Are You Serving Dirty Beer?

There’s nothing like taking a sip of an ice cold, crisp draught beer. With just the right amount of fizz and foam, the taste is crafted to excellence. And that taste is not something to be tampered with.

Eric Schechter Sendaguy
Eric Schechter, SendaGuy Now

Having dirty beer lines can take your draught beer from enjoyable to sickening in no time. To keep your draught beer tasting crisp and refreshing, it is important to keep those lines clean. New York State is one of the few that make it the restaurant’s responsibility to keep the lines clean and not the beer distributor so it’s important to know the requirements.

How often should I clean my beer lines?

New York State requires cleaning every 4 weeks, but lines should be cleaned every 2 weeks for best performance. Regular cleaning rids your beer lines of bacteria, yeast, mold, and stone build up- all things that will negatively affect the smell and taste of your beer and quality of pour for your draft beer system.

Trace minerals, namely calcium oxalate, take a foothold in a beer line’s minor imperfections. This buildup is called ‘beerstone’, and it’s the barnacle of beer. (Fun fact: calcium oxalate is also found in most human kidney stones.) Over time, beerstone traps bacteria, mold, and yeast, and creates a miasma of bugs hell-bent on destroying the flavor of your beer. After two weeks, beerstone can build to a point where these creatures begin to produce traces of off flavors.

Most people can’t begin to taste flaws this early for two reasons. One, the beer needs to soak up off flavors by sitting in the line. The first pint of the day may have some noticeable flaws, but if the beer is popular and the line continues to flow, it won’t be sitting on the beerstone long enough to absorb bad flavors. Two, most people can’t detect flaws.

Cleaning lines is a time consuming, messy, and inconvenient process.

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Many restaurants and bars choose not to clean their lines themselves or hire a company to clean their lines frequently enough or at all. 

Therein lies the problem. Beerstone is harder to remove when it begins to take a foothold, and when cleaning every two to four weeks stretches to months, established beerstone doesn’t go away. Beerstone slowly compounds. With the increased surface area of calcium oxalate, more bacteria, mold, and yeast can form, thus creating even more off flavors. Soon the first pour of the day is undrinkable, and while subsequent pours are better, many experienced beer drinkers will begin to notice something is off.

Will dirty beer lines make people sick?

Different people have different tolerances for any number of bacteria and molds, be they the kind found in cheese, beer, or around the house. Just like the bacteria levels in mussels and oysters can fluctuate but still be in the safe zone for the majority of the population, some of the yuck in an unclean line will cause a different reaction in people who are more sensitive than others.

The Do’s of Beer Line Cleaning:

Do use effective line cleaning chemicals. Line cleaners will be either caustic with a high PH, or acidic with a low PH depending on the line conditions and the type of system being cleaned.

Do remember to flush the beer from the lines with water before cleaning. Leaving beer in the lines can dilute the cleaning properties in the chemicals and gives an
unsatisfactory cleaning. Flushing the lines will ensure that they are thoroughly cleaned and sanitized in order to maintain the integrity of the beer.

Do clean lines regularly. For commercial use, it’s best to clean the lines
every 2 weeks.

The Don’ts of Beer Line Cleaning:

Don’t just use soap and water. Using soap and water to surface clean the areas around the tap is fine; but the lines need a more thorough cleaning. Soap and water will not attack and dissolve proteins, minerals, carbohydrates, hop resins, and bio-films like cleaning chemicals do. Soap and water will also not kill mold, bacteria, or yeast. Also, the cleaning process and chemicals used to clean and sanitize the system will also vary with the type and length of the beer dispensing system.

Don’t forget to wear protective gear when handling line-cleaning chemicals. Beer line cleaners typically contain toxic chemicals, so always wear personal safety equipment including eye protection and rubber gloves when handling them.

Don’t forget to flush chemicals from the beer lines with water after cleaning. It is recommended to check the ph level with a ph tester or litmus paper to ensure that no cleaning solution remains in the lines. Leaving chemicals behind can be dangerous and can contaminate the beer.

Clean Beer is better for business.

The New York State Brewers Association’s (NYSBA) Draft Beer Quality Certification Program, the first of its kind in the U.S. The purpose of the program, which launched on January 21, 2016, is to ensure that retailers are serving the best quality draft beer to the consumer.

A retailer must pass a rigorous inspection by the NYSBA before they can be considered a Certified Draft Establishment. They will then receive a quality seal for their door so that customers know that they will be receiving fresh beer poured from a clean draft system. The NYSBA then promotes these businesses on their website as certified establishments.

One for the road.

Using an expert to come out regularly to clean your lines can ensure that your beer tap system is properly cleaned and maintained to produce the finest quality and tasting draught beer. As the resident Certified Facilities Management Professional at SendaGuy Now, I let all of our restaurant clients know that they can use the SendaGuy Now app to find Draft Systems contractors in NYC who can come when you need them.


Click here to read more of Eric’s articles for Total Food Service.

The SendaGuy Now app is free and is available for download at the Apple App Store and Google Play App Store. Interested restaurant operators and potential repair service partners can also go to sendaguy.com or call 800-214-5410 for service.

Eric Schechter is a Certified Restaurant Facilities Professional (CRFP) with over 25 years’ experience in the restaurant facilities industry. Eric is also Chief Business Guy at SendaGuy Now, the mobile app for restaurant repairs on demand, where he’s in charge of Strategy, Product & Service, Development & Evaluation, Go-To-Market Strategy and Product Management. Eric can be reached at eschechter@sendaguy.com