Often overlooked, the cleaning of draught lines system is crucial in proper beer serving. Regardless of whether we are talking about a simple party pump or a complex pub system, the correct cleaning procedures serves to ensure that the beer is not spoiled and the quality remains unaltered. But why is it necessary to clean the system? In addition to alcohol and carbon dioxide, beer contains carbohydrates, proteins and hundreds of other organic substances, plus mineral salts dissolved in water.
All these substances are deposited in our system components, creating a biofilm which, when it comes into contact with beer, will spoils its taste and flavor. Just one day after tapping, colonies of bacteria begin to form and grow exponentially. These, if not properly removed, will irreparably ruin the beer served.
In the professional area there are numerous tools for cleaning draught line and system, but in domestic use these tools are not always easily available and often over-sized for the use needed, so how could we clean draught beer lines without professional kit? Fortunately, is possible to replicate the same procedures on a home scale in order to achieve a satisfactory result. Before going into the subject, however, it is necessary to understand how cleaning procedures of draught system and line works.
Safety and cleaning essentials
A first safety note is essential: whatever cleaning task you are about to perform, when using chemicals or detergents, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions on quantities and dosages. Secondly, when you have to dilute a substance, always add chemical to water and never vice versa. Finally, always use protective gloves and glasses.
As mentioned above, beer contains organic and inorganic substances that are deposited along the components of our system during pouring. The primary purpose of cleaning is to remove these substances and preserve beer quality. This is done through two types of cleaning: caustic-cleaning and acid-cleaning. The first, using substances based on sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide, removes organic residues. The second, using detergents usually based on phosphoric acid, removes inorganic components and minerals.
As we will see later, many specific products are easily available online or at your homebrewing store, also for domestic use. Cleaning procedures are always based on three basic principles: time, temperature and chemical action, the combination of these three elements leads to a satisfactory end result. To achieving this, industry currently uses two cleaning methods for beer lines: recirculation by electric pump, and static or pressurized canister cleaning. For a domestic use, we should focus on static cleaning, as electric pumps and pressurized pot are out of our reach. This will require more contact time between the cleaning solution and lines, but will still guarantee a good result.
The following steps are valid for a domestic system that has been out of operation for some time and whose level of cleanliness is unknown. First, disassemble the keg coupler from beer and CO2 lines, inspecting that any gaskets are not worn. Then check the external integrity of any hex nut, hose nipple, John Guest or other small parts, replacing any that are visibly damaged. Rinse the coupler externally under plenty of warm water, gently brushing it. Depending on the type of coupler, disassemble its main parts such as handle, check ball, check valve and probe.
If is the first time you are disassembling a coupler, follow the procedure well and memorize it so that you will have no problems when reassembling. Rinse all disassembled parts again, taking care to brush off any fouling and deposits, especially on the probe. Take care to also brush the inside of the coupler. Now prepare a solution of water and sanitizer in a bucket and immerse the coupler components for about 15 to 20 minutes. There are numerous brands of sanitizer on the market, also available online. There is no one better than the others, so base your choice on availability and format. Crucial is to use a product specifically for beer line cleaning. Various format are available, from 5-litre canister to single disposable packets, it depends on how often you plan to wash the system.
Some common brands are Draftbrew, Power punch, Kegworks, BLC, Pipeline, etc. Some of these products allow you to assess, based on the color taken on by the solution, how clean the components or lines are. Useful but not indispensable. Once the sanitizer has been identified, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions on dosages and quantities. In extreme cases, a solution of water and bleach can be used, but I advise against this as it may leave odors that are difficult to eliminate on the components. While the components of coupler are soaking, proceed with cleaning the lines.
Lines and faucet cleaning
This is the only part of the procedure where we need a tool to help us push the sanitizing solution into the lines, otherwise we would have no other way of doing it. The most economical method is to buy a hand pump, consisting of a plastic canister (1 or 2 liters usually) whit a manual pump mounted on the cap, completed by an outlet pipe. Again, it is easy to find it online or at your homebrewing store and the cost is usually between 20$ and 30$.
Fill the canister with the cleaning solution, taking care to place any seals on the cap tightly, otherwise the pressure could leak out, rendering the procedure useless. After connecting the outlet line of the canister to the inlet beer line of our system, start pumping while keeping the beer faucet open. If everything has been done correctly, the level of the solution will go down as the tubes fill up. Once the solution has reached the faucet, let some of it run out and then close the tap, letting the solution stand for 20 minutes. If the system has been stopped for a long time and there’s no way of visual inspecting the lines, repeat the operation a second time, with a new solution of water and detergent.
At this point proceed with the rinsing, following the same operations as before but using only water and no sanitizer. Repeat rinsing at least twice. In case of doubt, use pH test strips to make sure that the pH of water out of the faucet is that of the local tap water (7/8).
Now remove keg coupler from the bucket of water and detergent, rinse the parts well and reassemble it. Repeat the same operations done with keg coupler but with the faucet. Proceed to wash it externally, disassemble main parts, brush them off and soak them for about 20 minutes in the solution of water and detergent. Rinse it carefully, reassemble it ad mount it on the system.
Now your system is ready again to dispense fresh beer!