If you ask anyone what the most important part of home brewing is and they will tell you that it is the first step; sterilization. Everything that comes in contact with your brew must be sterilized and rinsed well. If you don't have a good procedure for this, all your time, effort, hard work and anticipation will go down the drain with your brew (which is exactly where your brew will end up. Don't kid yourself). Let me assure you, I know a lot of people who used to do a half assed job of sterilizing their equipment and regretted it in the end. It only takes once to have to throw every bottle down the drain to sober you up to the fact that you have to be more careful.
As I said above, sterilization is the first step in brewing your own beer, wine or liquor. Everything has to be cleaned; your bucket, carboy, hoses, paddle, bung, air lock, bottles... everything. A common practice that works well is to sterilize once and rinse three times.
Once everything is sterilized it is very important to rinse your equipment well. If not your brew can have an off smell or taste, you can have trouble with stuck fermentation or your beer may not carbonate.
There are two main sterilizing agents available to the home brewer. Sodium or Potassium metabisulfite (the white stuff) or sometimes it is just called sulfite and Diversol (the pink stuff) also called some type of pink chlorinated detergent. I find that Diversol is best for beer while sulfite is best for wine and liquor.
Diversol is a chlorine based cleaner. Like all chlorine based cleaners, it has to be in contact with the surface being cleaned for a short amount of time for it to be effective. The dilution rate is one ounce (roughly one heaping tea spoon) per gallon of water will suffice. It is not reusable! If you're cleaning your bucket you must dump out the solution when you're finished and make more to clean something else. Diversol has almost no smell and gives the water a slight pink hue.
Sodium Metabisulfite, unlike Diversol sterilizes almost on contact. As long as the solution comes in contact with all surfaces you'll be fine. The dilution rate is 50g per 4L of water. Sulfite has a very overpowering odor. It is reusable. If it's kept in a closed container it can be reused for months on end without having to pick up any more. Over time the odor starts to diminish. When there is only a faint odor it is time to throw it out and make a new solution. If using Sulfite for brewing beer be very careful to rinse your equipment well. If you fail to do this when you begin your beer may not ferment out. If you fail to do this to your bottles your beer will not carbonate! Sulfite is a very powerful sterilizer. It not only kills all the germs and bacteria on your equipment but if not rinsed well it will also kill the yeast in your brew. This is why you will be faced with stuck fermentation and flat beer in your bottles.
Be careful what type of Sulfite you get. As I have already said there are two types. Sodium Metabisulfite and Potassium Metabisulfite. Sodium metabisulfite is the more commonly available at most home brew shops but occasionally Potassium Metabisulfite is also available. Make sure you are aware which one you have! Each one is equally as good but Potassium Metabisulfite is twice as strong! Instead to diluting 50g in in 4L of water you must dilute either 25g in 4L or 50g in 8L of water.
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Site last updated 08/10/99