Is there anything more refreshing than a crisp, cold draught beer, straight from the faucet? We don’t think so! But sometimes, you can serve someone up the dreaded skunky beer—you know the type (most of us who’ve had one will never forget it). It has a stale or buttery taste, a funky smell, and may even be cloudy or contain small brown flakes.
The good news is that with proper commercial beer line and component cleaning, you can eliminate skunked beer’s four usual suspects— yeast, mold, bacteria, and beer stone. Of course, simply running some soap and water through your lines is not going to keep them clean; there are a number of procedures which need to be followed to ensure brewery-fresh flavor and perfect pours—as well as profits.
Establishing Proper Beer System Maintenance
To avoid skunk beer, lines and equipment need to be regularly cleaned every two weeks. In some states, the two-week timeframe for cleaning is required by law.
Properly cleaning your beer lines dissolves proteins, hop resins, bio-films, mold, bacteria, and yeast. An acid cleaning, to dissolve mineral buildup such as beer stone, should also be done every three months.
Promoting and Ensuring Proper Beer Line Cleaning in Your Commercial Establishment
We recommend posting documentation of cleaning and servicing in all keg coolers as a reminder to be sure the job gets done. This also lets your beer distributors know you’re keeping up with recommended procedures; some distributors will pull distribution because they don’t want your poor line hygiene to give their beer a bad name.
A few other steps to take to ensure quality draught beer:
1. Use effective chemicals.
Not all line cleaning chemicals are created equally. To ensure clean beer lines, use an alkaline or caustic solution at 2% or greater for well-maintained lines, or 3% for old or problem lines. If you use a non-caustic cleaner, be sure to use the cleaning concentrations recommended by the manufacturer. Micro Matic’s beer and wine cleaners are proven to work more efficiently than other products. They have a patented surfactant that allows the chemical to clean more effectively and rinse very easily.
2. Flush your lines.
Leaving beer in your lines can dilute the cleaning properties of the chemicals you use. So, it’s best practice to turn off your glycol system and push beer from lines with cold water before you begin cleaning.
3. Use a quality electric re-circulating pump.
An electric recirculating pump is your best bet for circulating the solution through the lines. Allow it to operate for at least 15 minutes at a flow rate of up to 2 gallons per minute. Pressurized cleaning is another method in which the chemicals are hand-pumped or pushed through with CO2 or compressed air. However, this is only recommended for cleaning direct draw or short-draw systems.
4. Rinse your lines.
After cleaning, give your lines a thorough flush with cold water to ensure all cleaning chemicals are removed. Leaving chemical in the lines will not only contaminate your beer when you repack lines, but it’s also dangerous to consume; so, be sure to check the pH level with a pH tester or litmus paper to ensure that no cleaning solution remains in the lines. With Micro Matic chemicals, this step isn’t necessary. Micro Matic chemicals are color-coded, eliminating guesswork by allowing you to easily identify when the chemical is in use and when it's been rinsed out of the lines.
Acid cleaning follows these same procedures, but again it is only necessary to do quarterly. With all cleaning, be sure to disassemble and hand-clean faucets and couplers; there’s no point in cleaning the beer lines but leaving yeasts or molds at the point of pour. (You should also clean all FOB devices when you perform the acid cleaning).
Proper Commercial Beer Line Cleaning—How It Really Pays Off
You may be thinking, since the hops and alcohol in beer kill pathogens which prevents anyone from actually getting sick off skunked beer, does it really matter if I push my cleaning schedule out to every three weeks instead of two? Aside from possibly being against the law in your state and helping maintain relationships with distributors, the answer is still a resounding yes! Here’s why.
Draught beer is the second biggest money-maker for bars and restaurants, with an 80% or greater profit margin. So, to maintain those margins you want to maintain your lines and equipment to keep customers coming back.
The Cost Per Beer Line Cleaning vs. Profit Cost
According to the Brewers Association, the average cost of cleaning a beer line is between $6 and $12 (this accounts for the cost of beer lost during cleaning and the cost for time, labor, and materials). Now consider some of the costs associated with serving skunk beer (which will eventually be noticed in all taps, not just one) in each of the following scenarios:
- Customers don’t order another beer
- Customers ask for another beer (or a refund)
- Customers switch to profit-sucking bottle or can
- Customers leave (and possibly don’t return)
It’s safe to say, the cost of cleaning your lines regularly is far less than in either of the price of the four scenarios above. A report by the Draught Beer Quality, “Economics of Draught Line Cleaning,” revealed that locations performing two-week line cleanings had a 4% higher growth rate than locations not using the two-week cycle. This built upon an earlier industry study by David Quain, “Draught Beer Quality—Challenges and Opportunities,” which found that retail locations which only cleaned their lines every five to eight weeks saw a 7% decline in draught beer sales.
There’s more. In a case study involving a 10 draught line system at 10 kegs per week, the impact of these percentages was brought to light. The 4% growth resulted in an additional profit per year of nearly $4,300, while the 7% decline resulted in a loss of over $23,000.
Proper Commercial Beer Line Cleaning—It Makes a Difference for Your Customers and Your Profits
Most brewers spend a lot of time and effort crafting the best beer possible for consumers, and their efforts can be ruined in the time it takes for a beer to travel a dirty line. Not only that, but it can give your own business a bad reputation.
Following proper procedures for commercial beer line cleaning is important for any beverage dispensing business to succeed—it’s the truth. So, keep up a 2-week beer line and equipment cleaning schedule to keep up your profits—and keep your customers happy (and coming back)! Talk to one of our specialists today about beer line cleaning equipment.