Avoiding Skunky Beer - Maintain Draught Beer Lines

You go to your local watering hole for a few pints and to catch some March Madness. Like a shooting guard pulling up behind the arc for a 3-pointer, you confidently go to the bar and order one of your favorite craft beers from the healthy list of beers the bar has on tap.

Just like teams fighting toward Phoenix on the road to the Final Four, you eagerly await the first sip of a crispy tasting IPA or creamy stout. However, as the beer is placed in front of you and you take that first sip, something is just not right. There is an odd smell, the color of the brew is off and the taste is tainted.

You have had this beer several times. It’s your go-to beer. You look forward to enjoying it, and just like a sure jump shot that gets swatted into the second row by a power forward, your taste buds are blindsided.

What Happened?

Craft brewers take pride in the beers they brew. Craft brewing takes a lifetime of commitment from picking the proper ingredients, to cleaning and sanitizing your equipment and the actual brewing and bottling process. Brewers want their final product to be perfect and taste the same, every time.

Unfortunately, some times that is out of the brewmasters control. Once the kegged product leaves the brewery, the product is at the mercy of the owners of bars, restaurants and pubs. If the draught system is not properly maintained, the brewer’s reputation will suffer, the patron’s experience is tainted and the bottom line of the bar or restaurant will suffer.

Clean draught lines is paramount when maintaining the quality of craft beer. The cleanliness of the line, going from the keg to the tap is just as important to the quality of the beer, as is the actual brewing process.

It Could Cost You

According to a study at DraughtQuality.org, bars and restaurants can see a reduction of nearly 7 percent due to dirty beer lines. So why wouldn’t a corner pub not go the extra mile to maintain a clean line from keg to tap and keep patrons happy and thus preserving the quality of the craft beer? It seems to be a no-brainer.

The same study also revealed a bar that cleans its draught line system every two weeks, which is recommended by the Brewers Association, and they can expect increased sales by 4 percent to 7 percent. Another perk is many beer distributors offer their customers complimentary line cleaning services. So clean lines means a better bottom line.

How To Clean

Below are BA defined minimum standards for draught cleanliness:

  • At a minimum, you should clean your draught line every two weeks with an alkaline detergent cleaner to remove protein and films that build up quickly.
  • The cleaning chemical should be recirculated through the product line for a minimum of 15 minutes at a velocity up to two gallons/minute. Soaking product lines is not recommended, but the cleaning solution should be left in-line for at least 20 minutes if recirculation is not an option.
  • All faucets should be completely disassembled and cleaned every two weeks. Make sure to replace any damaged seals or gaskets.
  • Acid cleaning should be performed quarterly to remove inorganic compounds such as “beer stone,” which are mineral deposits.
  • Make sure to wear gloves and protect your eyes and face when using line-cleaning chemicals.
  • All vinyl jumpers and vinyl direct draw lines should be replaced annually.
  • Couplers should be replaced based on condition. Inspect the coupler bottom seal and O-rings, to make sure they are properly lubricated with a food-grade lubricant.
  • Good quality, well-maintained couplers, faucets and shanks can last a lifetime. Parts that are 100 percent stainless steel are the most reliable and will provide the best quality experience for your staff and customers.
  • Always make sure to rinse lines with clean water after cleaning!
  • Draught lines may need to be replaced after pouring root beer, fruit or pepper-flavored beers, sour beers, margaritas or ciders in order to avoid permanent flavor influence.

By following these guidelines you can avoid the buildup of yeast, mold, beer-soaked bacteria or the buildup of calcium oxalate, which is more commonly known as beer stone. By regularly cleaning the beer lines you can guarantee craft beer will taste the way it is supposed to taste and your patrons will be happy even if their favorite college team gets upset by a mid-major school.