When I attended beer school, the first lesson we were taught is sanitation is the key to happiness. The reason for this is microorganisms, bacteria, and fungi can start to grow in any little nook or cranny they can stuff themselves into. These bacteria will cause an infection in your brew and create an off-flavored brew or a completely undrinkable product.
The first thing I do before I make any type of beer, is fill my kettle up to the top with water and add the correct amount of Star San to it. Star san contains high amounts of phosphoric acid, which will drop the pH of the water so low that no bacteria or pathogens can survive in it. I keep this solution in my vessel for a minimum of 15 minutes.
If you brew as much as I do, a dark greenish substance will start to build up on the sides of your kettle. This substance is a protein build up that likes to attach to the sides and bottom of your kettle. The best way to remove this protein is by soaking it in hot water with a mixture of Powdered Brewery Wash (PBW) and some 34% hydrogen peroxide. The peroxide needs to be high strength, and it is an oxidizer that works with the caustic PBW to break down this protein build up. After this cleaning, I sanitize with Star San like normal.
After my brewing equipment is nice and sanitized, I go ahead and do the same process with my fermentation equipment. I like to prep this when I first start to brew; that way I know my beer will be fermenting in sanitized buckets or carboys because it will be siting in the Star San solution for several hours. The fermenters are more important to be sanitized because at least in the kettle the temperature comes to a boil, which will kill off any bacteria that could be present.
Last but not least, after my beer has finished its fermentation, it is packaging time. This is the most crucial time to over-sanitize everything. After all of your hard work and time, if your bottling bucket, bottles, or even your keg has any bacteria in it, your beer can become contaminated and not worth drinking. I like to use my bottling bucket to soak all of my bottles in. That way the sanitizer has had a few hours to work its magic and kill off those pesky bacteria.
We cannot stress the importance of good sanitation when you brew. We are happy to answer any questions you might have about the process or products to use, so you can have a successful and tasty brew!