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POINT OF BREW ----- Michael J. Lewis

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POINT OF BREW ----- Michael J. Lewis Photo from Morton Salt

Comments From a Mini-Meeting of Brewers

A couple of weeks ago I attended a small and specialized meeting of brewers in San Diego. I attended, though a little nervous, because our country was just beginning to practice “social distancing” and closures. I’m glad a similar gig, planned to take place last week in Mexico, has been cancelled.

I enjoyed the San Diego adventure. The two-day meeting comprised four three-hour sessions. I did my thing in the first session. The last session was about marketing strategies and using social media and logo design and branding and what not and went mostly over my head. The other two sessions were technical and excellent. 

The expert who spoke about water was quite fascinating. Water, for him, is not one part of an overall complex technology as it is for brewers; it is everything he does. He mainly serves the needs of the pharmaceutical and high tech industries focusing on water treatments, recovery and reuse, but now finds brewers can also use his expertise.

He used the word “salinity” to describe the general salts content of water. When brewers use that word they are more likely to mean specifically any sodium chloride present in water. That’s interesting to brewers because, in the right amount, it can benefit beer flavor. We do not hear much about that these days, but years ago, some brewers added sodium chloride (common table salt) to their brewing water to promote that positive flavor effect, which they called “palate fullness.”

Indeed, many brewers and consumers used to add table salt to a glass of beer to improve its flavor. The salt-shaker would move around the table as beers arrived.

I have not seen that in many years so imagine my surprise at a restaurant in Winters when I saw a young man shake salt into his glass of dark beer. I was intrigued and asked him about that because I was interested to know what benefit he perceived from doing that and who taught him to do it in the first place. Turns out his grandpa taught him to add salt although he said that was originally reserved for what he called Hispanic beers (which was his heritage). He told me that although he was drinking beer from the Berryessa Brewing Co. he appreciated the extra “oomph” a shot of salt added.

At the San Diego meeting the last session was devoted to a steady grind through required SOPs or standard operating procedures. It was then I realized why I wash my hands in a different way from that method advertised on TV. I wash my hands the way a brewer washes a tank before reuse. There are some definitions worth mentioning first: For a brewer a “cleaner” is used to wash away dirt/microbes and then a “sanitizer” is used to kill those (now far fewer) microbes that remain. A tank must always be cleaned before it is sanitized. Furthermore, brewers use a system called CIP or cleaning-in-place. This has two aspects: powerful jets supply vigorous mechanical impact for thorough cleaning and tank parts that might cast a cleaning “shadow” must be removed for separate cleaning.         

In a brewery the most common cleaner is caustic soda (lye, NaOH) in dilute solution and the most common sanitizer is chlorine. Soap is a cleaner for hands and Purell is a sanitizer. Strictly speaking therefore, and in a brewer’s view, Purell is not a substitute for hand washing because it is likely much less effective on unwashed hands than on cleaned ones. The reason is that on unwashed hands there is a much higher load of microbes than on washed hands and the dirt can protect microbes from the sanitizer rendering it less effective.

Now, I don’t doubt that the specifics of microbes on the surface of a stainless steel tank in a brewery and on my hands is different in many ways, but the general principles will be the same. So I wash my hands as a brewer might as follows:

I’m OK with 20 seconds minimum of washing, but I use the time differently from the advertised method. First I do a vigorous prewash with soap and a hot rinse, maybe 5 to 7 seconds, followed by a re-soap and vigorous rewash for the remainder of the time. I use a brush around the nails because these might represent cleaning shadows and the brush imitates that mechanical impact so important in cleaning a tank. Now last (if I had some!) I would apply Purell.

There are simple mathematical explanations why this practice works well. In these days when everyone carries the first responsibility for their own health, and that of others around them, assiduously avoiding crowds to the point quarantine and thorough hand washing have to be to be the first lines of defense. 

Maybe a shot of salt in your beer will help that medicine go down.


Michael J Lewis MUG Picmonkey

Michael J. Lewis, Ph.D., is professor emeritus of brewing science at the University of California, Davis, and the academic director and lead instructor of UC Davis Extension’s Professional Brewing Programs. Lewis has been honored with the Master Brewers Association of the Americas’ Award of Merit and the Brewers Association’s Recognition Award. He is an elected fellow of the Institute of Brewing & Distilling. He is also a recipient of the UC Davis Distinguished Teaching Award.  He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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