Is that keg clean or dirty? Do I have any Irish moss on hand? Your home brewery likely includes an array of equipment, ingredients and cleaning supplies. Keeping the whole thing organized might seem like a daunting task, but investing a little time and energy just once per year can save you a lot of time and energy at a later date. So, set aside some time, roll up your sleeves and get ready give your home brewery a checkup. You’ll thank yourself later . . . most likely with a refreshing beer brewed in your tidily-organized brewery!
As a homebrewer, you already know the importance of regularly cleaning your equipment. But, did you know that deposits can build up over time, even if you keep your equipment clean? These deposits are collectively known as beerstone (calcium oxalate), which is often not visible to the naked eye. Beerstone can build up inside your kettle or fermenter — anywhere that has been in sustained contact with wort or beer. Furthermore, standard cleansers can’t put a dent in this stubborn, scaly build-up. But don’t fear! Beerstone can be whisked away by using acid-based cleansers, such as Foaming Acid Cleaner by Spartan Chemicals. You can also check out your local homebrew supply store for an effective beerstone cleaning solution.
Even if you do know the importance of keeping your brewery clean, let’s face it, we all get a bit lazy sometimes. Maybe an emptied keg is set aside to be cleaned later. And hey, when was the last time you cleaned your tap lines? Set aside items are easy to forget when doing your routine cleaning, yet bacteria and wild yeast can build up in them. All of these items — kegs, carboys, jugs for yeast starters or whatever you’ve put off until “later” — can be rounded up and cleaned in one time-saving mass cleaning. A mass cleaning is simply cleaning many pieces of your equipment at once. Doing so saves time, not to mention cleaning solution.
One way to do an economical mass cleaning is to brew a batch of beer, then direct the hot waste water from your wort chiller into a picnic cooler. Add a cleaning agent — such as PBW, TSP, B-Brite or any good brewery cleaner — and submerge any items to be cleaned into the hot solution. Then, scrub away. A quick soak in hot cleaning solution will make any soil easy to remove and, with a little elbow grease, everything in your brewery can soon be cleaned to a bright shine.
You can clean your fleet of kegs this way — in fact, a Corny keg can be fully submerged in a typical 100-quart picnic cooler — but there is an even easier method to clean multiple kegs. To start, fill one Corny keg with hot cleaning solution. Next, push the solution from keg to keg with CO2 pressure using a “jumper cable.” Before you head out to your garage, note that a jumper cable in homebrewing is merely beverage tubing with “beer out” connectors on each end. Let each keg sit for 5–15 minutes with the cleaning solution inside. When you’re ready to clean the next keg, set the CO2 regulator to about 3 PSI and push the liquid into the empty kegs — up the long dip tube of one keg and down the long dip tube of the next — cleaning them in the meantime! The temperature will drop as you clean more and more kegs, but the solution should be effective down to at least 100 °F (37 °C).
Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow
As painful as it may be, there comes a time when you should part with items that may have become worn down or “gunked up” over the years. Perform a basic risk assessment on each item in your brewery and weigh the cost of replacing an item against the probability that it will fail. The bottom line is, if an inexpensive piece of equipment is worn out, and will likely fail and ruin a batch of your homebrew in the near future, you should replace that item.
Every brewer has his own level of acceptable risk, but few would risk their beers to scratched up buckets or yucky old tubing if they sat and thought about it. There are many little pieces of equipment or tools you should look at each year. These include your tubing (is it dirty or brittle?), buckets (do they have any smelly stains or cracks?), carboy brushes, bottle brushes, sponges and scrubbies (are they moldy or worn?), cartridges for water filters, stoppers and fermentation locks. For test strips and solutions (such as pH standards), check the expiration dates and think about how they’ve been stored. Unopened packages stored at the proper temperature and humidity levels may still be usable. Conversely, if any solution has changed color or thrown a precipitate, this may be a sign that it’s no good anymore.
If you are a packrat and cannot bear to throw things away, make sure you clearly separate the old items from the new. This will ensure you don’t waste time on brewday trying to figure out which is which. You don’t want to accidentally use old tubing or carboy brushes after you just bought the new stuff!
Not everyone lives right around the corner from a homebrew shop. If it’s a bit of a drive, keeping your home brewery stocked with standard items — gypsum, Irish moss, bottle caps, etc. — will save you the potential frustration of a cancelled brewing (or bottling) day later.
Stocking up on supplies has an array of benefits. First, you don’t have to buy a variety of miscellaneous items every time you make a trip to your homebrew store. Second, many supplies or ingredients are cheaper in bulk — and who doesn’t want to save a little money? Third, if the trip to the local shop is a long one, you’ll have fewer to make during the year. Finally, you won’t keep buying Irish moss every time you visit your homebrew store because you can’t remember how much you have left. You’ll know you have plenty!
Stocking up does have a few drawbacks, though. First and foremost is the upfront cost. You’ll need to shell out a few bucks up front, but remember that you should theoretically be spending less cash later in the year. Secondly, if your planning turns out to be more ambitious than your schedule allows, you may have stocked up on some items that go unused. Deciding whether to stock up on “the usual suspects” is much easier if you have a predictable brewing schedule.
So, let’s say you’ve decided to stock up. When you go to your local homebrew store, you’ll want to pick up these commonly used items: Irish moss or whirlfloc, water salts, Campden tablets, bottle caps . . . but what about ingredients? When thinking about stocking up ingredients, you should keep in mind a few rules of thumb. The key to stocking up effectively is determining what ingredients you will use over the next year and what their shelf life is. Stored properly — in your freezer in an oxygen-barrier pack — a supply of hops will easily last an entire year. Malted grains will stay fresh for up to a year if stored in a cool, dry place. (Crushed grains, however, will go stale in a matter of weeks.) For extract brewers, liquid malt extract will stay fresh for about three months. Dried malt extract will keep for about eight months, if kept sealed away from moisture.
Lastly, liquid yeast has a relatively short window of freshness. Make sure to check the expiration dates on the packages when purchasing your yeast. Fresh liquid yeast has a shelf life, if refrigerated, of about four months. Dried yeast stores significantly longer — a refrigerated, unopened pack can last a year or two.
You should label all your ingredients with the date purchased. Use a marker to ink the date right on the package, unless the ink can flow through and contact the ingredient. If so, purchase a cheap pad of labels at your local office store. By doing so, you’ll never have to wonder how old something is. In fact, you can use up the ingredients in the order of the expiration dates to reduce waste. With a few minutes of labeling after each trip to the homebrew store, you can be confident your ingredients are fresh, and will not ruin a batch of your brew.
You can add other activities to your yearly brewery checkup, if you’d like. For example, you may want to plan your brewing schedule, which will also help you determine what ingredients to stock up on. By simply mapping out when you’ll have time and when you want certain beers to be ready — for example, stout for St. Patrick’s day, Octoberfest in October or your special sure-to-be-award-winning porter for your club’s homebrew contest — you can lay out a tentative brewing plan for the year. In any case, now that you’ve given your equipment a good cleaning, replaced your worn-out items and stocked up on ingredients, you’ve got nothing left to do — nothing, that is except to start brewing.
Kristin Grant wrote “Cookie in a Glass,” about using oatmeal in brewing, in the March-April 2007 issue.