If you have a home bar with a draft beer setup, there will come a time in which you will need to clean your beer lines. This is to ensure yeast doesn’t build up and the brew you are pouring maintains its pure, fresh taste.
To help you do this, we will discuss how to clean beer lines and the tools you will need to accomplish the task. We will also explain some of the reasons why keeping your beer lines clean is so important.
Why Is It So Crucial to Clean Your Draft Beer Lines?
If you want to maintain the fresh taste and aroma of your draft beer when pouring a pint of beer in your man cave then you will need to clean the lines periodically, even if you do not use your draft system very frequently.
The reason for this is fairly simple and straightforward: when beer is traveling through the lines and ultimately toward the tap/faucet, it tends to leave behind yeast, protein and mineral deposits along the skin of the beer lines. Together, these particles can alter the taste and smell of your beer for the worse.
Disgustingly, mold can also find its way into your draft system fittings when they are exposed to air. Together, all of these particles and substances, if left untreated/uncleaned, can generate a type of scale called calcium oxalate (also known as beer stone) on the fittings, in the lines and even on the tap.
If calcium oxalate is not completely cleaned and eradicated from your draft beer setup, it creates a very unsanitary surface onto which microorganisms can begin to gather and grow. These microorganisms, or bacteria, can grow fairly rapidly if you do not keep all of the parts of your draft beer setup clean, negatively impacting the taste and smell of the beer as well as its shelf-life.
Engaging in a system of routine cleaning, using the proper equipment and chemicals, can rid your system of calcium oxalate, which in turn will eliminate any opportunity for bacteria to build up in your lines and fittings.
According to experts, cleaning the lines and fittings of your draft beer system should be a regular process, done every 4-6 weeks and not a minute after, as well as every time you change out a keg. This time frame will prevent calcium oxalate from forming and preserve the integrity of your brew.
Large scale draft beer operations, such as those found at large breweries and bars, will require more frequent cleaning—usually about once a week to ensure all the lines and fittings are crystal clean.
One of the reasons for the frequency of cleaning is to prevent “any” calcium oxalate (beer stone) from forming. Once calcium oxalate does form in the lines you will need an acid-based cleaner to clear the lines and to remove any residual alkali-resistant buildup.
If your draft beer system is going to be idle for a while, perhaps when you go on vacation, you should also clean it before you leave to prevent any yeast buildup and sediment within the lines.
When cleaning beer lines, you should never use chemicals that are not specifically designated for this purpose. Only those chemicals that are made for this purpose can successfully clean the lines while also preserving your safety and the safety of others who will consume your product.
Lastly, always follow the directions on these chemicals to a “T” and be sure to wear any recommended protective clothing (such as gloves or eye protection).
Preparing To Clean Your Beer Lines (The 2 Methods)
When it comes to cleaning your beer lines you actually have a number of options, ranging from gravity-driven methods with containers that attach to your tap, to recirculating beer line cleaning pumps for large commercial setups. All of these methods, however, will require that you buy a cleaning kit, of which there are many different types.
In this article we will discuss the two most popular methods for cleaning beer lines in home bar setups: the gravity driven method and the hand pump method of cleaning beer lines and the fittings that attach them.
The Gravity System of Beer Line Cleaning
The gravity system of beer line cleaning is one of the easiest, and the kits for this type of cleaning are usually the most affordable. It must be noted, however, that there are other systems that may be a bit more efficient, such as those using a hand pump or the truly pressurized cleaning kits.
Still, the gravity driven method is fairly successful at ridding your lines of any sediment and it does help prevent the buildup of calcium oxalate.
As you will need to do with any cleaning kit, the first step of the process is to remove the keg coupler from the keg and place it into a bucket. By doing this, you will be able to catch the cleaning solution as it makes its way through the beer lines, preventing any messy spills.
The next step with the gravity cleaning method is to remove the faucet from the faucet shank of your system. This will permit you to attach the cleaning bottle to the faucet shank—the bottle containing the cleaning fluid and chemicals.
Removing the faucet from the faucet shank can often be tricky, particularly if you have not cleaned your beer lines in quite some time. Fortunately, most retail kits designed for this purpose now include a faucet wrench to facilitate this process.
These faucet wrenches are designed specifically to assist you in gaining the leverage you need to twist faucets from their faucet collars.
Once you have removed the faucet from the faucet collar, place it into the same bucket in which you placed the keg coupler. This way, the faucet can soak in the cleaning solution after it has passed through the line.
Soaking the faucet is very important, as it helps to loosen up any stubborn particles that may have formed on it.
The majority of gravity-driven beer line cleaning kits come with a powdered cleaning compound rather than a liquid one—a compound that will first need to be mixed with water before it can be used.
And almost all gravity cleaning kits will contain an ample amount of the powdered line cleaning compound to see you through over a dozen beer line cleanings.
Following the instructions on your gravity cleaning kit exactly, mix the proper amount of powder with the specified amount of water in the provided cleaning bottle, making sure all the powder has dissolved and been mixed thoroughly. Be sure to wear the recommended safety gear when doing this, gear that will include gloves and perhaps even eye protection.
Once the cleaning solution has been properly and thoroughly mixed, connect the bottle to the faucet shank. Once it is connected, hold the cleaning bottle upside down and allow gravity to draw the solution through the beer line and out of the keg coupler into the bucket.
Because keg couplers have a check ball within them to prevent backflow into the keg, all gravity-driven cleaning kits include a ball lifter to ensure the fluid can flow freely into the bucket. To use this ball lifter, simply insert it into the bottom portion of the keg coupler probe.
This will allow the cleaning solution to flow freely through the coupler and therefore clean the entire line.
Once all of the cleaning solution has run through and scoured the line, you will now need to rinse the line in order to remove any left-behind solution. To do this, merely rinse the cleaning bottle thoroughly and fill it with clear, cool water from the tap.
Then, just as you did with the cleaning solution, attach the cleaning bottle to the faucet collar, turn it upside down and allow gravity to take over.
Note: Because powdered cleaner does not always mix well, you may have to perform the “rinse” step about three or four times to ensure no cleaning residue is left behind.
Finally, use the included faucet brush in your kit to clean the faucet and all of the fittings with the cleaning solution. Once washed, rinse those fittings thoroughly with clean water.
And that’s all there is to it. Just put your tap system back together and you are ready to enjoy clean, fresh beer from your sparkling-clean lines.
The Hand Pump System of Beer Line Cleaning
The hand pump system of beer line cleaning is fairly self-explanatory—instead of allowing just gravity to move the cleaning solution through the lines, you will actually use a spring-action hand pump to push the liquid, creating more pressure than the gravity-driven system. This will lead to a greater degree of cleaning inside the lines.
Hand pump systems come with either a powdered or liquid cleaning solution, the former you will have to mix with water. Here are the basic steps for cleaning your lines using the hand pump system:
- Remove the keg coupler from the keg and place it into a bucket
- Remove the faucet from the faucet shank and place the faucet into the same bucket
- Connect the bottle of cleaning solution to the faucet
- Use the spring-action hand pump to send the pressurized cleaning solution through the lines and out into the bucket.
- Rinse the lines using clean water
- Clean and rinse the faucet and other fittings on your tap system
- Reassemble the keg coupler and faucet
Hand pump cleaning kits usually have the equivalent of a one or two-quart bottle of cleaning solution (in either powdered or liquid form).
The 1-quart kit is typically sufficient for home bar setups and kegerators with shorter lines; while the 2-quart kit is needed for longer lines that may require more cleaning solution.