of beer yeast you pitch.

Heavily used equipment can have tiny scratches and bits of residue that will harbor contaminents. This is when proper cleaning and sanitation become vital.

Most importantly, if you've found your way to this forum, you don't want to make good beer, you want to make GREAT beer. Sometimes proper sanitation is the crucial step that makes the difference.
 

mtbruer

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"Airborne bacteria and yeasts are not a significant danger."

I'm afraid I have to disagree with you on this one. After brewing in my garage for years without any significant problems I decided to convert a corner of my basement into my brewery thinking it would be much easier not to have to carry stuff out to the garage every time I wanted to brew. After setting up the basement I spent the next year trying to figure out why every single batch of beer I made was vinegar.
I finally came to the conclusion that there was something in the air in my house that was ruining my beer.

I moved my brewing back to garage and the problem went away. I've also had to resort to doing all transfers in the garage as well. It seems that whatever is ruining my beer doesn't seem to mind that it's already fermented. So, whenever I transfer my beer from fermenter to keg I carry everything out to the garage and do it there. It's a real PITA but it's the only way I can prevent making vinegar at my house.
 

BrewDey

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ckohtz said:
As for the water though, only 2 gallons is boiled. Then you have to add 3 more gallons after the wort is dumped into the bucket. She thought we should use filtered water if sanitation was important. But I've also read that tap water is fine in most cities. Our local brewpub guy says our local water works great. So she basically said I shouldn't worry too much about sanitation (yes, sanitize everything) if we put regular tap water in the wort. She's probably right and we'll both learn from experience I'm sure.
FWIW I've had batches go just fine topping off with regular tap water-but have also had a skunked batch due to high levels of chlorine in the water during the summer...since then I filter it and have had no problems since.
 
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