Water Conservation When Brewing

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It is no secret that the single most prevalent ingredient in beer is water. But there is also an equal if not larger amount of water involved in the making of beer that does not become beer. This would be the water we use for cleaning, sanitizing, and cooling.
Like myself, there are many other home brewers who are enduring another of California’s infamous droughts. Virtually the entire state is suffering a serious decline of rainfall that has left many fertile areas unusually barren, many a lake all but dried up, and many electric vehicles unwashed. It's a serious issue and one that we, as home brewers living in the state, must be conscious of when making our favorite tasty beverage. With proper care, and a little bit more attention payed towards water conservation, we can have a successful brew day, and use up less water than you might use taking a shower in the morning. Speaking of that, you might as well forgo your morning shower on brew day… you’re most likely going to get dirty anyway.
Reused StarSan, spray nozzle, and scrub brush.

The Facts

Lets be honest here, beer is as much as 95% water. Brewing requires a great deal of cleaning and sanitation, and the majority of the products we use to clean and sanitize are water solutions. PBW recommends that you fill up your containers/kegs/fermenters and soak overnight. Star San also has their own set of recommendations that involve soaking, and then dumping and drying. On top of that, there are just certain things that you want to make sure get a good and proper cleaning. Maybe your mash paddle or tri-clamps and hoses.
By my calculations, one could easily use 50 gallons just cleaning their equipment before a brew day - for a 5 gallon batch! Do you soak your lauter tun, mash tun and brew kettle with PBW? That’s 20 gallons. Rinse them again to remove the PBW, lets say thats 5 gallons, and another soak with Star San makes another 20. Then you do the same with your fermenter and thats 6-10 gallons. Maybe you make a bath for your tools and connections. Another 2-3 gallons.
All of these things are unavoidable for a clean and sanitary environment, but maybe you can change up your process to save some water. Here are 5 ways you can save water, and in this drought every little bit helps. Besides, it will lighten your water bill, if even it's only a couple bucks.
Invest in an Eco-Spray Hose Nozzle.
Whether you use your kitchen sink or a yard hose, a spray nozzle can reduce your water usage from 4 water wasting gallons per minute down to 1.5 GPM or less when fully open. And, many spray nozzles have a lever action that will shut off the water unless you squeeze the trigger, thus saving water from being wasted while you are trying to keep the cat from jumping on the still hot Blichmann.
Don't Dump Your Chilling Water.
Many of us have plate chillers, counter-flows, or even coil chillers. That cold water is going to run opposite the direction of the wort, cooling it, then come out nice and toasty. Redirect that runoff water from the drain into a 5 gallon bucket, and use it to scrub your mash tun clean after the brew. That bucket full of water sitting there might serve as a reminder to clean your equipment before everything gets dry and crusted on.
Get Clever.
Conservation of water doesn't just mean not using water, but also offsetting what you do use. With just a little bit of effort you can also use that “spent” chilling water for areas outside of your brewery.
• Water your plants with it.
• Put it in the cat's or dog's water bowl.
• Wash your car with it.
• If it is the same source as your kitchen sink, use it to prepare your pastas, or for baking.
• Make Star San mix with it.
• Reuse it! I put a few gallons back into the freezer for making ice cubes to use the next time I brew, and need to cool my water down in my chilling tank.
My PH Tester making sure the StarSan is still effective.
Reuse Your Star San.
While we are trying to save water, it would be in vain if it meant the beer suffered. Your fermenting vessel, whether carboy or conical, most likely needs to have a good rinse with water, perhaps some scrubbing, another rinse and a full soak with Star San. You can't avoid the soak in this case, but how about instead of always making new batches of Star San, you reuse it? If you are using Star San correctly, it should be after a cleaning and rinsing. With proper cleaning procedure, there shouldn't be much sugar, grain, or yeast residue, and you can store that used Star San for later use. You just need either some pH test strips or a calibrated pH Meter. You are going to want to make sure that the pH of the Star San doesn't rise above 3.0, which is the maximum acceptable pH level to be an effective sanitizer.
Scrubbing clean the mash tub with a few cups of water. I’ll give it a light rinsing afterwards and a towel dry.
Not Everything Needs A Soak.
My last tip might be read as brewing sacrilege to some, but the truth is your kettles most likely do not need PBW and/or Star San soaks. When it comes to cleaning my mash tun and brew kettle, I will dump about one quart of water in the mash-tun, give it a good scrubbing, then dump/pump that water into my brew kettle, and use that same grimy water to scrub off the burnt on residue that is banjo-burner-shaped on the bottom of the kettle. If I need a deeper scrub, I might mix a bit of Bar Keepers Friend in there, but that's rare. I then use about another quart at a gentle rinse setting on the hose nozzle to rinse out both the kettles, and dry with a towel.

Personally, I don't think a soak is necessary if your kettle or mash tun has no inaccessible nooks or crannies. Furthermore, with stainless steel, if your equipment is properly passivated a good rinse and dry should suffice. Also, remember these steps are before the boil, which will kill most everything in your brew. For soaking things like connectors, funnels, and hoses, use a smaller 8 quart pot or plastic flower box. For added reassurance you can keep a 16 or 20 ounce spray bottle with Star San at the ready for a quick, light spray down and drying.
Hopefully these tips can help save some water in this desert wasteland of California. I brew 30-40 times a year, potentially saving 2000 gallons a year over my old ways. I’ve yet to have an infection, or have an off flavor that was because of cleaning or sanitation issues. If you’ve got any tips, I’d love to hear them!
Thanks for the timely article. Brewing in San Diego under water restrictions, I switched from a counterflow chiller to a plate chiller and reduced my chill water for a 10 gallon batch from roughly 60 gallons to about 25. I collect the chilling water to use for cleaning equipment and irrigating my trees. I also put shut off nozzles on my water hoses. It all adds up.
Reduce chilling water to zero by using no-chill. Us Aussies have been doing it for some time now, even commercial breweries do it for fresh wort kits. No-one has died.
Don't forget, large vessels don't need to be completely full. If you put large objects in (say, a large pot, with some heavy items inside to keep it down), you can displace that much water and still get a good soak at the top portions of the tun/fermentor/etc etc
Thank you for the article, and I appreciate the humor. I especially like "many electric vehicles unwashed." Ha! Although I was reusing my chill water for cleanup, and then reusing the cleanup water for landscape irrigation, I have been trying no-chill on hoppy recipes. I use an overnight hop stand in the BK. The chilling process is a PITA, so I enjoy skipping that. Overall, this reduces my water consumption only a small amount, but it does reduce it. I agree that soaking stuff in PBW and Star San can be reduced/eliminated. For the most part, I just rinse to clean, and I use a spray bottle of Star San for larger items.
Another use for your chiller water is filling the washing machine. I have a 3 buckets for chiller water 1 for washing stuff, and 2 for ferrying water to the washing machine.
We use cold water for most things but you can get a hot water soak and wash for "free". We often use it on our workout clothes.
A plate chiller and counterflow chiller aren't that much different. Using 25 gallons of water to chill is still a lot. I use a pond pump and recirculate ice water through my counterflow and chiller and have used the same 8 gallons of water for about a year. I started out with a plate chiller, but it seemed to clog a lot and was harder to clean.
You can save a lot of water by recirculating with a pond pump. Just use a ball valve on the wort out side to slow it down.
I make sure to re-use all my water I can just because I'm a cheap hippy. I seperate the first couple gallons if hot chill water for washing, the next couple gallons for rinising and washing machine and the last gallons of cool water for my swamp cooler. I also used some to fill gallon jugs to freeze for the swamp cooler. When the swamp cooler water gets funky looking into the washing machine to wash my work clothes.
I have to haul water for brewing so I have been conserving water to save my aching back. I have a 40 gallon clean plastic garbage can that I hold my chill water, using a HF irrigation pump and my CF chiller. Prior to brewing i place 3 to 5 2 liter bottle of frozen water to cool the water. When chilling my wort, I save the first five gallons to wash / rinse and then return the rest to the garbage can. I sanitize with a spray bottle with Star San, Total water for a five gallon batch, about 20 gallons, 4 - five gallon plastic buckets. I have, I guess about 80 batches using this method with no contamination or infection issues.
I use 1/3 to 1/2 the chilling water in late winter/early spring as I do in late summer/early fall. The colder Minnesota ground temps (tap water approaches 40F) mean I can run my counterflow chiller with the ball valve fully open and I chill a 6 gallon batch to 62F in as little as 6 minutes. Try doing that in September when our tap water is the warmest and I have to throttle way back; it usually takes 15 minutes+. Its why I make all my lagers in the early spring as I can get to low 50's pretty easily.
I like the idea of using the spent chilling water to wash my car. Put my kiddos to work on that next time. My brew buddy uses the spent chilling water in his clothes washer.
I would use a little caution in using the spent chilling water for brewing/soaking/sanitizing applications. I use my garden hose for that, and I shudder to think about all the bugs that must live in there for 7 months out of the year.
I fill all my buckets (about 25 gallons worth) with water for chilling and throw a pond pump in there. Once the water gets too warm I move the pump to another bucket. The last bucket will be the coldest with a few pounds of ice. When the wort is racked to the fermenter I use all that water to clean my equipment. no water wasted!
One step is not a sanitizer. Cleaning and sanitizing is a two-step process.
If you're happy not sanitizing more power to you, but don't be fooled by the name, One-Step is a cleaner only.
I have a separate sink in the garage to use when I brew. The drain water runs through a hose to the backyard and waters the lawn. The grass is doing great despite flushing down massive amounts of StarSan, hop material, grain husks, etc.
After primary fermentation, there's usually a ring of crud near the top of the carboy. Instead of filling that baby up to the top with PBW solution (6.5 gallons), fill it up just enough so the PBW solution covers the (scrubbed) ring when the carboy is upside-down. That should only take a gallon or 2. Make sure to seal the top well! Also, when I sanitize a carboy or keg, I never fill the whole thing up with StarSan - just put in about a gallon (or less), tip it on the side and roll it back and forth for a minute or so.
Interesting... pardon the ignoramousness, but what exactly is no-chill? You just let the beer sit X number of hours until it's at pitching temp?
*quizzical head tilt*
Um, I make Star San a quart at a time in a 32oz spray bottle (slightly high concentration; I use a scant 1/2 tsp since that's the closest measure I have to the recommended dosage) and handle most things with 1-3 sprays, covering the surface, plus like 20-40 into carboys and the like while rotating them.
I also have yet to get an infection.
then there's the No-Chill method which saves water also
I use frozen waterbottles with recycled water to chill my brews. I also reuse chill water in my fountains and plants.
Another great way to get water to use and recycle is to take one of your buckets into the shower. As the water heats up, let it collect in your bucket. I live in an older house, so I usually get 2-3 gallons before the water gets hot. I then use that water to chill ahead of time, fill my fountains, pet water, etc.
Good article!! I use the water from my counterflow to clean my kettles, but not all of it. And I was wondering how I can save that water as well. Making a mix of Star San is genius! I'm doing that next time!
I use my pool. 17,000 gallons of water never runs out... goes in chiller.. goes back in pool.. not that water is an issue here. I've had to drain my pool three times this year already. it gets above the skimmer and flows out. When this happens,, I brew a batch, but let the water run onto the ground instead of back into the pool. The winter is GREAT. The water is soooo cold (under the ice) that it really only takes about 10 minutes give or take, to completely chill 5.5 gallons of wort. In the summer.. maybe twice as long. I live in Pennsylvania so... Yea, we have plenty of rainfall around here.
Water in Southern California is not only scarce but EXPENSIVE $$$$. Whether you're doing for the environment or not, everyone can agree that a huge water bill sucks. Cities in California are notorious for raising water prices during a drought to encourage conservation, yet never lowering prices once the drought is over. Drought or no drought, I'll be saving water forever because water just keeps getting more expensive.
Here's my obvious tip yet to be mentioned....
If you have a pool then you don't need to save any chill water. Just drain it into your pool to offset pool water loss from evaporation.
"Do you soak your lauter tun, mash tun and brew kettle with PBW? That’s 20 gallons. Rinse them again to remove the PBW, lets say thats 5 gallons, and another soak with Star San makes another 20. "
are people actually using starsan on these parts of their setups? why??
A sanitized temp and food safe HDPE cube (jerry can or similar) is filled with your wort, any air squeezed out and the lid sealed. Then the sealed cube is left to chill down to ambient temps without any airborne contaminants entering the wort. Once at pitch temps cube is poured (at some height for aeration) into a fermenter and yeast pitched. Cubes can be left some time before pitch, there are some reports of over 12 months storage with the beer coming out with as competition winning.
Im fortunate to have a pool so to save water I bought a small submersible pump and run my pool water through my IC(back into the pool). Not only do I not waste a drop but the pool stays cooler than the tap so its also more efficient. Any FL brewers lucky enough to have a pool or that live on the water should consider the same. The amount Ive saved in water has already paid for the pump plus it feels good knowing I'm being less wasteful.
I suppose you could also collect rainwater and push that through a chiller using a pump, then back in the barrel or use for rinsing, etc. I have not used rainwater, but in the winter rather than deal with hooking a hose outside I use 15 gallon barrels and dump in frozen bottles of water to drop the temp down of my water, then I pump that water into my coil immersion chiller, and collect the hot water for washing and rinsing. At some point I put the output hose back in the source barrel, so the lukewater water comes in contact with the ice bottles, chills, and recirculates through the chiller. The frozen water bottles melt, but go back in the freezer for another day.
Okay, I've never soaked anything in PBW or Star-San as a rule. If a carboy or bucket is very grimy, I'll mix in some oxygen-based cleaner (never PBW, too expensive for a small pail of relatively cheap chemicals), fill the container and let the grunge soak away but as a rule, a good cleaning as soon after emptying works just fine. The brew kettle? It's going to be boiled, no need to sanitize. Mash tun, everything that comes out of the mash tun will be boiled, ditto. As for sanitizing itself, pour a few quarts in and swish vigorously. Soak the little bits. Mix the Star-San using distilled water - it's good for several weeks done that way. Since keeping the water from our roofs is illegal here in Colorado, run the chill water off into a rain barrel (which we just happen to have sitting around.... :p). For most cleaning, a good hot water rinse will work just fine. Save the chemicals for when elbow grease and hot water just aren't good enough.
You can save more water by not soaking the fermentor in StarSan. The label specifics and several interviews with Five-Star reps state that spray the sanitizer onto equipment is sufficient as long as the pH is proper and the contact time is at least 1 minute. I use about half a gallon of sanitizer for a 5-gallon batch and recover most of it for another batch. http://www.fivestarchemicals.com/wp-content/uploads/StarSanTech-HB2.pdf
I don't think i have ever filled a brewing vessel completely full to soak. Absolutely no need besides to calm your nerves for no real reason.
I've been hesitant about getting an immersion chiller because of the water waste. I like the idea mentioned in the comments about draining it into the washing machine, then doing a load of laundry. I only do at most 2 gallon batches at a time, so it should all fit in the washer, plus the wash basin next to it has a faucet with a garden hose attachment to make hooking it up a chiller simpler.
Alternatively, could one do no-chill with a plastic bucket fermenter? Is it still food safe at high temperatures? Could just rack into one of those, put on the lid and a tiny solid stopper, wait a day, then pitch and add an airlock.
I don't soak anything in Star San. I just pour in about 500mL into my 6 gal fermenter and slosh it around. Or sometimes I just use a spray bottle and mist the heck out of everything. I've never had a contamination issue.
When a hot liquid cools, the density decreases and will pull in the vessel walls. Be careful to use a flexible container. To see what I mean, fill a plastic 2 liter bottle with a little hot water and then let it cool off.
While the concept of this article is good, a lot of the ideas listed here are completely off-base. I urge any newer brewers to do a bit more research and not take things listed here for face value. Allow me to point out some of the mistakes:
"Do you soak your lauter tun, mash tun and brew kettle with PBW? That’s 20 gallons. Rinse them again to remove the PBW, lets say thats 5 gallons, and another soak with Star San makes another 20. "
---- There is absolutely no need to soak your hot liquor tank, mash/lauter tun, or brew kettle with StarSan. There is no need to sanitize anything on the "hot side" - that is, anything that happens prior to chilling the wort. Also, there is no need to "soak" you HLT, MLT, or BK with a full volume of PBW. Just a gallon is all you need - I start with the cleanest vessel (HLT) and add the gallon of PBW to it and scrub, then dump into the MLT and scrub, and then dump into BK and scrub. I've never heard of anyone doing full soaks with this stuff. Fermenters, yes, but not hot side equipment.
" Your fermenting vessel, whether carboy or conical, most likely needs to have a good rinse with water, perhaps some scrubbing, another rinse and a full soak with Star San. You can’t avoid the soak in this case..."
---- Completely false. You rarely, if ever, need to do a "full soak" of StarSan. At most you need 1 gallon in the fermenter. StarSan only needs 1 minute of contact time to fully sanitize - this means you only need to add enough to coat the inside of the fermenter when shaken. So add a gallon, give it a good shake to ensure full contact, let it sit a couple of minutes, give it another shake to be certain you got it all sanitized, and dump (or collect for reuse). I can only imagine how quickly you must go through StarSan and PBW if you are doing full soaks each time. I've only owned one bottle of StarSan (32oz) since I started brewing 4 years ago, and I've still got about 1/4 of it left.
Also, by your description of your brew day, it seems you clean your hot side equipment (HLT, MLT, BK) both right after a brew, and then right before a brew. Why? If you collect your chilling water runoff as you described, which should be warm to the touch from cooling your wort, then just add PBW to that and use it to clean all of your equipment at the end of the brew day. Now everything is clean - there is no reason to scrub it all again before brewing next time. Do you clean your pots and pans, plates, forks, etc, again before you use them? Of course not. No different with brewing equipment. Even if there are some little nasties in there (there shouldn't be), everything will eventually be boiled so there is nothing to worry about.