Monday, March 4, 2013

Cleanliness is next to deliciousness when home-brewing

Posted By on Mon, Mar 4, 2013 at 10:00 AM

I've been home-brewing for three years. It's a pretty great hobby. Unfortunately, like every good hobby, brewing has one annoying part. Wood-working has splinters, scale-model trains has being a virgin and being a Panthers fan has watching the Panthers inevitably implode. For brewing, it's cleaning.

Everything has to be clean. In housekeeping terms, that's not just "I have company coming over so I have to sweep up" sort of clean. No, it has to be "About to have your parents over so you can ask them to take out a loan to get you startup money for a business" kind of clean.

Cleaning is not what I had in mind when I signed up for brewing. I had an image of the brewers from the Sam Adams commercials: Growing a beard, wearing coveralls that showed off my beard, and cooking and sampling beers that tell others how much I love my bearded lifestyle. Finding out about the cleaning bit was like the moment when most people find out that being an astronaut involves tons of math and being a fireman involves doing ab crunches all the time so you can pose for calendars.

Cleaning has a purpose. The fun parts of beer happen in the fermentation over a few weeks. If you don't clean things right away, you're going to end up with something that smells less like a fantastic beer and more like unwashed hobo. If you're not aware, there are very few hobo-flavored beers (except for the delicious Bindle Bräu, which is made with only the finest of hobos).

Cleaning includes cleaning and sanitizing. Cleaning is where you get any visible "stuff" (dried beer, culture growths, etc.) off of your gear. Sanitizing is where you get to pretend you're obsessive-compulsive for a while and worry about the invisible (but very real) germs and how to get rid of them. You have options like cleaning liquids, powdered cleaners and holy water. Actually, holy water is probably dirty, what with all of the people sticking their hands in it. Don't use holy water.

The process: Mix some sugar with boiling water, which makes the beer become carbonated in the bottle. Yes, you are sanitizing the sugar with fire. The dirty, dirty sugar. Take the bucket where your beer has been fermenting, siphon out the beer into a second bucket (with a spigot ... bespigotted?) that you've cleaned and sanitized (and poured the sugar water in). It keeps you from ingesting the fermentation leftovers (optimistically described as unpleasantly colored sludge) when you drink your beer. Open the spigot and pour the beer into some cleaned and sanitized bottles. Then you cap it and, like a good first date, leave it alone for about a week.

In fairness, I should point out that I'm not entirely sure how dating works, but I've got this beer thing figured out.


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