My One Step Addiction: Cleaning, Sanitizing(?), and Brewing

I’m addicted to a fine white powder.  I couldn’t imagine my life without it.  It’s expensive, but I just can’t stop buying it.  The dealers see me coming from a mile away, because they know that whatever other chemical concoctions they have, I’m not interested: just give me that pure, uncut, beautiful oxygen based cleaning product.

 BREWING IS CLEANING

Brewing is cleaning.  It isn’t glamorous, or fun, or easy, but it’s essential to making good beer.  I’ve heard it said that “of the top five things that can go wrong with your beer, six of them have to do with cleaning and sanitation.”  And here at Beer Simple there’s only one product that satisfies the “Keep it Simple” mentality: One Step No Rinse Cleaner, an oxygen-based cleaning product.    

While there are undoubtedly some of you that are already shaking your heads and raising objections, it’s been my experience that not only is this a superior product in many ways, but that most brewers I know are basing their cleaning/sanitizing decisions on just one thing: habit.  They’ve always used what they use.  Hell, in researching this post I ran across a discussion in a forum where someone asked, “what’s wrong with bleach?”  Well, nothing, I guess, but if you want to perpetually run the risk of making your beer taste horrible and/or kill yourself, then go for it.  Show me a brewer using bleach in their process, and I’ll show you someone who started homebrewing when Ronald Reagan was in the White House.

This is important, and it almost seems like an afterthought when I hear people talking to new brewers.  Sure, they mention cleaning/sanitizing, but it isn’t a sexy topic.  I can’t even believe I’m writing this – hell, I’m bored already.  But there’s nothing – NOTHING – more important in your process than this, and so, for that reason, and since I’m snowed in (no pun intended) anyway, I’m going to devote this week’s post to talking about something that is, arguably, the dullest part of brewing. 

I’M NOT DUMB – I’M JUST CONDITIONED

Most of you know, of course, that I’m making a major mistake already: I’m equating “cleaning” and “sanitizing,” which are two separate things.  This isn’t because I’m an idiot (well, in fairness, it isn’t ONLY because I’m an idiot, since it’s certainly possible that I am), it’s because I’ve never had to treat them as two different things.  Right from the start I was a One Step Addict.  I’m going to treat them as the same thing for a little while, so bear with me if you’re already screaming at the screen.

My very first trip to a homebrew shop was to Keystone Homebrew Supply, which at the time was located in a tiny house, packed to the rafters with brewing equipment – not the gargantuan, never-ending, Narnia-is-back-there-somewhere series of bays and warehouses that now houses KHS. [Seriously, though – go visit.  It’s like Disney World for homebrewers and home winemakers]    On that day, when I asked what kind of cleaner to get, someone handed me a five-pound tub of One Step, and the rest is history.  I asked how to use it – and I was told to mix it, 1 gallon to 1 tablespoon, in warm water. 

“Then what?,” says I.

“Nothing.  Just let it sit.”

“But don’t I have to scrub or something?”

“No.  Just let it sit.”

“But won’t I –“

“No.  Shut up.  Just use it.”

In retrospect, that guy was pretty surly.  But he was right. 

For those who’ve never used it, One Step is pretty remarkable.  When using it during the brewing process, it’s no different than any other cleaner: mix it, soak your cold-side stuff in it for a little while (two minutes or so is plenty), and then pull your stuff out and use it (that last clause got a little suggestive – I don’t know how, but I’m not going to change it now).

But use it on your crusty, gross, kreusened-up carboy, bucket, or Erlenmeyer flask, and you see the magic.  Soak those things in One Step and you’ll literally watch it clean itself.  And I’ve used this on some thick, disgusting stuff.  You'll see what looks like carbonation (though it's actually released oxygen) flaking away the gunk and bringing it to the top of the vessel.  It’s the last step in my bottling/kegging process: fill the fermenter with One Step and forget it’s there.  And it’s never let me down.

Maybe once in a VERY long while I need to break out the carboy brush and do a little spot cleaning, but I’m talking maybe one in twenty cases. 

Bottom line?  I think that those who don’t use it are a little crazy.

THE CASE AGAINST ONE STEP

I won’t pretend, though, that there aren’t arguments against it.

First, it really is quite expensive.  A five-pound tub costs about $28, and that will give you about 150 gallons of solution.  Assuming that you’re using five gallons on brew day and another five to clean up after packaging, that’s 15 brews’ worth, or about $1.87 per batch in cleaner.  For one comparison, PBW, a common alkali-based cleaner, does the same cleaning for about $1.17/batch (assuming the same 10 gallons of cleaner per batch). 

Second, it’s not really a sanitizer.  It’s a cleaner.  Even the product’s own company tells you that, so the “One Step” thing isn’t that it’s both a cleaner and a sanitizer, it’s just that it’s a no-rinse cleaner. 

Third, many have experienced some residue buildup on their equipment after extended use.

Fourth, it’s not as “survivable” as some other products, which can be mixed and stored basically forever.  The longer it sits, the less effective it is.

And last, though I have no data either way on it, I’ve had several brewers tell me that they’re concerned about using an oxygen-based cleaner that will come into contact with finished beer due to concerns about oxidation.

And in spite of all of this, I still think that you should, in the interest of keeping it simple, be using One Step.

THE CASE FOR ONE STEP

Why do I advocate the use of an expensive, scaling, short-lived, non-sanitizing product?  Because it works, and it works exceptionally well, and it does so without exposing us as brewers to persistent beer contamination at a lower cost than it seems.[1]

Let’s start with “not a sanitizer.”  Yes, that’s technically true.  But if you believe the company, it’s because to get certified as a sanitizer by the FDA takes a certain investment of cash, and they’re happy enough to not do it and continue selling this simply as a cleaner.  The reality, though, is that oxygen-based cleaners will kill the things we as brewers need them to.  I’ve used literally nothing else (consistently, though I've experimented with others) in my brewery, for almost nine years and hundreds of batches, and never had a single apparent contamination.  And lest you think I’m just cranking through my beer so fast that I don’t notice it, I would point out that I also store bottles for competition/evaluation and track the results, and that I have sufficient flavor stability (and lack of apparent contamination) to show that the beers score well for at least 12 months, and some even longer.  In fact, the three Best of Show beers I’ve ever produced were all at least eight months old when they won (and one was more than a year old).  In other words, either I happen to live in a wild yeast and bacteria-free home (I don’t – at the very least, there’s grain all over the place, and it’s crawling with lacto), or One Step works as an effective cleaner and sanitizer.

Next up is a less-than-obvious benefit: there’s no scrubbing.  I made the switch from glass carboys to Better Bottles about five years ago, and I (and my back) have been overjoyed with them.  But plastic scratches easily – even a rough hand can cause abrasions that bugs can live in, much less a stiff brush.  So the fact that I don’t need to regularly get in there and scrub out my equipment means that not only am I saving myself the effort, I’m also denying bugs a place to live by not building them convenient, modern, and tasteful housing development in the one place I definitely don’t want them.

And let’s address cost.  Yes, it’s expensive.  But it’s not as expensive as buying PBW and Star San.  Having to purchase a cleaner and sanitizer separately is adding to your costs, and probably more than just buying One Step.  Yes, you can always use a good cleaner like PBW and then sanitize with something crazy cheap like bleach or Iodophor, but they have their own issues (staining, rinsing, creation of off-flavors, etc.).  One Step is no-rinse and, well, just one step.  Even if it were marginally more expensive, I’d happily shave off three or four ounces of base grain to cover the difference in cost (or just buy in bulk and store it, right?).

And as for the rest – scale/residue, concerns about oxygen pickup, and persistence – all I can say is that they’ve never been a real issue for me.  Scaling on your tubing?  You should probably be replacing it anyway.  Oxidation?  Not that I’ve ever noticed, and in addition I enter every beer multiple times, so lots of feedback (and hell, it may even help in the yeast growth phase).  Can’t just store it?  True.  But there’s no reason you can’t buy a small bottle of Star San and mix it on up as an on-demand sanitizer in a spray bottle (though I prefer to use my filled-from-a-pastic-1.5L-jug spray bottle of Wolfscmidt Vodka).

I’ve never used anything else, and my results couldn’t be much better.  And where they can be, it has nothing to do with the cleanliness or sanitation in my brewery or of my equipment.

A FEW WORDS IN CLOSING

I’m not a scientist, and have never claimed to be (well, a political scientist, but that’s not really the same).  Maybe I’m missing something big here.  But I doubt it.  Experience is a great teacher, and I’ve been using this stuff for nearly a decade with wonderful results. 

I’m also not compensated in any way by the makers of One Step.  Hell, I don’t even know who makes One Step.  I just think it’s the simplest and easiest way to clean and (apparently) sanitize my brewing equipment. 

Don’t be a slave to convention or habit: think about it.  It’s probably a good idea to reevaluate your process, products, and brewing methods periodically anyway, so give it a ponder the next time you’re at the LHBS.  I think you’ll be happy you did.

Keep it simple.

JJW

Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).

 

[1] Before anyone asks, I don’t have much experience with the “kinda like” One Step products.  I’ve never used OxiClean as a brewing product, and for some reason I feel like I shouldn’t.  I did try the Easy Clean from LD Carlson, and it wasn’t anywhere NEAR as effective.  This is just about One Step for me – by all means, experiment with others, but I’m not making any promises!


Brew Bunker: Lessons from Survivalists About Building Your Own Brewing Ingredient Stockpile

When I told my wife that I wanted to stock my own grain and hops so that I wouldn't have to visit my local homebrew shop as often, I'm pretty sure that she - knowing how homebrewers are - pictured something like this.  But we don't need to be this..."committed," so to speak, to put together a reasonable library of ingredients, and doing so could both simplify your brewing (score!) and save you money (score again!).

The Ingredient Expedition

I love my local homebrew shops (LHBSs).  That’s right: shops.  Plural.  There are at least three that I visit with any kind of regularity, and two more that I’ll spend some money at if I happen to be in the neighborhood.  There’s really just one problem: none of them are actually “local” for me.  They’re out of the way.  They’re kind of a pain in the ass to get to.  One in particular can be accessed by about 17 different roads with a total distance from my house of between 15-30 miles depending on the route, and by some evil alchemy it somehow always takes 48 minutes to get there.  Sourcing ingredients, supplies, and equipment becomes an expedition that actually needs to be planned for and sometimes can't be worked into the schedule, and I don't even have kids (just a Goldendoodle that is currently recovering from a torn ACL - she'll be fine by the time the draft rolls around, though, and we hope it won't prevent her from being taken in the first round).  

When you factor in other life considerations (work, family, other hobbies...like homebrewers have other hobbies...), it can be tough to find the time to get over to the LHBS.  And then once you're there - if you've gotten unlucky and there's a bit of a line - you might wait quite a while to get your order filled, grain milled, get checked out, etc.  It wasn't unheard of for me to spend as much as three hours getting to the shop, getting orders filled/milled, and getting home again.  There had to be a better option than this monthly expedition across the suburban wasteland to the breeding grounds of the zymurgist geekensis  where one might hunt for the next few batches of homebrewing supplies.

The Survivalist Model (Modified)

My first thought was to do what everyone seems to do in the modern era: turn to the internet.  Thanks to Amazon Prime I don't even really shop anymore - nothing is too mundane to bring the most powerful computing technologies in human history to bear.  I've literally ordered toothpicks.  And for some brewing supplies, that was fine.  About to make a starter and realize you're out of DME?  Order it.  Running low on One Step? Order it.  CO2 tank bleed out?  Well, OK, that one you need to go handle yourself.  But for some things (I'm thinking primarily or grain here), it's just not terribly practical to order a specific grist mixture.  The cost per pound plus the shipping costs mean that you're probably going to have to reach for the car keys.

Instead, I decided to simply become a one-household homebrew shop, at least in two areas: grain and hops.  The water I already had.  The yeast I could order.  But I needed a ready supply of hops and grain.  If I had that, I reasoned, then I could simply decide on a yeast strain, order it in, make my starter and brew away.  But that means some decisions need to be made.  What grains and hops would allow me to brew most any beer?

So I turned to my brewing log.  You may keep an actual notebook or binder - I just make sure to update BeerSmith each time I brew a recipe.  What I found was that I brewed about 30 times per year, and that there was a reasonable amount of overlap across those recipes.  Sure, there were a few things that were rare additions (a specific aroma hop or character malt), but for the most part I could make nearly all of my recipes work with some light planning.  Here's what I settled on:

  • Base Malts: one sack each of Maris Otter, Pils, and Vienna (or Munich).  Storage: 6G buckets with gamma lids.
  • "Everyday" malts (the ones I used most often outside of a base malt): 5-10 pounds each of Munich (or Vienna), Victory (a nice light/toasty character malt), Chocolate, British Medium Crystal, and Caramunich.  Storage: 1.5G gasketed glass jars (Barbara wanted them to be pretty!).
  • "Specialty" malts (things I use for specific recipes, or might want to): 1 pound each of Carapils, Melanoidin, Black Barley, Carafa II, Aromatic, Crystal 120, Crystal 80, Crystal 60, Crystal 20, Biscuit, Pale Chocolate, and Black Patent.  Storage: conveniently, 1-quart Ball Mason Jars come in a 12-pack and neatly hold about a pound each!
  • Hops: Nugget (for bittering/flavor), Crystal (a good all-purpose herbal/floral/seems-European flavor/aroma hop), and Fuggle (because there's nothing else that smells quite like English dirt).  

Thus armed, I felt like I was 95% of the way there for almost any recipe in my arsenal.  Sure, individual recipes might require a quick stop by the LHBS or online order (for certain aroma hops for an IPA, for example), but that kind of shopping I could do on an as-needed or when-convenient basis.  I had been shown the way by people who stock MREs and bottled water in their basements: I was prepared.  Ready for the storm, or the earthquake, or the sweat-soaked sudden realization that I had no time to get to the shop(s) to get the ingredients for that homebrew club brewing challenge that I completely forgot about.

And that's not all: this was going to make simplify my brewing, and like many things, simpler is also cheaper.

The Virtues of the Brewing Survivalist Mentality

This blog is committed to the idea that brewing and beer should be simpler.  As such, I feel obligated to say that the list above is, admittedly, a little indulgent.  Do I really NEED all of those individual specialty malts?  If I'm being completely honest, the answer is "no."  But they don't add appreciably to the cost of building out my little ingredient library, and they add a degree of flexibility.

In truth, you can pare that list down a lot and still be in very good shape.  For example, you could get by with just a single base malt.  You could cut down to just 2-3 crystal malts.  You can make do with a single 450L chocolate malt.  And you know what?  Far from hurting your beer, it might make it even better.  I remember a great talk on simplifying your recipes given by Drew Beechum at the 2012 NHC in Seattle, and in it he mentioned that when he took his massively complicated (20+) ingredient IPA recipe and pared it down to just a handful, it actually got better.  It's like when you're cooking: a great steak is a great steak.  If you dump a hundred additional ingredients on top, you're losing something.  Select good ingredients, work them well, and you'll get a great product.  This is an ideal opportunity to do that, and to really learn what many of these malts and hops taste like.

It's also a lot cheaper.  When I worked out what I was paying for ingredients by-the-batch, I realized that I could buy an entire year's worth of grain and hops, and the storage equipment for them (so they'd keep that long!), and still save money that year.  And of course in subsequent years, when I'm not buying storage equipment/buckets/jars/racks, I save even more.  Doing the math, I realized that my "break even" point for each year (the point at which, even if I decided I hated brewing and never wanted to do it again and just threw out the unused ingredients, I would still spend no more than if I was buying by the batch) would come after only 25% of the projected year's brewing.

And this isn't about abandoning your LHBS, either.  I haven't.  It's just that there are such economies of scale in beer ingredients that buying 55 (or even 10) pounds of grain drops the cost substantially.  The same goes for hops - one pound vs. one ounce is a huge decrease in per-ounce or per-batch hop costs, especially if you keep an eye out for deals or sales on hops you use a lot, know, and like.  

As for yeast...well, I know I should say that you should get into the practice of yeast banking, and growing up your own cultures, but to be frank, I'm not scientist enough for that.  I trust the good folks at Wyeast and White Labs and other professional yeast vendors, and since they're so essential to the process, I'm willing to cough up for fresh pitches every time.  Keep it simple, right?

Brewing Independence

At the end of the day, this also means you have a much greater degree of brewing independence.  You're your own outpost of the LHBS that might to be too "L."  And it might even mean more brewing.  For sure it will mean one batch per year - a "kitchen sink" batch - that gets all of the leftovers and might turn out to be your favorite beer of the year.  Most years, that's where all of my "remainder" hops go - into a joyous end-of-year IPA that has a muddled and convoluted and complicated hop aroma.  

But at the very least, it means that you'll be able to - or have to - try some new things on occasion, when you're running a little low on a particular malt or hop.  A little forced experimentation can be a great thing.  But one thing I can guarantee is that I'm going to spend a lot less time on secondary roads, inching towards that homebrew shop, cursing under my breath my fellow drivers.  And that has to be a good thing for all of us.

Keep it simple.

JJW

Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).

 


10 Simple Beer & Brewing Goals for 2016

Happy New Year from Beer: Simple!  To start off this new brewing/beer year, here are some simple things I’m planning on doing in 2016 – and I think you should consider doing the same.  They’re all about getting more out of your beer and brewing life, and shouldn’t take too much of your time, effort, or money (well, except #9, but it’s totally worth it).

But before we get into the list, let’s address a long-standing epidemic that is the shame and bane of the beer world: beer-based puns.  In discussing this post with people, a disturbing number of people jokingly asked what the post title would be.  Among the rejected suggestions were the following: Hoppy New Year, Happy Brew Year, Happy New Beer, Malty Brew Year, Hoppy Brew Beer...

People.  People, people, people.  End the puns.  Never make one again.  Don’t wish me a “hoppy birthday.”  Every time I see that on Facebook it makes me want to punch my dog in the face (but then I look at her, and…well, she's just too damned cute). 

So just stop it.  Now, on to the list!  Things to do this year, Beer and Brewing Edition:

10. Buy a high-quality thermometer – or at least calibrate the one you already have.

I can’t tell you how happy I was to open my new Thermapen MK4 on Christmas morning!  It was the only thing I asked for, and for good reason: temperature is really at the heart of what we’re doing.  It affects mashing, boiling, fermentation, conditioning – even enjoyment when you finally open the bottle or pull the tap handle.  So do yourself a massive favor and get your hands of a good thermometer, or at least calibrate yours so you can make the appropriate adjustment for what it reads – if it’s consistently reading 2-3 degrees high or low, you’ve got an easy fix for a lot of likely issues in your brewery.

9. Make a point of attending either the Great American Beer Festival or National Homebrewers Conference.

Conveniently, this year NHC (June) is in Baltimore and GABF (October) is (as always) in Denver, so one or the other will be (relatively) close to home for nearly everyone.  Both are events that let you taste a LOT of beer, and both also offer myriad ways to expand your beer and brewing knowledge.  I’m a much greater proponent of NHC, but only because I’ve never been to GABF (the only downside to an academic life – no travel in the fall…).  But going to beer events of this size is a wonderful experience – stay hydrated (just drink your cup wash water), eat at every opportunity, and soak in as much as you can!

8. Find a new appreciation for a passé or overlooked beer style – I’m thinking Witbier.

We all have beer styles that we gloss right over on beer menus.  I’m not a huge fan of very many Belgian beers or breweries (some notable examples, though – Allagash and Ommegang are always on my list!), so this year I’m going to focus on a style that may deserve doubling-back on – probably Witbier.  For you, maybe it’s amber lagers.  For others, maybe you’re a hopophobe and it’s time to try out some IPAs again.  But try to avoid brewing or drinking ruts – these beers and styles evolve over time, as does your palate. 

7. Give up beer for Lent, even if you’re not Catholic.

Marcus Aurelius, in Meditations, notes eleven virtues that you should exhibit and which are “wholly within your power” – one of these is self-denial.  Every year, for 40 days, most Catholics you know give up something for their Lenten observance (you can usually tell – they get a little pissy whenever you order beer, chocolate, steak…).  This year, whether you’re Catholic or not, give up beer.  Marcus’ point about self-denial is that it shows that you’re in control of your impulses and desires – you’re not governed by them.  This also gives you the opportunity to spend some time on other beverages you might have neglected: revisit wine, give Scotch a try, delve into meads or ciders – or even “go dry” for 40 days.  It won’t kill you (and, in fact, has impressive health benefits), and your favorite beer will taste that much better come Easter!

6. Write a letter to a brewery that is making your favorite beer and thank them.

When we travel, my wife loves to write thank-you notes to the staff of the hotel or the crew of the cruise ship, while we’re still on it, to let them know that we appreciate their hard work.  She figures that most of what they hear, day-to-day, is complaining (much of it just whining, really) and she wants to change that.  It’s really quite sweet and something I would literally never think to do on my own (she’s a much nicer person than I am).  So this year, I’m going to write (actually write – with paper and pen and all!) a brewery I like, and thank them.  Brewing is hard, hard work, and breweries deserve a lot of credit for doing it, especially when they do it well.

5. Learn one scientific lesson that will improve your brewing.

Brewing is a science.  Just because we learned to do it by accident 5,000 years ago doesn’t mean that it hasn’t grown up!  So, I’m going to hit up one of the biologists, chemists, or physicians in my club and have them teach me the scientific root of a beer process, and then use that to simplify and improve some element of my brewing process.  To paraphrase the book The Martian, I want to science the shit out of something in my brewery.

4. Attend a homebrew club meeting – other than your own!

If you don’t belong to a club, you probably should, because remember – Your Beer Sucks, and they’ll tell you why and how to fix it.  But even if you belong to a club (I do), I think it’s a good idea to go to another one now and again.  For one thing, you’ll meet more homebrewers (fun), and you’ll get new feedback – and new kinds of feedback – on your beer (useful).  It’ll be worth driving an extra 20 minutes or so to get to that club’s meeting.

3. Teach a willing person to homebrew, and brew with them at least three times.

I’m sure a lot of people talk to a homebrewer and decide to brew.  Once.  Then they do it, feel frustrated, and never do it again.  I know this happens because I remember how irritated and frustrated I was brewing in the new house when we moved – I didn’t know where anything was, nothing worked as it usually did, and the beer was a pain in the ass to make (though it turned out well).  If that had been my first go, there’s at least a one in three chance I’d have given up.  The way we tell people to just “get your stuff and brew” is like sending a new skier down that Black Diamond trail called “The Preacher.”  So instead, convince someone to brew, and then brew with the at least three times, preferably on their equipment and at their home/brewery.  Brewing is habit and process more than anything else, and being there to keep them on track for the first few beers will mean a better brewer and one who is more likely to keep at it when you’re not around.  And going back to basics may also remind you of some important things you’ve been letting slide!

2. Stand up for one newbie that is being razzed by an alehole.

Sometimes when we see this shit – new bartender or wait staff being hazed and harassed by a know-it-all (even if he/she doesn’t) alehole – we let it slide.  Even if you don’t confront the alehole, at least have a quiet word with their intended target, and let them know that we’re not all like that, and that (especially if they’re new to the craft beer world) it’s pretty easy to get up to speed.  You might even recommend them to the Certified Beer Server course over at the Cicerone Program – in short, be constructive.  They’ll probably throw you a free beer for it, so do it even if you’re a curmudgeonly, introverted, misanthropic elitist like me.

1. Contribute in a meaningful way to the brewing world – however you can.

And finally, try to find a way to pitch in to our (still quite little) community.  This doesn’t have to be big.  No one’s asking you to organize a 5K.  Or even run in one.  Or even walk in one.  OK, basically, no running unless you’re into that – why do we as a society feel better when we force unwilling people to pay money to run approximately three miles for a cause?  But I digress.  Just try to give something back.  The reason I got so into beer and brewing was that I was so impressed and touched by so many people in the brewing community, and I feel like every year should include a resolution to give back, however and wherever you can.  I think there’s a 5K that is sponsored by a local brewpub that I’ll run in – wait, an 8K???  Well, alright…

Have a wonderful year everyone, and thank you for following Beer: Simple into it.  I’m also resolving to do my best to keep providing what I hope is high-quality writing on relevant beer topics, but if you feel I’m not quite up to the mark, please let me know in the comments or by e-mailing me at [email protected]

Keep it simple.

JJW

Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).