How to clean keg beer lines
The most important, yet one of the most hated jobs for Landlords or Landladies alike is beer line cleaning. Probably because cleaning keg beer lines, takes up, what most publicans have little of…“Time”. As a result this is often neglected and can be catastrophic to a business. If you don’t have clean lines, your keg beers will not taste as good as they should, your customers will not say anything they will just walk.
While cleaning beer lines is straightforward, it may confuse someone who hasn’t done it before or not for a very long time, and hopefully this article will prove helpful for them. I have ten customers who I clean lines for, so I am well aware of the problems associated with line cleaning.
If you can’t set aside at least two and half-hours of your time a week to clean lines and equipment, then you should employ someone who will. Near enough isn’t good enough. And if your beer doesn’t taste good, then you will lose customers or even worse, drive them to the supermarkets. Not to mention wastage through fobbing.
As a Technician, who has been doing the rounds for many years, I would often be told “this bitter is so bad I have to clean the line every four days”. If that is the case, then the line isn’t been cleaned properly in the first place. Or the Indian Restaurant, who isn’t particularly bothered with his beer, until you happen to mention that, when his customers have bad stomachs next day they will blame his food.
Before handling cleaning fluid you should have the necessary protective gear. PVC gloves (I prefer the gauntlet type), goggles and a PVC apron. If you get cleaning solution into a cut or rash on the skin it really stings and if you get it splashed in your eye it hurts like stink!! Be careful with the neat stuff as it can be absorbed through the skin and this could lead to blood poisoning.
To begin, just because the customers do not go into your cellar does not mean it should be neglected. Cleanliness is just as important down here as it is in the bar. So the first job when you remove the keg couplers from the container should be to clean them in a bucket of warm water with cleaning fluid solution mix. Also, clean the cleaning sockets on the wall (cleaning main) that the keg coupler fits into. When you are done, wipe the boards down with a cloth. Nothing looks worse than beer stains everywhere.
All the keg couplers should be inserted into their relevant cleaning sockets, with the gas to each container turned off. Why turn the gas off? – Cleaning sockets are usually made of plastic and sometimes this does not provide a very good seal, and can result in gas seeping into the cleaning system causing the taps to spit and blow, and fob detectors, floats to drop. Gas to the gas pumps should be left on.
Turn off the coolers both remote and under counter. “Why turn the coolers off I have been cleaning lines for years with them left on”, I hear you say? Answer – beer has a lower freezing point than water so could freeze in the line whilst cleaning. If you have any of the newer “glycol remote coolers” turn off at least an hour before cleaning, but I would turn them off the night before to be on the safe side. There is nothing worse than having to turn off the remote cooler and wait hours for the line to thaw especially if you have cleaning fluid trapped.
Rinse out any water that is in the cleaning container, water that has been in there a day or so becomes stagnant (I have seen cleaning containers with algae before now). Then fill the container with clean cold water. Use cold water for two reasons: hot water will freeze quicker than cold, because there is less oxygen in the water and if you use a pressure container, hot water increases the pressure within that container so it then becomes a safety issue.
Most cleaning systems now have a gas pump to power the cleaning solution/water through the lines. Making sure the pump inlet pipe is inserted in the cleaning container. Switch on the gas pump and bleed any air/gas bubbles that is in the cleaning main through any one of the cellar-buoy / fob detectors – doesn’t matter if you set all the fobs to the clean setting, there always seem to be a couple of fobs where the float drops and you have to go back down the cellar to bleed them again.
Placing a bucket under the taps, remove the sparklers and diffusers. Then flush the lines with water till all traces of beer are removed. By clearing all beer and debris from the line first you wont waste any cleaning fluid, if not, you could use twice as much.
There are a lot of different types of cleaning fluid out there, some good, some bad. I would go for one that is recommended by one of the main brewers, then you know it will have been tried and tested and is good. Cheaper will not necessarily mean you will be saving money, more likely you will use a lot more. Carefully follow the manufacturers instructions mixing the right amount for the size of your container.
The cleaning solution can now be drawn through the lines if you are using a clear, line cleaning solution you will be able to tell when the line cleaning solution has reached the tap by using litmus paper. When all lines are full of cleaning solution, return to the cellar and bleed cleaning solution, through the fob detectors. This makes sure the top of the fob is also getting cleaned. If you have electrical pumps you should bleed them as well.
After about 15 minutes repeat the process drawing fresh cleaning solution through the lines. You will be able to tell when clean, cleaning solution is in the line by using a glass; the solution will be of a milky appearance until the fresh solution comes through. Or if you are using a dye based cleaner until the cleaner retains a purple or blue colour (the same colour that is in the container, before it is used).
If the system is heavily soiled you may want to repeat this process a couple more times, but do not leave in longer than recommended by the manufactures instructions on the cleaning fluid container.
When you are happy that all the lines are clean, you can now begin flushing the cleaning solution out of the lines taking any yeast debris that is left.
Thoroughly rinse out the cleaning container a few times until all traces of cleaning fluid have been removed, and fill with clean water.
Now flush out the system with water, drawing at least two gallon (10 litres) through each tap. Cleaning solution breaks up and loosens the yeast that is attached to the walls of the pipes; it doesn’t dissolve the yeast like a lot of people think. That is why it is a good idea to remove the sparklers and diffusers before cleaning as they could get blocked.
Don’t forget to bleed water through the fob detectors and the bleed points on the electrical pumps if you have any. When you have thoroughly flushed out the system, check with litmus paper to make sure there is no cleaning solution residue in the lines. Now you can drain the cleaning container and switch off the cleaning gas pump.
Connect the keg coupler back on to the beer container, not forgetting to switch the gas back on to the container; I like to draw beer through the fob detector first. This way I know water is not getting trapped in the system, while at the same time setting the fob detector to the serve position.
Then replace the sparklers etc. Turn on the tap and until beer comes through. Now you can switch the coolers back on.
Check that the beer looks and tastes good and pat yourself on the back.
A job well done!!!
Looking after beer isn’t rocket science, a lot of call outs to brewery tech services can be attributed to yeasty lines. If you have just taken over a pub and the lines are in a terrible condition you may not get all the yeast out for the first couple of cleans. But perseverance will get you there and when you do get your lines clean, keep them that way.
If you clean the line thoroughly as time goes on you will get to a point where there will be hardly any yeast to remove at each clean. This is when you have reached a pinnacle with your line cleaning. Of course if you require a Blitz clean to speed up things you can get in touch with people like myself who specialise in restoring lines to their original condition.
Cheers and happy stress free beer line cleaning
Paul Jones has worked in Dispense Technical Services for over 25 years with beer and soft drinks. As well as employed by major breweries such as Carlsberg-Tetley and Ansells and for a brief spell with Innserve. Now works out of Newtown, Mid-Wales trading asPub-Tek
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