As draft beer continues to rebound following the devastating effects of the pandemic, it is critical to keep cleanliness top of mind, and to institute best practices for pulling a perfect pint. Neil Witte, a long-time brewer and draft quality ambassador, is the owner of Craft Quality Solutions, a consulting company, and TapStar, a draught line certification program. He spoke to Beer Edge editor John Holl about standard and best practices every bar and brewery should be thinking about.
John Holl: It seems like we can all use a refresher in the importance of maintaining clean draft lines from time to time. So, why are clean draft lines important?
Neil Witte: Simply put: stuff grows in beer. Beer has all kinds of foods for microorganisms that will feed on carbohydrates and multiply and potentially produce off flavors that will make your beer taste bad. Draft systems are a great breeding ground for these microorganisms.
Where the coupler meets the keg, for example, is frequently opened and is a spot on a draft system that is almost never sanitized so it’s guaranteed that microbiology growth will enter there inside the daft lines. Those microbes will multiply and feed on the food in beer and ultimately spoil the flavor of the beer if left unchecked. So, if you don’t clean all parts of your lines periodically you’re going to introduce some kind of off flavors.
John Holl: Flavors like what?
Neil Witte: It could be diacetyl or lactic flavor, rotten eggs, or vinegar, or stale oxygen damage are some of the more common ones.
John Holl: What’s a good schedule for cleaning your draft lines and system?
Neil Witte: Every two weeks. Flush out the system with a chemical solution, a caustic solution. There are well known products in the marketplace, but you need ones that attack the biofilm that has accumulated in the draft lines and will remove it and then prevent it from growing where it starts to affect the flavor of the beer. Doing this every two weeks assures that microbiological substances will be held to the point where it prevents off flavors.
John Holl: What about full replacement of lines? When should that be considered?
Neil Witte: For a short draw system like from a keg or through the wall to a cold box it’s more likely that you’re using a flexible vinyl tubing that is pretty much a low grade material that can degrade quickly over a year or two and even absorb color from the beer. So we recommend replacement on a yearly basis.
If you have a long drat system, 150 feet or more a lot will depend on how well it’s been maintained. Usually these are more sturdier tubing but are also bundled with glycol lines, so simply removing a draft line is harder. As long as it is cleaned regularly and maintained, replacement every 10 years makes sense.
John Holl: Beer professionals and smart drinkers will take time to appreciate clean lines, but what about touting them to everyday customers and the general public? Is there a benefit to that?
Neil Witte: What I’ve found is that the more consumers understand the need for clean draft lines, the more they appreciate it. Not everyone knows about the importance but when they do find out about it, they really care about it. It can also help breweries. Maybe someone has a bad beer at one place and if you can point to the draft lines being in poor shape and showcase how it is better at another bar where they clean their lines. It just helps with the overall experience.