How clean are your beer lines? If you had to stop and think about the answer, they’re likely in need of attention.
These days, guests are more concerned than ever with bar and restaurant cleanliness. Low-touch and no-touch service, transparency about sanitization protocols, and cleaning in front of guests have become the standard.
It’s important to not lavish so much attention on “new” sanitization protocols that standard cleaning practices are overlooked. Guests may not think much about clean beer lines but they’re key to an enjoyable beer-drinking experience.
Back in March of this year, the Brewers Association (BA) offered an online workshop dedicated to beer line cleaning best practices. I’ve addressed the topic multiple times over the past several years, sharing tips for a different publication. Taking into consideration that we’re coming out of a major holiday, restaurants and bars have endured closures and reopenings, and some bars are finally being permitted to open their doors to guests again, I feel it’s important to address beer lines once more.
MacKenzie Staples, educational content manager for the BA, hosted Ben Geisthardt, field quality specialist at Wisconsin’ New Glarus Brewing to discuss the finer points of cleaning beer lines. Delivering the product as close to what the brewer intended as possible is arguably the greatest on-premise draft beer challenge. That challenge is made easier to manage when beer lines are clean.
In simple terms, clean beer lines lead to repeat beer sales. Makes sense, right? If draft beer delivers taste, aroma, amount of head and temperature that wows a guest, they’re going to want the revenue-generating second order.
Several years ago, I attended a draft system maintenance seminar that shared two great tips: develop a great relationship with your beer reps so they clean your beer lines for you, and use beer lines that are short enough that simply ripping them out and replacing them with brand-new lines is cost effective.
Of course, those two bits of advice don’t work for every operation. Many bars and restaurants are going to have to learn how to clean their beer lines properly. To ensure you’re doing what it takes to capture repeat business and sales, the BA recommends cleaning beer lines every 14 days. A dedicated cleaning log consisting of initials, dates and type of cleaning solution used (caustic and/or acidic) can keep your bar or restaurant on track. Click here for the BA’s log template.
The cleaning process involves the use of caustic chemicals like sodium hyrdroxide to remove organic material from beer lines, and acid for inorganic. Personal protective equipment consisting of gloves and eye protection is crucial. Therefore, operators must explain that specific PPE is a requirement for anyone cleaning beer lines—a zero-tolerance requirement. Another rule Geisthardt shared: inform others whenever cleaning beer lines to keep everyone safe.
It’s also important to know the whats and whys of beer line cleaning and share that with your team to help them buy into the importance of maintaining a clean beer system. As explained by Geisthardt, the gummy, sticky residues that clog up lines over a relatively short period of time are also food for harmful bacteria. At best, bacteria cause unpleasant aromas and flavors. At worst, they’re dangerous to a person’s health. In addition to protecting guests, clean beer lines solve a list of common draft issues: a pour that’s basically all foam, an unfavorable beer-to-foam-ratio, beer that doesn’t taste “brewery fresh,” and cloudy beer.
Pointing to a study conducted by Anheuser-Busch, Geisthardt explained that soaking beer lines may not clean them as effectively as recirculating a solution through the system. A-B’s study found that more effective cleaning can be achieved when a solution is pumped through beer lines rapidly and turbulently for a minimum of ten minutes. The study concluded that ten minutes of the recirculation method is 80 times more effective than a static soaking lasting for the same amount of time.
That doesn’t mean that soaking isn’t a worthwhile cleaning method. Rather, it means the ten-minute soaking time isn’t enough. If soaking is a bar or restaurant’s preferred method, the BA recommends increasing soak time to at least 20 minutes.
For most people, cleaning isn’t fun—it’s a chore. It isn’t quick and it isn’t a glamorous part of any job. But the benefits are as plain as the smiles on guests’ faces, repeat visits and sales, and increased profits. During the BA, Geisthardt shared a beer line cleaning acronym that can help your team see the process in a more positive light: FAST. It stands for:
- Frequency: Every two weeks.
- Action: Either recirculation method or soaking method.
- Solution: Two to three percent sodium or potassium hydroxide between 80 and 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Time: Fifteen minutes or more for the recirculation method, 20 minutes or more if soaking.
It’s important to pay attention to temperatures and pressure when cleaning beer lines. Too hot and the lines may experience breakdown, delamination, expansion, and even bursting. Use too much pressure when pumping solution through the lines may also lead to expansion or bursting. Expansion points in beer lines serve as growth areas for bacteria, making beer lines an even greater threat to guest experience and health than they already can be.
As with other types of cleaning, document the process. You may even have guests that will make a point of making a visit if you post about your freshly cleaned lines to social media—something else to consider.
Following BA guidance, caustic solutions will be used for every beer line cleaning. Operators and managers should schedule the use of acidic solutions every three months. Under no circumstances should a caustic solution ever be mixed with an acidic solution. The quarterly process should be as follows:
- Use warm water to purge beer from system.
- Use caustic solution, following FAST guidelines.
- Flush caustic solution with cold, pH-neutral water.
- Use acidic solution.
- Flush acidic solution with clean water.
Again, never mix a caustic solution with an acidic solution. Nobody should be put at risk for chemical burns or other injuries when cleaning beer lines. Just remember that the solutions should never meet.
Anyone with a draft beer system should take the time to watch the BA’s “Cleaning Best Practices in Today’s Market” video for a wealth of helpful information. Geisthardt gets into the fine details, such as using a titration device, caustic and acidic cleaning solutions, best practices for detailing and replacing system components, and more. It’s time well spent, and an operational habit worth developing.
Disclaimer: Mixing and handling chemical solutions is dangerous and can lead to injury, blindness, chemical burns, and other medical emergencies. Chemicals should be handled and mixed only by qualified, responsible adults. Clean beer lines and other beer system components at your own risk. The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only. Hospitality Villains and its employees and authors are not responsible for injuries sustained while cleaning beer lines or beer systems.
I’ve been studying and writing about the hospitality industry since 2006. Like so many people, I started my journey in this business by working as a host, server and bartender. I was introduced to nightlife in Chicago, learning the ins and outs of nightclubs and after-hours hot spots.
After moving to Las Vegas nearly 20 years ago, I both co-owned a valet company and helped promote the club it serviced. That led to me taking on the role of editor for a Las Vegas hospitality industry publication.
A few short years later, I continued along my journey of hospitality industry reporting. I went from contributing to a major industry outlet to taking on the role of editor and content curator.