Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Beating the Bottle Bugs

One thing that came of my debacle was a reevaluation of my cleaning and sanitizing procedures. I got a fairly large forum discussion going back and forth over on Tasty Brew. What has seemed to come of it is that my cleaning and sanitizing is fairly tight, but every-so-often I miss a few bottles. This problem could be stemming from micro scratches inside the bottles that are harboring the bacteria that ravage my beer post packaging. I could always throw these bottles away when I end up with a gusher or two. Another option allows me to tighten up my process to have the best beer packaging available.
Cleaning: I told the guys at the LHBS that I wash with Sun Oxygen Cleaner and they stated that this was bad. They told me that it had detergents in it that would coat the walls of my equipment and bottles, that it was difficult to wash off, and that it would de-activate StarSan. I started the forum thread and did some reading and snooping. According to John Palmer, a very good cleaner for your brewery is a Sodium Percarbonate cleaner like PBW and One-Step. Turns out that the Sun Oxygen Cleaner that I use is simply Sodium Percarbonate, just like the expensive stuff they were trying to sell me. According to the forum thread, I wasn't rinsing them well enough, and the Sun MSDS sheet does state that the Sun Oxygen Cleaner doesn't work correctly with acids. To properly rinse the cleaner from the bottles (or any equipment) it should get a good 3-5 rinses with hot water. I would fill the sink with warm-hot water and submerge the bottle once, drain, then sanitize. I wasn't rinsing the first bottles thoroughly, and then I was diluting the rinse water each time as well. To rectify this issue I am going to purchase a jet type bottle washer that attaches to the sink. You turn on the hot water, turn the bottle over, press it down over the nozzle, and it sprays the hot water all over the inside. Repeat a few times and then sanitize. Another cool thing about a hot water Oxy soak is that it removes labels easily, and typically breaks up any gunk inside the bottles (still give it a good scrub with a bottle brush to be sure).

Sanitizing: This is where you take the previously cleaned (all debris, gunk, etc, removed) bottles and kill off most (if not all) of the bacteria and wild yeast that might be in/on them. Options for effectively sanitizing the bottles include baking, boiling, and steaming them. Baking will effectively sterilize the bottles killing any and everything in them. It will also degrade the stability of the glass which may lead to bottle bombs, or broken necks in the future. Boiling is very effective, yet how do you fit ~ 60 bottles into a pot of water? And even if you can get them in, how do you avoid the current of the boil crashing the bottles into the wall or each other? The third option is using the dishwasher. In this method, you remove all dishes from the dishwasher and give it a good cleaning inside (wipe down the walls, make sure there are no food particles on the bottom). Some may want to open up the insides and give it a through cleaning (be prepared, I hear this is putridly disgusting). Once it is clean, fill it with bottles, and run it with out any detergents and have it set to high heat and heated dry/sanitize cycle. Once this is done, your bottles are clean, sanitary, and on a sanitized shelf for bottling. If you bottle from the dishwasher (as I do) then any beer that spills on the opened door is just dumped into the dishwasher once you are done, and goes down the drain. Of course with as anal as I am now with everything that has happened, I will most likely take these bottles and hit them with StarSan, then place them back into the dishwasher to double sanitize.

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