Brew Talk: Barrel Sanitization with Oxbow Brewery

Sanitizing barrels properly in between aging beers is valuable in achieving uncontaminated and quality taste between batches.
Most brewers use sanitization of some sort, but some brewers aren’t taking advantage of implementing a dry-steam method. Instead, many use plant steam, which is unsaturated wet steam, or technically a liquid. Plant steam doesn’t reach lethal temperatures to kill bacteria inside barrels.
Conversely, true dry steam reaches temperatures of well above 212 degrees Fahrenheit, which is considered a gas. Dry steam eliminates yeast and bacteria and is a great way to clean the foeders.
That’s why Steamericas, an industry-leading supplier of commercial and industrial cleaning products, offers the Optima Steamer, a dry steamer that more and more breweries are turning to for their sanitizing needs. The Steamer has two hoses so two barrels can be sanitized simultaneously.
Investing in an Optima Steamer has changed the game for Oxbow Brewery, based in Portland, Maine.
The brewery specializes in farmhouse Ales such as Saisons, Biere De Gardes, and Grisettes.
“We have an extensive wild beer program where we age beers in barrels as well as in stainless tanks,” said Ben McVickar, Oxbow’s cellarman. “We also focus on a wide range of Lagers such as an Italian-style Pilsner called Luppolo to a smoked Dark Lager brewed with Maine maple syrup called Sap Haus, to name a few.”
Oxbow uses the Optima Steamer to sanitize stainless tanks, parts, hoses, and anything else that needs to be sterile, and it lives in the Portland location where the brewers work with both clean beers and beers with mixed cultures of wild yeast and bacteria.
“We provide dry vapor steam solution that can address sanitation needs for breweries that no one else can for various reasons,” said Yujin Yoo Anderson, Steamericas owner and general manager. “Breweries are no strangers to purchasing equipment, and many may be used to purchase different types of equipment from one or two suppliers who sell many different things. Steamericas is part of the manufacturer who designs R&D dry vapor systems, so we are very niche and solution-driven.”
As an example, Steamericas has developed oak barrel steaming tools that ensure proper and efficient steaming that kill unwanted microorganisms. Oxbow also uses its Steamer to rehydrate and swell oak barrels, which is faster and less wasteful than rehydrating with hot water. Dry steam penetrates a quarter inch deep into wood pores. It penetrates deeper than hot water or chemicals and with better efficiency at removing tartrates, Brettanomyces and food-related bacteria.
“We know dry vapor steam,” Anderson said. “We also sell through our authorized sales and service network, so that the majority of our customers can receive local support before and after purchasing. This includes complimentary product demonstrations, maintenance and repair services.”
McVickar said OxBow chose Steamericas to work with because of the compact design, good reputation, and affordable price point for the Optima Steamer.
“The customer service has been excellent,” McVickar said. “I have had a few issues that we addressed within an hour of the issue and resolved with the help of the customer service representative.”
Aside from achieving barrel swell in a fraction of the time and reaching sanitizing temperature in a matter of minutes, the Optima Steamer also uses less than a gallon of water per barrel.
Steamericas has a commitment to protect the environment. Instead of using 60 gallons of water to rehydrate and sanitize barrels, the Optima Steamer provides a higher quality sanitization and restoration using only a quarter to a third of a gallon of water to do both.
This means there is very little wastewater to treat, and since treating wastewater with a BOD level can be costly, the Optima Steamer saves brewers money as well. It eliminates the need for chemicals, too, and allows breweries to operate in compliance with the Clean Water Act.

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