Is it possible to tell how old a keg valve is, or when it was last rebuilt?
Of course this is necessary in order to proactively cycle through your kegs and proactively maintain the keg spears. The manufacturers of keg spears generally place date codes on spears or component parts; embossed on the rubber CO2 valve or etched on the stainless steel. Contact Micro Matic or other manufacturer for the appropriate decoder ring. In 2015 Micro Matic began a 10-year, 10-color cycle of coding on CO2 valves, greatly simplifying this task. If the spear is original to the keg, the keg itself should display a manufacture date and this would indicate the age of the spear as well.
Are special tools needed to remove and repair D System keg spears?
Yes. Depending on the keg neck style – two-ear drop-in or threaded – you will need specialized tools as provided by the keg spear manufacturer. You will need training to use the tools correctly, safely. Do not go to YouTube™ to learn how to remove/repair/replace keg spears. Representatives from the keg spear manufacturer can help teach you how to do this.
Can I rebuild or replace spears as they fail with spears from other manufacturers?
You can replace them with new keg spears from another brand, but you should only rebuild keg spears using parts and tools from that manufacturer.
Is there a good way to manually clean kegs with D System valves?
No. Kegs with two-ear drop-in keg spears are very specifically designed to be cleaned using CIP (clean in place) process with a keg washing machine. The nature of the keg spear/neck interface makes repeated removal and replacement of the spear for cleaning unpractical. Constant spear removal and replacement can damage or degrade both the spear and keg neck. And it’s not feasible to clean the keg spear itself separately from the keg.
What does Sankey D mean and why do I want it?
“Sankey D” is a misnomer. Sankey actually refers to S System (original Sankey), while here in North America, we are using – almost exclusively – D System, nicknamed “American Sankey” or “Sankey D”. There are numerous other valve systems in use around the world, such as A, G, M and U Systems, but here in the US and Canada, nearly all retailers of draft beer expect domestically-produced beer to be delivered in kegs using D System keg spears so they will not have to replace the couplers on their draft lines to accommodate changing over to your kegs.
How often do my kegs/spears need maintenance?
Micro Matic recommends replacement or rebuilding of keg spears on about a 7-8 year cycle. However, this is a rough guideline. Whether this should be done sooner depends on how many cycles of use and what sort of abuse the kegs have been subjected to. For example, if kegs cycle through your brewery 8-10x per year vs 4-5x per year, they may need maintenance on a cycle shorter than 7 years. If your kegs are stored outdoors in direct sunlight (UV degrades the rubber CO2 valve), or if your racking line runs with steam sanitation cycles higher than 275°F, you also might need a shorter proactive maintenance cycle.
The body of the keg should last 30 years and can take lots of abuse before needing maintenance (it's a big hunk of stainless steel!). Dents and dings are normal, but significant neck or chime damage may need to be straightened. Dents in the top or bottom of the domes of the kegs can impede proper CIP (clean in place) cleaning on keg washing machines. Bent and compressed keg necks are also problematic. Bulging at the top or bottom of the keg (caused by freezing) should also be repaired immediately.
How will I know when it’s time for maintenance?
As a keg spear ages, the rubber deteriorates and the springs weaken. The rubber becomes harder and more brittle, making it susceptible to damage. There are two general strategies for determining when a spear should be rebuilt with new springs and rubber parts.
A: do routine screening and inspection or
B: wait until they fail (leak or dispense foamy or flat beer)
Proactive screening before failure is obviously the better choice because when they fail in the field beer is wasted and customer satisfaction is compromised. Proactive maintenance requires screening and separation of kegs with older or damaged valves upon their return to your brewery so the spears can be replaced or rebuilt before being returned to service.
How long will the spear last?
Keg spears will occasionally perform for up to 15 years if they suffer no abuse during those years. However, failure rate generally increases rapidly among spears after they have been in use for 9-10 years.
Is there a difference between a spear and a valve? I hear people calling it different things, what’s the correct term?
The fully assembled valve and downtube, manufactured separately and installed by the keg manufacturer, is typically called a “keg spear” although numerous other terms are also used. The components and parts within the spear are the actual “valves”: a beer valve and a CO2 valve.
Do I need a keg washer?
Yes. The alternative to a keg washer is pulling spears out and soaking kegs, which you don't want to do. If you pull the spear out and don't put a new ring on you may void the warranty on your spear. Keg washers can be expensive, but they are a worthwhile investment. What kind of keg washer you need depends on how much you can spend, how many kegs you have, and how much time you are willing to spend washing kegs. A manual keg washer will work for many people, but does require a significant amount of time and labor. A semi-automatic keg washer is more expensive, but much more efficient.
What’s a threaded spear and why would I want need one?
A threaded spear can be easily screwed out of the keg. It may be required if you do not have filling, pressure, or pumping equipment or if you need to be able to easily check inside the keg. Threaded spears are more common in kombucha and home brewing.
What are the pro’s and con’s of stackable kegs?
Pros: They save space.
Cons: Repeated stacking can weaken the welds on the chime and dent/ding the keg so it doesn't stack properly. Because of this stackable kegs have a reputation for not being as durable, but some have found this not to be true.
What are kegs made of?
Kegs should be made out of food grade stainless steel.
I heard my kegs are passivated, what does that mean?
Passivated means they have been through an acid wash that seals the stainless steel. This still means they need to be sanitized before using.
What are the best chemicals to use when cleaning kegs?
Caustic and peracetic acid are commonly used. Peracetic acid is a non-rinse sanitizer, which means that you can blow it out with Co2 and the keg will be sanitized.
Do I need to clean my kegs when I get them? If so, how should I clean them?
You should always clean and sanitize your kegs before filling them for the first time. Please reference our keg cleaning guide on how to do this. Check the guidelines for the chemicals you are using as they may differ from our recommendations.
How many kegs do I need?
The standard ratio is 3 kegs to every 1 tap handle. That's one keg filled and ready, one empty/dirty keg that needs to be cleaned, and one extra just in case. If you are distributing out of state you will likely need about 4-5 kegs per tap handle. It can take longer to get your kegs back from out of state or far distances, so you need to have more to keep the rotation running smoothly. You'll also need to consider your fermentation capacity and how much (if any) you are serving directly from brite tanks to decide on the right amount of kegs. The size of your kegs should also be taken into account as you will need more kegs if using smaller sizes.