As homebrewers we both know that having clean and sanitized brewing equipment is vital, but when do we sanitize and when do we not?
It’s unnecessary to sanitize a brew kettle before using it to brew beer as the boiling wort will kill any bacteria present within it. Bacteria that adversely affect beer will be neutralized above 160°F. A rolling boil occurs at 212°F. However, the brew kettle should be completely cleaned before use.
Although it sounds fairly cut and dry, there are still a couple of things you should be aware of when it comes to your brew kettle and its sanitation.
I’ve gone through everything you need to know in the following article.
Why do we clean and sanitize equipment?
When I first got into brewing beer at home, I often wondered why we had to do both and it’s a fair question.
The aim of cleaning your equipment is to remove dirt, grease and the organic material used in brewing, hops, malt grains, etc.
If you didn’t do this then these build ups of material can easily get into your next batch with some unwanted knock-on effects.
However, even if the surface of your brewing equipment is 100% clean of any additional material, it doesn’t mean there isn’t something nasty clinging to it which will ruin your beer.
Whereas cleaning attacks the accumulated muck on your brewing equipment and removes it, sanitizing targets micro-organisms which will still be present on your kit even after cleaning it.
With sanitizing you are neutralizing any bacteria which will try to compete with the only micro-organism we actually want in our wort and beer, yeast. Bacteria can lead to some nasty off-flavors, such as a vinegar taste in beer (see my article for more information).
So, the reason why you don’t need to use a sanitizing solution on your brew kettle after you have thoroughly cleaned it is due to the boil itself.
How long to sanitize at the boil?
For almost all of the batches of beer, you’ll ever make you will be boiling your wort for around 60 minutes. During this time everything in contact with the wort and indeed anything in it will be killed off and neutralized.
Even if the top of your brew kettle isn’t in direct contact with the liquid, as metal is an excellent conductor of heat it will still be hot enough to kill off nasty bacteria.
There are several strains of bacteria which will negatively affect your finished beer namely Lactic acid, Acetic acid, Enterobacteriaceae, Zymomonas, Pectinatus spp and Megasphaera spp. All these forms of bacteria can be eliminated if subjected to heat above 160°F (71°C) for a number of minutes, which a normal boil will easily achieve.
Will cooling the wort bring back the bacteria?
Of course, we are talking about the beneficial effect of working with boiling hot wort during the boiling phase, but happens after we turn the heat off?
Most brewers choose to cool their wort down as rapidly as possible on brew day. Other go for the no-chill method and actually leave their wort to cool overnight (see my full article here). Does that mean your brew kettle is no longer sanitized?
No, it doesn’t mean that the bacteria will magically reappear the moment your brew kettle and wort fall below 160°F (71°C). However, if you leave your wort below this temperature for a number of hours or days, then yes those types of bacteria could come back.
So make sure you move quickly when cooling your wort and get it into a sanitized fermenting vessel and pitched with yeast asap!
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Do I need to sanitize my wort chiller?
Depending on the type of wort chiller you have you may or may not need to sanitize it before use. I’ve gone into a lot of detail about when to sanitize and when not to worry about it in my article about sanitizing wort chillers.
Brew kettle parts you still need to sanitize?
I’ve seen people ask about whether or not they need to sanitize the ball valve on brew kettle which come with a faucet. It’s an excellent question.
If you are cooling your wort in the brew kettle, as many homebrewers do, then your ball valve isn’t going to come in contact with the wort until it is around pitching temperature 65-70°F/ 18-21 °C. This is right in the danger zone for picking up a bacterial infection.
However, provided that you have cleaned your ball valve thoroughly before using the brew kettle, it should have been sanitized by the same heat which the rest of the brew kettle experienced during the boil.
If you want to really be 100% certain nothing is getting into your fermenter, you can wipe the external part down with a no-rinse sanitizer after it’s cooled and before you rack your wort.
Do you need to sanitize brand-new brew kettles?
If you’ve just picked up a brand-new brew kettle from your local brew shop or online, you definitely do not want to brew in it straight away.
The issue isn’t so much whether it is sanitized, but rather if it is clean. New metal pots could have been recently manufactured and have machine oil on them, or worse.
So before you use that brew kettle for brewing, give it a good clean and even boil up some water in it to test whether or not the water tastes funny. Once it comes out nice and clean, you can then use that brew kettle for your next batch.
Should you use bleach to sanitize brew kettles?
Although bleach can be a great alternative to more specialist no-rinse brewing sanitizers (see my article on alternatives here) for some piece of brewing kit, it’s not great for metals, especially stainless steel.
Bleach, especially if used in tandem with an abrasive cloth or brush can leave stains and even damage the surface of the steel. Even sprays with bleach as their base ingredient should be avoided when cleaning your brew kettle.
As I said before, really all you need to do is to clean your brew kettle well and then boil water in it before adding your brewing ingredients and it will be sanitized!
Best techniques for cleaning
As we’ve mentioned before, the first step to a nicely sanitized brew kettle is a nice clean brew kettle.
The easiest way to clean a brew kettle is right after you’ve used it! Once you’ve racked your wort and pitched it (depending on the approach you take), start cleaning that brew kettle.
Personally, due to my home brewIng set up, I take the brew kettle to the bathroom and dump the trub down the toilet before giving the pot a good rinse in the shower.
Once I’ve removed all the loose bits of hops and what have you, I fill the brew kettle up with PWB ( or a good oxygen-based cleaner) and let it soak for 15-30 minutes.
Next, you want to give the pot a good scrub all over with a light non-abrasive cloth. If you have got some hard ‘baked on’ areas of debris you can use a green scrubby, but very carefully so as not to damage or scratch the metal.
When you have cleaned the inside of the pot, make sure you clean the ball valve too. If you have a small bottle cleaner you can push it through the faucet and make sure nothing is left in the tube.
Make sure to give everything a good couple of rinses to remove any cleaning residue, then leave it all to air dry.
Recommended brew kettles
If you are looking for a brew kettle, then just ask at your local brew shop and they will steer you in the right direction. As far as size goes, have a look at my full article on this for more detail : Guide: How Big A Pot Is Needed For Your First Homebrew Day?
GasOne (10 Gallon Stainless Steel)
CONCORD (10 Gallon Stainless Steel)
This is a great brew kettle for homebrewers too and if you can’t pick one up locally, you can get it on Amazon too.
Mophorn Kettle (25 Gallon Stainless Steel)
Another good option if you plan to brew more than a conventional 5-gallon batch, see the current price and availability on Amazon.