It’s Time To Clean Your Equipment: From An Experienced Brewer

Today we will be discussing the benefits of properly cleaning your distilling equipment from an experienced brewer. With my experience, we are going to be talking about when I was a cellarman, and if you know a cellarman makes sure you give them a Nut Roll and thank them for their work. Cellar work is the most important part of brewing because there isn’t a lot you can do to fix your mistakes on the cold side of the tanks. Especially if you didn’t clean your tanks or brew house properly. 

After being at StillDragon for a little bit, I’ve learned there are a few differences when it comes to the whys of cleaning your equipment between the brewing and distilling side. 

The effects of not cleaning your equipment can be hidden until it’s too late. And when it’s too late, you lose the product, which means losing money. So, let’s go over what can happen if you decide to skip a few months on cleaning yours still, and why it shouldn’t be skipped. 

The Only Reason A Brewer and Distiller Cleans Differently

The goal of cleaning and sanitizing is to keep your equipment clean and sterile, so whatever steps you take after that can be as effective as possible. The most important factor in brewing is sanitation. There are some differences when it comes to the whys of cleaning your equipment between the brewing and distilling side. 

For a brewer, cleanliness is about making sure that your beer doesn’t have off flavors caused by wild yeast, bacteria or improper sanitation methods. It’s also about making sure that a batch doesn’t get infected by spillover from previous batches (one of the main reasons we rinse our equipment after use). 

On the distilling side, cleanliness is more about ensuring that there aren’t any chemical residues in your product from improper cleaning techniques. Another thing distillers need to be aware of is why they need to clean: flavor carry-over. Flavor carry-over can happen very easily for most distilleries. For example: if you own one of our DoubleDragons, you are using it for multiple spirits. One day you use it for whiskey. The next day you are scheduled out to use that same kettle for rum. If you don’t clean the kettle, you’re probably going to have some flavor profiles of whiskey in your rum.

Product Maintenance

One more important reason to keep that still squeaky clean is just…maintenance. You spent a lot of time and money to have that still. And, replacing one in a space that is filled…is pretty difficult. All of our parents taught us at a young age if you have something nice to take care of it. If not, it breaks. And after being in the brewery scene for a decade….things break a lot, and sometimes you don’t have the budget to replace that item. Most of the time, those pieces of equipment broke due to negligence or sanitizing after use (did I mention the sanitization was key in breweries?)

How To Clean Your Equipment Properly

At a brewery, you will most likely see large barrels of chemicals lying around somewhere. A great practice to start with regarding fermenters is rinse those tanks off until your water is clear, leaving the fermenter! Trub and hop burn is a nightmare to remove sometimes (depending on the beer), And a 30-minute cycle of caustic isn’t always going to do the trick to knock it off. After spraying those inner walls the first thing to do is use soap, just like when you wash your hands to get dirt off of them. Caustic is your soap. Caustic is a strong corrosive alkali that burns or destroys organic tissue by chemical action.

Every SOP is different when it comes to measurements they use and cycle length. After your caustic is done you will burst rinse your tank until the caustic is fully rinsed out. Then do your acid, something that all breweries do differently. Some breweries only use acid to passivate their tanks once every 6 months and some of them use it after each caustic cycle. Please read more on the home distiller forum/home brewer forums which practice is best for you. Acid is Phosphoric Acid it helps to remove beerstone which is an calcium oxalate. And, adds a thin film over your stainless steel to protect it (if you are doing passivation on your tank.) Yet again after your cycle is done you will rinse your tank. When your tank cools down (because heat causes PA to neutralize), you will start your sanitization cycle. Peracetic Acid is the sanitizer that most professionals use. It literally is just a cold disinfectant. After your cycle you are done. 

With distilleries, they are not worried about the disinfectant part, you don’t have to worry about that since you are already disinfecting your spirit no matter what. What I’ve learned so far about how distillers clean their equipment, like their kettle it’s pretty simple. It looks like the best practice if you have just purchased your new DoubleDragon Baine Marie Kettle that you should run some kind of soap through it to remove metal shavings and oils from us. Home distillers say dish soap to caustic. After backflushing the kettle a lot of our customers do a vinegar wash to a citric acid wash due to not using phosphoric acid as much as a brewery. With this cycle they are ensuring that every little bit of particle in the kettle is removed. It’s the same as an acid cycle with breweries, just different chemicals for the same result. After you will back flush or burst rinse your kettle and are ready to take off! 

All in all how breweries and distilleries CIP their equipment is close, except for one aspect that brewers have to worry about cross contamination a lot more. 

If you are interested in any StillDragon equipment or have any questions, please reach out to me, Emily Ellsworth. My email is right here.