Sanitizing for brewing made easy — and less annoying

Posted March 15, 2011, at 3:42 p.m.
Last modified March 15, 2011, at 7:35 p.m.

It has been a couple of busy weeks of brewing since my last column. The Belgian beer from Central Street Farmhouse, Bangor-to-Brussels Stout, has been bottled with the help of a handy little contraption that saves a stunning amount of time during the bottling process — an Avvinatore bottle rinser.

It’s a simple device, but the amount of time it saves is amazing. Place a bottle over the nozzle and press down a couple of times to coat the inside with a sanitizing solution. It was recommended that I try Five Star Star San, an acid-based, no-rinse sanitizer.

The Star San bottle has many warnings on its label — keep off skin and clothes, call Poison Control or a doctor if swallowed, don’t inhale — so it was difficult for me to wrap my mind around spraying it into a bottle and then not rinsing it. However, I’ve been assured repeatedly by far more experienced brewers than myself that it’s safe. Star San is used heavily by home-brewers, most of whom are still alive to talk about it.

The reason for all the warnings is that “it is listed as a sanitizer and bactericide by the FDA and EPA, the container must list disposal warnings that are suitable for pesticides,” according to John Palmer’s www.howtobrew.com.

Really, the substance is far less harmful than the label makes it sound. Still, I wouldn’t feel comfortable drinking it straight. Heavy dilution (about a quarter -ounce of Star San is mixed with a gallon of water to make the solution) means whatever risks it might carry in its full concentration are flushed away.

Most importantly, no-rinse sanitizer saves a ton of time and won’t alter the flavor of the beer. The Star San solution also can be put in a spray bottle, which makes sanitizing thermometers, hydrometers, siphons and other equipment quick and easy. Sloshing it around in your fermentation buckets before using them also makes the brewing process feel a lot less like doing dishes.

After buying the $20 bottle rinser and an $11 bottle of Star San, which should last through dozens of brews, all I had to do was fill the rinser with solution, give the bottle a couple sprays and let it drain. In my first bottling (the Broadway Brown Ale), I had to soak the bottles in a sink filled with a sanitizer, then rinse out each bottle by filling them one by one from the faucet, swishing the water around and dumping it out. Repeat that process 50 times in an afternoon and see how much fun you have.

The Belgian stout should be carbonated and ready to transfer from bottle to belly by next weekend.

In other news, I’ve taken my next big leap as a home-brewer by stepping away from beer kits and step-by-step instructions. Many of my friends and family members don’t enjoy my “types” of beer — dark and full of hoppy goodness. I decided to brew something a bit lighter and fruitier, not only for the enjoyment of those who don’t share my taste in beer, but also to expand my own brewing experience.

I picked up ingredients last weekend for a light, pomegranate-raspberry beer to help me usher in the spring. I’ve never been one to choose a fruity beer over a stout or porter, but raspberry-pomegranate sounds delicious, so why not?

The ingredients for this batch are similar to those of previous brews, but there are two new additions: raspberry extract and pomegranate. Well, I thought it would be pomegranate. Turns out, that particular fruit is out of season. Not just “We’re out for the moment, but should get a shipment in a few days” out of season, but “Good luck finding a pomegranate anywhere in Maine at this time of year” out of season. After calling multiple grocery stores and natural food stores, I gave up and tracked down a natural, preservative-free pomegranate concentrate for $9.99. Note: If you’re going to brew a beer with fruit that’s out of season, expect to look around a lot and pay a bit more.

I didn’t have any written instructions for this brew, and went solely on what I’ve read online from other home-brewers and what advice I’ve been given by the expert brewers at brewing supply stores in the area.

Next time, I’ll give a rundown of how the brewing process went. A preview: I took the brewing outdoors and used a snowbank to my advantage.

Here’s hoping this wing-and-a-prayer spring brew won’t leave me out in the cold.

Bring it on. Brew on.

Hopeful Hopster contest time

When The Hopeful Hopster finishes his first nonkit beer, it will be without a name. So, I’m leaving it up to readers to help me determine what I’ll call my pomegranate-raspberry beer. I brewed it in my driveway on March 13, a surprisingly warm day, and I’ll highlight the process and details about the beer in my next column.

Post suggestions for names for the brew on The Hopeful Hopster Facebook page, or send suggestions to me at nmccrea@bangordailynews.com.

Deadline for submissions will be April 1, around the time I’ll be bottling the beer.

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