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What is the best way to sterilize things like dry hops, spices or fruit before putting them in the fermenter?

Some stuff you can obviously boil. But boiling hops, say, would defeat the purpose of dry-hopping it seems. Yet adding straight dry hops to the fermenter seems like a good way to get an infection.

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

Not only is there alcohol that will stave off some of the nasties like other responses have mentioned. But hops themselves have antibiotic properties which help your yeast get an edge over the bugs.

As far as fruit type adjuncts, if you want to play it safe, you don't actually have to boil them. Just put them in a pot and raise them to 160F for ten minutes or more. That will kill the bacteria and yeast that could be present.

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What about giving them a good hard steam bath instead to reduce the loss of flavors, etc., into the water? – Dennis Williamson Nov 16 '10 at 1:04

The risk of infection is much lower after primary fermentation is complete, since there is alcohol present. The alcohol will prevent or retard the growth of bacteria and rogue yeasts. So, you should be safe to just add your adjuncts.

With some fruits (strawberries especially), I have noticed that the beer seems to spoil after a month or so, presumably from some rogue yeast on the berries that eventually took hold. The beer was great before that happened, so I'd just suggest drinking it quickly.

Remember, people have been brewing for centuries without knowledge of microorganisms, including yeast. I always remind myself of that fact when I start to worry too much about the technicalities of brewing. I also remind myself to "Relax, don't worry, have a homebrew!"

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Don't worry about sterilizing the hops. If you practice good sanitation you shouldn't get an infection. I've dry hopped several beers with pellet hops strait out of the pouch and have never had an infection as a result.

A lot of new brewers worry about contaminating their beers. The truth is it is pretty hard to get a contamination, you almost have to try to give your beer one, or have horrible sanitation standards.

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Contaminating a beer with hops just doesn't happen. The alpha acids in the hops don't play well with most microbs. – Jeff L Nov 15 '10 at 22:35
That's why hops was used as a preservative. – Dennis Williamson Nov 16 '10 at 1:01

The fermented beer is resilient to infections because it has several percent of alcohol inhibiting the bacterias from reproducing. Don't sweat it, you'll be fine. I never had any problems with dry hopping. I even put fresh fruit and peppers (unboiled) and it was still fine.

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