Cleanliness, like a good draft beer, is next to godliness.
Outside of the drink menu, there’s one important question every bartender should be able to answer confidently whenever asked: how often do you clean your draught lines?
Ideally, this is a question that should never come up, because every beer line should be dispensing clean and perfect beer. Cleanliness doesn’t just happen on its own though. Below are both the reasons for cleaning and dangers of a dirty draught line, and how to go about making sure your bar never has to worry about them.
The Virtues of Cleanliness
Beyond just the knowledge that your bar is being run well and being clean, there are a few clear benefits to keeping your tap lines well maintained. The most obvious of these is the fresh, and correct for that matter, taste of your beer. Every craft beer is taken through sample batch after sample batch, tinkered with until it reaches the desired level of perfection. A clean tap line will deliver that beer to your patrons in the state it was intended. A poorly maintained tap line will deliver any or all of the following problems:
Yeast & Mold Buildup
White/Grey growth found on faucets, couplers, drains, and other parts exposed to air. It looks gross, is potentially unhealthy, and will likely cost you both sales and reputation. Good beer and weird stuff growing out of the place it comes from do not mix.
Calcium deposits that build up over time from the raw ingredients of beer. Not only can they have an affect on the flow rate of your taps if they build up enough, but they can also flake into the line over time, impacting the taste of the beer. Also, nobody likes to find mystery flakes in their pint glass.
Most bacteria that builds up in beer lines isn’t of great harm to human health. What it will do is completely despoil the look, aroma, and taste of any beer. A build of diacetyl will leave beer tasting buttery, while acetic acid will give beer a sour and vinegar-like taste. Other problems include a clouded color in the beer, and a smell of rotting eggs. So even though it may not turn beer toxic to humans, it will become toxic to your sales and reputation.
Beyond making sure your lines deliver clean and delicious beer to patrons, it isn’t unheard of to have representatives from craft brew companies stop into bars selling their wares to test them and make sure they’re being presented properly. Keeping everything clean not only keeps customers happy, but potentially distributors and brewers as well.
Flushing the Lines
A good rule of thumb, and rule of law in certain states, is to clean your lines every two weeks, or every half keg, whichever comes first. You can do this by either hiring out an independent contractor, or doing it yourself. Either way, be sure to keep a log as it is something most health inspectors will be looking for.
To clean the lines yourself:
- Uncouple all of the kegs from their lines, and disassemble all of the faucets and handles as well.
- All of the lines then need to be coupled together.
- Once coupled, the lines need to be flushed with cold water to remove any traces of beer still in the lines.
- Afterwards, a warm (about 90 to 100 degrees fahrenheit) caustic solution (many approved and specifically made cleaning solutions are available online) must be run through the lines for a minimum of twenty minutes to break down any bacteria in the lines.
- In addition to this two-week regular cleaning, an acid cleaning should be done every quarter to break down beer stones and other hard buildup in the lines.
- Once the lines are properly soaked and cleaned, they must then be rinsed with cold water to rid the lines of any remaining cleaning solution.
- To ensure that the lines are free of the caustic solution, test the pH of the water coming out of the line. Once it matches the pH of the water going into the lines, you know any traces of chemicals have been removed.
Everything Including the Kitchen Sink
It isn’t just the flushing of the lines themselves that needs to be looked after when cleaning a draught system. Every part needs to be well maintained. Luckily, there are at least twenty minutes of time while the cleaning solution is running through the lines just waiting to be killed.
- Remember the faucets we disassembled above? Time to get scrubbing.
- In addition to the faucets, the handles and area around the faucets should be hand scrubbed as well, as beer can leak down them and leave behind residue, yeast, and mold.
- Once the lines have been cleaned, and before re-attaching the couplers or tapping new kegs, the couplers need to be cleaned as well.
- Well cleaned faucets, couplers, and the like should last pretty much forever, especially if made from stainless steel. That being said, check the seals, gaskets, and O-rings every time you clean in case they need replacing.
- Speaking of replacing, vinyl lines should be replaced annually, or as often as is required to keep them in good order.
- Once everything has been cleaned, reassemble and enjoy your newly clean lines.
From promotion to training to nailing down the perfect menu and theme there are dozens of important pieces that all need to come together when running a bar. Sometimes, it can be easy or tempting to let some of the less lauded tasks, like maintenance, fall by the wayside. That way lies madness. A proper maintenance schedule is the bedrock on which any enterprise stands.
Taking the proper time to maintain your draft system shows not just pride in your work, but your dedication to serve the best craft beer, as it was intended to be served: Delicious, clear, and clean.
Are there any tips you have for keeping draft lines running clean and smoothly? Let us know in the comments below.