Brewing is one of those things where the devil’s in the details—details within details. There are procedural details such as temperatures, measurements, and timing; details in the local water; details in the soil in which the barley for our malt is grown; and microscopic details in the strains of yeast we employ.
Altogether, the process of brewing involves a seemingly endless amount of subtle variables to tweak and refine—and we craft brewers love nothing more than experimenting with all of them.
There is one set of details, however, that’s often the exception to our obsession: cleaning and maintaining our precious brewery equipment. Compared to all the fun, dynamic aspects of brewing, cleaning up afterward just feels, well, sterile.
Thankfully, you can streamline, regiment, and refine your cleaning and maintenance process, so that you can get back to brewing more quickly.
Back to Basics
Old pros are sure to be familiar with these standard practices of maintenance. However, if you’re a new brewer on the scene, here are some basics to know:
- Understand the difference between “cleaning” and “sanitizing.” In brewing terms, “cleaning” refers to the general act of washing your equipment’s surfaces. “Sanitizing” is when contaminants are purged on the microscopic level. There are specific products used for either phase, just as you use dish soap (cleaner) to rinse off a plate before putting it in the dishwasher loaded with detergent (sanitizer).
- Always plan to clean and sanitize your equipment immediately after use, as contaminants are easier to remove before they’ve had a chance to dry.
- Always start with a cleaning agent. Sanitizers are ineffective on equipment with soils on the surface, meaning bacteria and wild yeasts will remain.
- For general cleaning of stainless steel and aluminum, use mild unscented detergents, PBW, or percarbonate-based cleaners. Using bleach on stainless steel can corrode and cause pits.
- After cleaning, it’s time to sanitize. Do your research on the chemicals you plan to use, and always read the instructions on the bottle. Never let your equipment soak in a solution for longer than recommended, as the prolonged exposure can cause damage to your gear.
In olden times, cleaning your brewery was a painstaking process of disassembling and hand-scrubbing your equipment. Thankfully, most modern equipment is designed to utilize CIP (cleaning in place) systems. These systems spray and circulate cleaning solutions throughout the interior of your brewing vessels, often with no manual labor required. Because no touching is needed and the vessels stay closed, this method is also more sanitary. Needless to say, CIP accessories are well worth the labor-saving investment—even for smaller breweries.
Protect Your Steel with Passivation
Stainless steel is surprisingly fragile when it comes to chemical reactions. Even beer itself, despite its low pH, can do damage to stainless steel over time. Because of this, passivation is an important part of maintaining equipment.
Passivation creates a thin, protective oxide layer over the surface of your steel that prevents long-term damage. A blend of nitric and citric acid is typically used on these surfaces to kick off the passivation process. Consult with an expert or reference the handbook for your equipment to learn whether or not your equipment needs passivation–and for the optimal method to do so.
It’s essential to let your equipment thoroughly air-dry after cleaning before reuse, so that atmospheric passivation can occur.
With so many moving parts to brewing, it’s easy to lose track of when it’s time to clean. To keep tabs on your procedure, make a checklist similar to the one below. Noting the times when each part of your brewing operation should be cleaned will keep everyone on the same page.
Shining with Pride
Keep in mind: There’s more that goes into maintaining your equipment than cleaning. Every so often clamps need to be tightened, valves need to be checked, and inevitable damage needs to be repaired. Even with perfect maintenance on your part, the quality of your equipment will have a big impact on how well it endures the rigors of frequent brewing.
At Blichmann Engineering, we pride ourselves on manufacturing durable home and pro-brewing equipment that stands against the test of time and use. Always be mindful of a brand’s reputation when investing in your gear. Andm whether you’re brewing with Blichmann or not: Take pride in being a good steward to your brewery.