Meeting Notes - Cleaning

PBWIn the March 7th, 2010 meeting we talked about cleaning. It has been said that a brewer is a janitor that knows how to cook. Once you really get into brewing you realize just how true that statement is. Cleaning and sanitizing are the number one and number two items to do well to brew great beer.
When you start cleaning, you have two goals in mind. You want to remove any organic soils in your brewing equipment and you want to remove mineral buildup. The deposits from hops, malt, proteins, oils and hardwater can provide a place for bacteria, yeast and mold to hide and grow. Poor cleaning is the number one cause of beer infections or off-flavors.
The only way to remove this crud from your equipment is mechanical action.  You have to scrub or flush the soil from your equipment. Direct scrubbing alone would be enough to clean your equipment, but you would be there a long time.  Adding some dish soap to your cleaning water is going to help break through all of the organic soils (trub, hop residue, etc.). The problem that you have with dish soap is that it doesn't help clean off the mineral buildup on your equipment. This is were a brewing specific caustic cleaner comes in.
A cleaner like Five Star Chemicals PBW (Powdered Brewery Wash) contains surfactants and alkalyis that cut through the soil and the mineral buildup. PBW can cut down on the amount of scrubbing and pressure washing that you need to do.  The chemicals do need to be handled with some care, but they are very easy to use. Soaking a carboy with PBW and the gunk just rinses off. It sure beats trying to clean everything out with a carboy brush.
A pound of PBW might cost around $6 or $7, but you will only need an ounce or two at a time. When you consider the time and effort you put into brewing along with the cost of your ingredients, isn't your beer worth the dollar or two for proper cleaning and sanitizing?
Another tip is to clean as soon as you are finished with an item.  If the crud hasn't had a chance to dry on, it is easier to get off. Malt extract seems to dry to a lacquer hard residue within a day or two. Like your Kindergarden teacher always said. "Clean up after yourself and put your toys away when you are finished."
Our next meeting we will move into the other side of this coin and talk about sanitizing.