Learn the ins and outs of how to keep a clean and well-maintained draft system, and why it’s critical to the success of your tap wall operation
Brewers spend months working to produce premium, delicious products that must meet the consumers’ expectations for quality and flavor.
Unfortunately… All of that effort can (quite literally) go down the drain in the few seconds it takes for beer to travel from the keg to the faucet if it’s served through a draft system that has not been properly cleaned.
The lack of cleaning can also take a big toll on the performance of the system over time, resulting in costly repairs and replacements.
Failure to consistently clean and maintain a beer system will result in faulty pouring, tainted beer, wasted money, and ultimately, unhappy customers and lost business.
This can all easily be avoided by following a thorough, consistent cleaning routine.
Why is line cleaning necessary?
Along with alcohol and CO2, beer contains proteins, carbohydrates, and hundreds of other organic compounds.
Different types of yeast and bacteria get introduced to the draft systems with the beer, where they feed on the various components and become attached to draft lines. Certain minerals also leave deposits in the lines and fixtures. Within days of installing a brand new draft system, bio-film deposits begin to build up on the surfaces that come into contact with the beer.
Without proper cleaning, these deposits will soon begin to affect the flavor of the beer and undermine the system’s ability to dispense fresh-tasting, quality product.
Some important things to consider
Cleaning agents used during the line cleaning process are powerful and must be handled with caution. Here are some tips to ensure everyone’s safety:
Anyone who performs line cleaning should be thoroughly trained on the process, correct use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and proper safety measures.
Make sure all staff members are fully aware when line cleaning is taking place.
Never leave a line cleaning job unattended. Once the cleaning begins, stay onsite to monitor the process until complete.
The best way to ensure complete rinsing of all chemical residue and cleaning agents is to check that the pH is neutral with test strips.
Be aware of the chemicals that are being used and keep the associated safety data sheets handy. Review them regularly and make sure they are accessible in case of emergency.
How often do the lines need to be cleaned?
Brewers recommend cleaning a draft system at a minimum of once every two weeks. For high volume and long-draw systems, weekly cleaning is advised.
For optimum performance, quality and taste, we suggest the following schedule:
Bi-weekly (every 14 days)
- Draft lines should be cleaned with a caustic line-cleaning chemical
- All faucets should be completely disassembled and cleaned
- All keg couplers should be scrubbed clean All FOB (Foam on Beer) devices should be cleaned in-line
Quarterly (every 3 months)
- Draft lines should be cleared of beer stone build-up with an acid line-cleaning agent that is added to the regular alkaline chemical formulation
Semi-annually (every 6 months)
- All FOB (Foam on Beer) devices should be completely disassembled and cleaned
- All couplers should be completely disassembled and cleaned
→ As restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic are relaxed and businesses begin to reopen, there’s an elevated demand to ensure dormant draft systems are properly prepped. We suggest that you schedule a thorough, deep cleaning of the system to prepare for reopening.
How does the line cleaning process work?
There are two unique methods for cleaning draft beer dispensing systems:
- Pressurized Cleaning
Cleaning agent is put into a container and forced through the beer lines using a hand pump or gas pressure (CO2 or compressed air). Recommended for cleaning picnic pumps, direct draw, and short-draw systems of less than 20 feet in length.
- Re-circulating Cleaning
A motorized electric pump is used to force cleaning agent through the beer lines. Recommended for long draw systems that are over 20 feet.
An effective line cleaning process will include the following three steps:
- Flush all product from the lines with water. If any beer remains in the lines, it can dilute the cleaning properties of the chemicals.
- Clean the lines with the appropriate solution. Allow chemicals to circulate or soak in the lines for at least 15 minutes. Disassemble and clean faucets and couplers.
Note: Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on proper mix ratio, correct temperature, and ample contact time.
- Flush all chemicals from the lines with water. Then check the pH level with a pH tester or litmus paper to ensure that no cleaning solution remains in the lines. Reconnect the kegs and run some beer through the faucet and discard to make sure all the lines are completely refilled with beer.
→ For further details on the line cleaning process, we recommend reading Chapter 7 of the The Draught Beer Quality Manual from the Brewers Association, “System Maintenance and Cleaning.” Click here to download a free PDF copy.
While it is the operator’s responsibility to ensure that beer lines are regularly and properly cleaned, we highly recommend that you work with a qualified beer dispense maintenance company to professionally maintain and clean your system.
Need referrals? Ask your beer distributor or local brewers in your region for qualified service companies in your area.
How do I know if the lines are clean?
Here are a few methods for testing the cleanliness of a draft system:
- Swab sample testing along with growing microbial colonies is the only way to truly identify the presence of specific microorganisms in a draft system.
- Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) testing with a luminometer will measure the presence of actively growing microorganisms. This will help determine cleanliness, but will not differentiate between beer-spoiling organisms and organic material such as yeast.
- Tasting by a trained taster can reveal signs of bacterial infection.
Note: Bacterial contamination begins long before it can be detected by taste so preventative maintenance is the best solution.
To visually inspect for cleanliness, follow these steps:
- Inspect the inside, outside, and vent holes on each faucet.
- Inspect the exterior of the coupler. Kegs can be untapped to allow the entire coupler to be inspected.
- Inspect sight glass, vent, and FOB stop. Sight glass should be completely clear.
- Inspect the flexible tubing in the draft system cooler. The tubing should be clear and free of color-staining. Vinyl jumper lines should be replaced every two years.
- Inspect the grate and body of the spill tray.
- All components should be free of any build-up. Vinegar or butter aromas will indicate a bacterial infection.
→ Keep a thorough cleaning log and make sure it’s accessible to all staff members and your beer distributor.
Why do we care?
As a leading provider of self-serve tap wall technology, we understand the importance of keeping a properly cleaned and maintained draft system, and the impact that it can have on product quality, patron experience, and bottom line for operators.
iPourIt self-pour software with patented SMARTS™ Technology automatically logs your draft system’s maintenance records, so you and your staff can see a record of each time your beer lines were cleaned. Since the software is able to track every ounce, you can verify if the cleaning was done properly with the correct volume of water.
SMARTS Technology offers a special feature called Maintenance Mode that’s designed to ensure your lines are clean and working efficiently. During Maintenance Mode operation, the system detects how many ounces were run through the lines and which staff member performed the cleaning. The system can generate a report showing the line cleaning status for each tap and sends friendly reminders to the operator when it’s time to clean the lines.
Contact us to learn more about self-serve draft systems and how you can leverage self-pour technology to optimize your operations and increase alcohol sales.