Last Updated on February 21, 2024
Over 9,000 breweries dot the American landscape, and more are popping up daily. The competition for both microbreweries and established commercial brewing companies continues to rise. Breweries that want to stand out and survive in a competitive market must combine efficiency with a stellar product.
One often overlooked way to improve your process is to invest in thorough brewery cleaning methods. Optimizing and investing in this process can be the difference between a successful business and your brewery dreams going down the drain along with the inventory.
The piece of brewing equipment that can revolutionize your cleaning process may not be something you’ve heard of in the context of a brewery. Much like laboratories, breweries have a complex workflow for developing new beers and establishing quality control and assurance, and an autoclave sterilizer is the best tool for the job.
Whether you’ve already invested in an autoclave or want to learn more about the process, this article will cover the best way to sterilize your brewing equipment.
Why You Should Sterilize Brewery Equipment
During brewing, your beer is often accidentally exposed to bacteria not killed by typical sanitizing methods. Brewing sanitizer is less effective than disinfectant, which is, in turn, less effective than sterilization.
Any bacteria that survives the cleaning process can make your beer taste musty, vinegary, and even rotten. There are many causes of off-flavors in beer, and the article ‘Off-Flavors in Beer: What They Are and How to Identify Them’ by Hop Culture explains the causes behind different tastes.
On top of the off-flavors bacteria can cause, they also add inconsistency to your brewing process. Imagine finally brewing a beer with the ideal flavor profile: the perfect blend of bitterness, hops, malty flavor, or a light crispness. But then, because of the microorganisms lurking on your equipment, you can never replicate it.
Without brewery sterilization methods, microbes, bacteria, germs, and other beer contaminants can affect the health and consistency of your yeast. Brewers often harvest yeast from recent batches, which makes removing contaminants even more critical.
Now you’ve decided to invest in sterilization equipment, but what’s the right tool for the job? That largely depends on the scale of your operation and how efficient you want to be.
In a start-up microbrewery, a pressure cooker can be an entry-level sterilizer in a pinch. They’re small and affordable, which makes them a good choice for businesses on a tight budget. However, they aren’t especially efficient, and you may waste manpower because pressure cookers need someone to watch them.
Commercial beer brewing equipment
Autoclaves use heat, pressure, and steam to sterilize brewing equipment. They are more of an investment but are hands off and extremely efficient. Larger breweries or breweries who want to grow should invest in an autoclave sterilizer.
Why an Autoclave Is Essential Brewery Equipment
Autoclaves can improve efficiency in any brewery. Each step in the beer brewing workflow takes time. And time is money. From John Palmer, author of How to Brew: Everything You Need To Know To Brew Beer Right The First Time: “Because steam conducts heat more efficiently, the cycle time for such devices is much shorter than when using dry heat.” With an autoclave, it only takes 20 minutes at 121°C to kill contaminants on most instruments you use in a brewery setting.
There are plenty of different types of autoclaves, but top-loading autoclaves are perfect for breweries. They can accommodate large loads, particularly suited for sterilizing otherwise tricky media such as fermenters/bioreactors. Low-profile autoclaves like the top-loading Tomy Autoclave are ergonomic and easy to load, making autoclaving a breeze!
3 Tips for How to Sterilize Brewing Equipment
Autoclaves are simple to operate, but there are a few things you should know to get the best results.
Clean first then sterilize
First, you’ll need to manually clean residue and build-up from your equipment, such as yeast sediment and grime. Autoclaves sterilize the surface of what you put in them, but they won’t remove physical particles.
Know what you can autoclave
The next thing to know is what exactly you can put in your autoclave. There are some obvious picks like a fermenter, but there are plenty of other things you may want to autoclave as well.
- Measuring cylinders
- Test tubes
Glassware is ideal for autoclaving because it can withstand high temperatures without deforming or breaking, provided it’s designed for laboratory use.
2. Metal Equipment
- Stainless steel utensils (spoons, ladles)
- Stainless steel fermenters (small scale)
- Metal kegs (if designed to withstand the pressure)
Metal equipment made from autoclave-safe materials, such as stainless steel, can be sterilized in an autoclave. It’s essential to ensure that the metal is not reactive or coated with any material that could degrade under autoclave conditions.
3. Small Plastic Items
- Polypropylene tubes and containers
- Polycarbonate equipment
Not all plastics are suitable for autoclaving, but certain types, like polypropylene and polycarbonate, can withstand the process. Always verify the heat tolerance of the plastic before autoclaving.
4. Lab Instruments
- Pipettes (if not plastic, or if the plastic is autoclave-safe)
- Scissors and forceps
- Stainless steel brewing tools
Lab instruments that come into direct contact with the brew or samples should be autoclaved to ensure they’re sterile.
5. Filtering Equipment
- Certain filter holders and filtering apparatus made of glass or autoclave-safe plastic can be sterilized using an autoclave, ensuring that the filtration process does not introduce contaminants.
6. Other Tools
Depending on what they’re made of you can autoclave many miscellaneous beer brewing tools.
Know the limits of your autoclave
Sterilization is an intense process and not every piece of brewing equipment can or should be autoclaved. Before autoclaving any brewery equipment, it’s crucial to ensure that the items are autoclave-safe and won’t be damaged by the process. If in doubt, consult the equipment’s manufacturer or opt for alternative sterilization methods suitable for the material in question.
- Check Manufacturer Guidelines: Always refer to the manufacturer’s instructions to determine if an item is autoclave-safe.
- Avoid Certain Materials: Some materials, such as certain plastics (e.g., polystyrene, polyethylene), rubber, and items with electronic components, cannot withstand autoclaving.
- Consider Autoclave Capacity: Larger equipment like big fermenters or kegs might not fit into standard autoclaves and require alternative sterilization methods.
Investing In an Autoclave for Your Brewery
Navigating the brewing process – taking malt to mash and dry hops to distribution – is no easy task. Brewing is a complex process that requires science, education, skill, and finesse, and the right tools can do a lot to improve the process.
From installation to start-up and operation, the Tomy Autoclave is built for long-lasting cost savings. Tomy Autoclaves are safe and are as easy as running a dishwasher cycle at home – and they don’t need babysitting as pressure cookers do. Contact us today to learn how an autoclave can fit your brewery.