Why the obsession with sterilizing?

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Harry Bloomfield

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There is something which is puzzling me...

In the dim and distant past, before water treatment, often water was unfit/unsafe to drink, so beer was drunk instead. As I understood it, the brewing process made the water fit and safe to drink - or have I got that wrong?

As a youth, I remember working on nothing more than a plank (No H&S then), installing equipment directly over the vast open vats of fermenting beer and being concerned about all the dirt, plaster and debris being disturbed falling into the fermenting beer. This in an old brewery - I was told not to worry about it.

Now we are very careful about what water we use and making sure all the equipment is sterile before use.
 

dad_of_jon

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The main aim is too avoid 'infecting' a brew which can make the beer taste different to intended. The boil kills stuff off but the beer is still vunerable after the boil and its cooled. essentially pre-boil don't worry too much, post boil be more careful.
 

HarryFlatters

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We sanitise so that we're not wasting our time. What's the point spending hours on something to have it spoiled by not spending 5 minutes splashing StarSan around your fermenting bucket?
 

strange-steve

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In times past yes, beer was safer because the water is boiled during the brewing process, plus the combo of alcohol and low pH prevent the growth of pathogens. Nowadays we don't sanitise for safety reasons but, as mentioned above, for quality purposes. We want control over what microorganisms are going into the brew so that it will taste how we want it to. Water treatment is a different issue, but again its purpose is to make the water suitable for brewing for flavour reasons, nothing to do with sanitisation.
 

foxy

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There is something which is puzzling me...

In the dim and distant past, before water treatment, often water was unfit/unsafe to drink, so beer was drunk instead. As I understood it, the brewing process made the water fit and safe to drink - or have I got that wrong?

As a youth, I remember working on nothing more than a plank (No H&S then), installing equipment directly over the vast open vats of fermenting beer and being concerned about all the dirt, plaster and debris being disturbed falling into the fermenting beer. This in an old brewery - I was told not to worry about it.

Now we are very careful about what water we use and making sure all the equipment is sterile before use.
As has been suggested the low pH and the fact that the beer is fermenting would make it difficult for any other bacteria to start causing trouble, going around the Balkans and Czech Republic last year all the brew pubs I went in had open fermenters doesn't seem to worry them.
 

F00b4r

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Sanitising and sterilising are two different things and should not be used interchangeably, brewers usually sanitise rather than sterilise.
Think of brewing as an arms race between yeast and other organisms, sanitising equipment and then pitching enough yeast allows the yeast to out compete any other organisms to take over the wort and turn it into beer, by doing so it produces alcohol and lowers the pH to kill anything else off. Commercial breweries pitch at much higher rates than home brewers so there is even less chance of other organisms taking hold.

When culturing up from bottles etc you would want to sterilise because sanitising would potentially allow any other organisms to put complete the yeast because of the low yeast cell count.
 

kelper

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I looked in a few dictionaries to see whether there is a difference in the two meanings.

Sanitary comes from the Latin sanitas meaning health. To sanitise means to make healthy. Generally sanitising will remove bacteria but not spores.

Sterilising comes from the Latin sterilis meaning barren, unproductive. Now taken to mean free of micro-organisms.

Many choose to use these terms in a more specific way. I think you could say that sterilising is a form of sanitising.
 
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chthon

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In the dim and distant past, before water treatment, often water was unfit/unsafe to drink, so beer was drunk instead. As I understood it, the brewing process made the water fit and safe to drink - or have I got that wrong?
In the dim and distant past, beer spoiled much faster, and complete batches were sometimes spoilt.
That is one of the reasons the residents of Plzen actually wanted a new and better brewery, and that is even in the not so distant past.
 

Tony C

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If I have spent a lot of time or money I use sterilising solutions, as I don't want it to go to waste. But if all I have done is pulped a load of apples for a quick cider, all I tend to do is rinse with boiling water and crack on. Hardly had a spoiled batch in 37 years of brewing at home.

Cheers TC
 

chthon

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"Hardly"

Does that mean that you once (or more) times had a spoiled batch, or that you never had a spoiled batch?
 

GerritT

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There is something which is puzzling me...

In the dim and distant past, before water treatment, often water was unfit/unsafe to drink, so beer was drunk instead. As I understood it, the brewing process made the water fit and safe to drink - or have I got that wrong?

As a youth, I remember working on nothing more than a plank (No H&S then), installing equipment directly over the vast open vats of fermenting beer and being concerned about all the dirt, plaster and debris being disturbed falling into the fermenting beer. This in an old brewery - I was told not to worry about it.

Now we are very careful about what water we use and making sure all the equipment is sterile before use.
Not quite. People knew what good water was and built their settlements around it. Only later, when men lost touch with nature, did they let water dirtify so it had to be boiled again.

But you're right: a lot of the time we get away with unsanitary actions. Yay.
 

chthon

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So, that means that you made at a minimum, appr. 40 batches (probably more), and that 1 in 4 batches was spoiled. Even if you made 120 batches, that means 1 in 12 batches was spoilt. Now, expand these figures to a brewery. If they brew 12 times a year, that means that at least once a year a batch will be spoilt, but if they brew 48 times a year, that means that every season there will be a spoilt batch.

I have only brewed for four years, but I keep things clean and sanitized. I have a fairly fast output of small batches, and I haven't had a spoiled batch yet, in about 50 brews.

I am not obsessed about sanitizing, but keeping things clean and using a bit of sanitizer helps keeping the worries at bay. I am not prepared to work less clean in an attempt to experiment to find out how much less sanitation will still work.
 

GerritT

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Had 1 contaminated batch: 4 liters of cocoa vanilla porter. The secondary additions were not sanitised (I was young! forgive me, your honour!) and it was nice, but it had that bit of sour in the back that gave it away.

Must do it again sometimes, after my kveik xperiments.
 

Grealish

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As has been suggested the low pH and the fact that the beer is fermenting would make it difficult for any other bacteria to start causing trouble, going around the Balkans and Czech Republic last year all the brew pubs I went in had open fermenters doesn't seem to worry them.
I think that's very wise. There was recently a discussion about the need for rigorous implementation of standards in how we brew and this comment was made 'I was under the impression that 300 years ago the beer would have been pretty awful but there were 47,550 publican brewers and 780 common brewers. So with all that competition the beer couldn't have been all that bad. Could it.' I think it is very easy to concentrate on the minutiae of brewing practice and forget its peasant, utilitarian background.

Although, just to be clear, I am massively anal about sanitation despite having got away with several pretty basic errors. I have had only one infection problem, which was a single bottle, so I presume I got that bottle badly wrong. However, it was so awful that I spat it out and felt physically ill, so had the problem been the fermenter rather than the bottle I would have lost a whole batch. As has been said, for the sake of five minutes with Starsan or whatever, you might as well sanitise. I suspect some of those old beers were great and some were just about drinkable but, as you day, better than cholera.
 

foxy

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I think on the whole most home brewers are mindful of good sanitation, but when the yeast starts to do its thing the yeast takes care of itself. I doubt much else could live in the brewing yeasts environment when its at work, low pH, co2, ethanol.
 

dwhite60

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I think you can take it too far.
Saw a post on another forum today where the person said they hit their sugar cubes for priming with a spray of StarSan before dropping them in the bottle.

All the Best,
D. White
 

Rodcx500z

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I don't go overboard but I keep things clean, fv empty a good wash same with pb's on the day and bottles, the thing I am ocd about is taps siphons bottleing wands airlocks all the small stuff and touch wood (my head lol) I have yet to have a bad beer acheers.
 

Tony C

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So, that means that you made at a minimum, appr. 40 batches (probably more), and that 1 in 4 batches was spoiled. Even if you made 120 batches, that means 1 in 12 batches was spoilt. Now, expand these figures to a brewery. If they brew 12 times a year, that means that at least once a year a batch will be spoilt, but if they brew 48 times a year, that means that every season there will be a spoilt batch.

I have only brewed for four years, but I keep things clean and sanitized. I have a fairly fast output of small batches, and I haven't had a spoiled batch yet, in about 50 brews.

I am not obsessed about sanitizing, but keeping things clean and using a bit of sanitizer helps keeping the worries at bay. I am not prepared to work less clean in an attempt to experiment to find out how much less sanitation will still work.
First off, I am not condoning anyone else avoid sanitation, I am saying you take your own risks in life. A commercial brewery would be stupid to risk a full batch. Each 5 gallon batch costs me less than £4, so if one goes bad now and again, so be it, I won't go bankrupt.
Secondly, your sums seem a little off, maybe you brew 1 batch a year(10/40 or one in 4). Brewing for 37 years, I do a bit more than that.
For the last 20 years approx, I have made 2, 5 gallon batches per month. That is 480 batches, minimum and ten spoiled out of them is 1 in 48, never mind the other 17 years, or the fact some months I have the two 5 gallon fermenter running more than once.
Like I say, each to their own, but someone expressing a different opinion to yours, doesn't necessarily make them wrong. Free and open exchange of ideas and all that.

Cheers TC
 
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