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Last Updated on February 12, 2024

Cleanliness is critical to the brewing process. An autoclave sterilizer is one of the most effective ways to reduce contamination in your brewery. Compared with other sterilization methods, it saves time and money by minimizing the downtime you’d typically need to take for cleaning and sanitizing. Autoclaves increase efficiency and help you save time to focus on what you love – making delicious beer. You can learn more about how an autoclave can help improve your brewery’s quality control below.

Why Is Cleanliness Important in Breweries?

Cleanliness is necessary for any food or beverage creation, but keeping your equipment sterile is essential for brewing. Beer production requires that you control what yeast and bacteria are active in your brews; dirty equipment can introduce unwanted bacteria into your beer, which will cause issues with its taste and quality. Contaminated brews waste time and cut deep into profit margins.

Sanitize vs Sterilize: Understanding the Difference in Brewing

In the brewing industry, the terms ‘sanitize’ and ‘sterilize’ are often used interchangeably, but they refer to different levels of cleanliness, each with its role in the brewing process. Understanding the distinction between these two processes is crucial for maintaining the quality and safety of the final product.

Brewer sanitizer

Sanitizing in brewing refers to reducing the number of bacteria and other microorganisms. Sanitizers are commonly used in brewing and can kill most bacteria, yeasts, and molds. This process is less intensive than sterilization and can be achieved through various means, including chemical sanitizers, heat, or even ultraviolet light.

Brewer sterilizer

Sterilization, on the other hand, is absolute. It eliminates all microbial life forms, including bacteria, viruses, spores, and fungi. You can sterilize articles through autoclaving, which uses high-pressure steam at temperatures exceeding 121°C (250°F). In brewing, sterilization is crucial for specific stages of the process, particularly in the preparation of yeast cultures or in lab settings where brewing experiments are conducted. Sterilization ensures that no unwanted microorganisms are introduced into the brew, which could otherwise lead to spoilage or inconsistency in flavor.

Their roles in brewing

In the context of brewing, both sanitization and sterilization play vital roles. Sanitization is sufficient for most home brewers, but sterilization becomes indispensable when it comes to yeast propagation and laboratory work. Sterilizing brewing equipment helps turn your good-tasting beer into a great-tasting beer. Sterilizing is also, in many cases, much faster than sanitizing and helps prevent cross-contamination between batches.

What Is an Autoclave Sterilizer?

An autoclave sterilizer, like the TOMY SX Series, is a piece of laboratory equipment that heats objects to a high temperature under pressure, sterilizing them. Autoclaves sterilize glassware, liquid media, fermentation vessels, and more to prevent contamination throughout your brewing process. The high-pressure steam kills bacteria and other microorganisms on the object’s surface inside the chamber.

Autoclaves vs. Pressure Cookers in Breweries

In the brewing industry, the choice of equipment for sterilization can significantly impact the quality and consistency of the beer produced. Autoclaves and pressure cookers are two options available for breweries, each with advantages and limitations. Understanding the differences between these two can help breweries make informed decisions based on their specific sterilization needs.

Pressure Cookers: Accessibility and Simplicity

As a small-scale hobby brewer, you are probably getting by with sanitizing your beer-making equipment through household cleaning products, maybe your dishwasher, oven, or even your pressure cooker. All of those methods are typically an appropriate brew sanitization method to reduce the microbes, bacteria, fungi, and other contaminants to levels acceptable for hobby brewing. But for the ambitious brewer researching how to start a brewery or a microbrewery, this article may help you understand the need for beer sterilization equipment that helps you operate more efficiently and produces better-tasting beer.

While less sophisticated than autoclaves, pressure cookers are a more accessible option for small-scale or home breweries. They operate on a similar principle but have some limitations:

  1. Limited Temperature and Pressure: Pressure cookers typically reach lower temperatures than autoclaves. This might not be sufficient for complete sterilization, particularly of heat-resistant microbes.
  2. Inconsistency: The lack of precise controls in pressure cookers can lead to variability in sterilization effectiveness.
  3. Size Limitations: Pressure cookers are generally smaller than autoclaves, limiting the amount of equipment that can be sterilized at one time.
  4. Manual Monitoring: They often require more manual monitoring and adjustment during sterilization.

Autoclaves: precision and efficiency

Autoclaves are advanced sterilization devices widely used in scientific and medical fields and increasingly in breweries. They work by using steam under high pressure to achieve sterilization. Here’s why they are the best choice in specific brewing contexts:

  1. Complete Sterilization: Autoclaves can reach temperatures above the boiling point of water, typically up to 121°C (250°F) or higher. These high temperatures ensure the destruction of all microorganisms, including heat-resistant spores.
  2. Consistency and Control: Autoclaves offer precise control over temperature, pressure, and sterilization time. This allows for consistent and repeatable sterilization cycles, which is essential for ensuring the quality of the brew.
  3. Versatility: They can sterilize a range of equipment used in brewing, including small instruments, glassware, and even liquid media.
  4. Time Efficiency: Autoclaves can process items in bulk and quickly complete a sterilization cycle, which is crucial in a commercial brewing setting.

CASE STUDY

Pressure cookers work for small sterilization needs in breweries. It is not uncommon to have an employee actually “babysit” their pressure cooker while it completes a “sterilization” cycle.

But, to grow as a business, brewers recognize more scalable processes are needed. Processes that don’t take a paid employee away from doing more productive work – we know there is plenty of it to be done.

– TOMY brewing partner

Choosing the Right Equipment for Your Brewery

The choice between an autoclave and a pressure cooker in a brewery setting depends on several factors:

  • The scale of Operation: Larger breweries benefit more from the efficiency and consistency of autoclaves, while small-scale brewers might find pressure cookers adequate for their needs.
  • Type of Equipment: Autoclaves are preferable for sterilizing sensitive equipment or media due to their precision.
  • Budget Considerations: Autoclaves are more expensive than pressure cookers, so budget constraints might influence the choice.
  • Quality Control Standards: Autoclaves are the better option for breweries prioritizing quality control and consistency.

So, while autoclaves and pressure cookers can be used for sterilization in brewing, autoclaves offer higher precision, control, and efficiency, making them more suitable for professional brewing environments. On the other hand, pressure cookers are a more cost-effective solution for smaller-scale or home brewing operations. The choice ultimately depends on the brewery’s specific needs, scale, and budget.

Beer QualityTwo-men -at-brewery-admiring-beer

While there are many causes of off-flavors in beer, the article ‘Off-Flavors in Beer: What They Are and How to Identify Them’ by Hop Culture does a good job explaining the reasoning behind each of the tastes you may encounter.

During the brewing process, there are many opportunities to expose your beer to bacteria that will affect the taste of your beer. These tastes, such as mustiness, vinegar, and rottenness, go beyond personal taste and palate. Without removing the bacteria with a consistent cleaning, sanitizing, and sterilization process, you will experience not only off-flavors in your beer but also the impossibility of reproducing a taste of beer you enjoy!

Imagine finally brewing a beer with the taste profile you’ve been searching for, the perfect blend of bitterness, hops, malty flavor, or a light crispness with the perfect fruity note…. And then, because of the microorganisms lurking on your equipment, you can never create it again.

This scenario has plagued even commercial brewers, finding themselves with inconsistent tastes when bacteria affect the health of their yeast.

Proper Cleaning in Breweries – Maintaining proper cleaning, sanitizing, and sterilization processes in your brewing helps to:

  1. Avoid musty, rotten off-flavors in your beer,
  2. Eliminate dumping ruined batches and starting over, and
  3. Produce consistent beer

CASE STUDY

“Our first TOMY autoclave purchase was one of, if not the best, investments we’ve made as a brewery.”

Even with an outstanding brewery staff, the challenges of workflow inefficiencies from not using a laboratory autoclave are likely wasting time and money. One of our brewing partners (a former microbrewery that’s now a part of the Miller Coors Family) states, “Our first TOMY autoclave purchase was one of if not the best investments we’ve made as a brewery.” Even with national distribution channels, this brewmaster acknowledges the performance of their TOMY autoclave significantly improves their operations.

Learn more about the pricing of Tomy Autoclaves on the Autoclaves page.

Palatable Beer? Or Great Beer?

Microorganisms in beer production make a tremendous difference in the overall quality and freshness of your beer. When starting your beer brewing adventure, the focus may simply be on getting a drinkable product. But to stand out in a crowded market, taste and consistency should be your priority.

Investing in an autoclave instead of relying on a brewing sanitizer saves you from throwing out a lot of beer because of bacteria. But it can also increase the efficiency and capacity of your growing brewery and brew lab.

Common autoclave issues — and how to troubleshoot them

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