Beer is considered sacred by many, and has undoubtedly played a role in human civilization since ancient times. These days, we go through painstaking troubles to ensure that every step of the beer brewing and serving process is done in a way that honors our favorite brews and allows them to showcase their truest expressions.
However, many beertenders can be guilty of eschewing the cleaning of draft lines, despite the fact that doing so can alter the taste and quality of the beers on tap. Cleaning draft beer lines is a simple task and one that makes all of the difference in keeping your equipment tip-top and allowing your beers to shine the way the brewer intended them to.
What Happens if Draft Lines Aren’t Cleaned Regularly?
Beer is a living thing: it contains yeasts, bacteria, and acids that are all reacting on some level with one another, and that chemistry plays out in draft lines. Over time, these components can turn into mold and harmful bacteria, even if your sanitation practices are top-notch. These unwelcome additions to your pours can alter the expressions and flavors of your beer, and may even be unhealthy to ingest.
Another irksome side effect of uncleaned lines is beer stone. Beer stone is the accumulation of calcium oxalate. Calcium oxalate is found in many foods, including beer, and is one of the most common causes of kidney stones in the body. In your draft lines, it causes gushing and poor head retention, and can encourage and harbor harmful bacteria. In the worst cases, it can empty white floaters into your beer. Overtime, you can find this beer stone in lines, faucets, and connection points. Just like kidney stones, beer stone should be avoided at all costs. Luckily, cleaning draft lines isn’t a difficult task, especially if you’re diligent.
How To Clean Draft Beer Lines
You should clean draft beer lines every two weeks (in some states, this is a requirement) to ensure you don’t inadvertently serve any “skunk beer” and scare off brew-loving customers. In addition to cleaning your lines every two weeks, you’ll also want to disassemble and clean faucets. This will also give you a chance to inspect components like gaskets and seals and replace any that are too worn or broken.
At the two week interval, you’ll want to use a caustic solution or alkaline solution at 2% for nicely maintained lines, and at 3% for older or more worn lines. You’ll also want to use an acid solution every quarter or so; this will help prevent the dreaded beer stone build up in lines and on components. Pay attention and do your research to ensure you are buying cleaning detergents that are appropriate for your equipment.
Manufacturers will usually suggest detergents and cleaners that best service their products, and Micro Matic products are often regarded as highly effective. Again, be sure to choose both alkaline solutions for cleaning every two weeks, and acidic solutions for cleaning every few months.
When it is time to actually clean your lines, you’ll first want to clear the lines of any beer. Use cold water to flush any beer from the lines to ensure your cleaning solution isn’t diluted and can be as effective as intended. Next, circulate the solution through the lines. Depending on the equipment you have, you may use a hand-pumped circulation method or an electric recirculating pump. Hand pumps are typically recommended for direct draw or short-draw systems. The circulation should occur for 15-20 mins at a velocity of one to two gallons per minute.
Again, refer to the manufacturer’s instructions or recommendations for the best practices unique to your equipment. Lines should not be left to soak, but if circulation isn’t an option, make sure the solution is left in for at least 20 minutes before flushing.
After circulating the cleaning chemicals through your lines, flush with cold water. It is vital to completely flush the lines of all chemicals, as they can not only impact the flavor of the beer, but are also harmful to ingest. Use a pH tester kit or litmus paper to make sure no residual chemicals are left in your lines after flushing. The quarterly acid cleaning will follow the same procedure, only at less frequency. Again, you want to clean all faucets and connections as well; there is no point in having clean lines if your connections and faucets are full of mold and bacteria.
Other cleaning and inspection procedures you should follow for your draft system:
- Safety is key: use eye protection and gloves when handling cleaning chemicals
- Coupler bottom seals and o-rings should be inspected regularly, replaced when needed, and lubricated with food-grade lubes
- Vinyl jumpers and vinyl draw lines should be replaced each year. Stainless steel connectors are best and will last a lifetime when cared for properly
- Your draft lines may need to be fully replaced after pouring soda, fruity or sour beer, cider or other beverages like margaritas to make sure no residual flavor lingers and effects the next beer pour
The Importance of Clean Draft Lines
Simply put, draft beer is a bar’s moneymaker. Draft beer margins are 80%. The rise and continued demand for craft beer means that customers are often judging an establishment by their beer selection and quality. Brewers take great care to create beer that is unique in its expressions and tastes, and ensure that every variable is accounted for and controlled to allow for the best possible tasting experience at the bar.
This attention to detail and quality should be maintained at the point of sale, and the first step in that careful maintenance is regularly cleaning draft lines and faucets, and inspecting each component of your pour system on a scheduled cadence to ensure quality and proper function. The cost of cleaning your equipment every two weeks and on a quarterly basis is pennies compared to the profits to be had when happy customer return for another round.