Guide to Beer Line Cleaning: Tips, Equipment, FAQs
February 06, 2020
Even the best beer can be ruined if it is run through a moldy, clogged, or flavor-stained beer line. Draft beer lines need to be cleaned regularly in order to avoid issues that can greatly affect the taste and quality of the beer running through them.
Things like bacteria, yeast, mold, and beer stone can build up inside the beer If you leave it up to fate and avoid cleaning, you’ll risk serving foul-tasting or potentially harmful or sickening beer.
Surely, cleaning isn’t everybody’s favorite activity, but it is necessary. And if you really aren’t looking to spend the time or energy to do take this task on in-house, you can always look into a bar line cleaning service to do it for you.
The bacteria found in beer don’t pose health hazards of their own, but they can affect the smell and look of a beer in addition to making a beer taste sour or like rotten eggs.
Yeast is a fungus that we use to ferment beer. It turns the sugar in the brew into carbon dioxide and alcohol. Small amounts of yeast, either from the air or left over from the beer itself, can build up in your draft lines, altering the taste of the beer it can clog them and affect the taste of the beer running through. This usually happens around drains, faucets, or keg couplers, components of the system that are often exposed to air.
Mold is a type of fungus that, when consumed, can pose a health risk in addition to throwing off the taste of any draft beer. Because it typically comes from the air, mold is more often found in those same areas of the draft system that have a lot of contact with the air. Mold is often a darker green or black color, and in addition to making beer taste spoiled or actually moldy, it can wreak havoc on the ingester’s digestive system.
Calcium, Oxalic acids, and salt from beer can combine in cold temperatures to form deposits of Calcium Oxalate, often called Beer Stone. These deposits end up accumulating and taking on bacteria, yeast, and mold, and eventually ends up affecting a beer’s taste, affecting the flow of the beer through the draft lines, and even coming out with the beer into a drinking glass.
This funky taste is most notable when beer has been sitting in a line for a longer amount of time, like at the beginning of the day. Because it accumulates like this, beer stone is also harder to remove the longer it is allowed to sit and build on itself.
First off, do some homework! Certain states have specific requirements and guidelines for the frequency of cleaning a draft beer system. In general, though, it is wise to follow the following ground rules:
- Every Two Weeks: Clean draft lines at least once every two weeks with an alkaline detergent cleaner. Make sure you disassemble and clean the faucets as well.
- Quarterly: Perform an acid cleaning to break down and wash away beer stone.
- Annually: Vinyl jumpers and vinyl direct draw lines should be replaced annually. Especially funky flavors may leave a permanent flavor in the line, so you may want to replace it after running something like that.
- As Needed: Check, clean, and/or replace couples, bottom seals, and O-rings.
1. Prepare Your Line-Cleaning Solution
To start, you can put your cleaning solution in its own keg, pressurize it, and feed it through the lines as if it were beer. A hand pump can help lower costs to avoid the need to pressurize.
2. Flush the System
Flush the remaining beer from your system before you begin the cleaning process to give your cleaning solutions a head start.
3. Circulate or Run Your Cleaning Solution
Circulate cleaning chemicals through draft lines for at least 15 minutes, at a speed of about 2 gallons per minute.If you aren’t equipped to recirculate the solution, don’t just soak it. Instead, leave the cleaning solution inside the draft line for 20 minutes or more.
4. Flush It All Again!
Once you’ve run your cleaning solution, flush the entire system with water one more time. Make sure the water runs clear and has no remaining traces of the chemicals before running your new keg.
Bonus: Don’t forget you also need to clean your coupler and faucets every two weeks! Disassemble and soak them in water with your cleaning solution before brushing, cleaning, and reassembling your system.
Equipment for a Pressurized Cleaning
This type of bar system cleaning makes use of a hand pump or a pressurized container. Required equipment would include a wrench, a cleaning brush, and either a hand-pumped or pressurized assembly. Cleaning kits like the “D” System kit made by Micromatic are great for short distance commercial systems, home keg refrigerators, and party pumps.
Equipment for a Recirculating Cleaning
This type of cleaning uses a motorized recirculating line cleaning pump and is optimal for larger bar systems. A wrench and cleaning brush would also be recommended here for disassembly and faucet cleaning.
Soap and water aren’t going to cut it here. To be sure you are sanitizing your system and getting rid of any potential health risks, you’ll need to get some cleaning chemicals made for specifically this purpose. Look for an Alkaline Liquid Beer Line Cleaner or a Liquid Acid Line Cleaner, which are each designed to remove residual materials like proteins, films, and resins caused by the offenders we mentioned previously.
Wear safety equipment like eye protection and rubber gloves to avoid any complications associated with your cleaning chemicals. You should always read the box or any safety or hazard information that the manufacturer provides as well.