Beer draft system maintenance vital for beverage sales
#Pizzaandbeer has over 100,000 Instagram posts. Must be a classic combo, right?
Their dual appeal relies on more than mere tradition or compatible comfort-food allure. Beer’s bitterness and acidity offer a perfect foil for fatty, creamy foods while standing up to the acidic spark of tomato sauce, and beer’s effervescence helps cleanse the palate with each sip.
Today’s increasingly sophisticated customers expect an intriguing variety of craft beers, and their standards have never been higher. Pizzeria operators are responding with bigger selections, which means more taps and more maintenance.
A proper draft system cleaning and maintenance program is essential to ensure a fresh and delicious product. It’s also a financial necessity to protect equipment and prevent wasting beer due to off flavors, foaming and other quality issues.
“We’ve evaluated the economics of cleaning, proving that places which clean regularly have more repeat guests and do better business,” says Damon Scott, technical brewing projects coordinator at the Brewers Association, a trade organization for small and independent craft brewers.
Craft brews are laced with living yeast, carbohydrates, grain proteins, hop resins and hundreds of organic compounds. These components feed yeast, mold and bacteria, while adhering inside the lines, faucets and couplers which deliver draft beer.
Routine cleaning prevents contaminants from causing off flavors and jeopardizing pouring. Organic contaminants include yeast and mold on faucets, keg couplers and drains that are exposed to air. Beer stone is a mineral deposit (calcium oxalate) which accumulates and flakes off, interfering with taste as well as with pouring mechanisms. “If it’s not pouring properly, beer may be improperly carbonated or the wrong temperature,” says Scott.
The greatest risk is from bacterial growth, which, while not a health hazard, compromises taste and aroma. Sour, vinegary off flavors come from acetic acid, a bacterial byproduct. “There’s also a common off flavor caused by diacetyl, associated with dirty lines. It tastes like butter or popcorn,” says Scott. “It’s really detrimental, with a very low flavor threshold. It doesn’t take much to dominate all the other flavors.”
While trained, experienced tasters can identify a bacterial infection, by the time an infected line generates sufficient off flavors for sensory detection it is difficult or impossible to remove, so cleaning protocols represent vital preventative measures.
Review state and local regulations when establishing a cleaning and maintenance program. Recognize that regulations focus on food safety, not quality, falling short of what it takes to ensure optimal flavor and freshness.
Operators can outsource cleaning responsibilities to a distributor, equipment supplier or third-party cleaning vendor. Lenox-Martell, a Boston-based supplier of draft equipment, offers cleaning services. Steve Thomas, draft operations manager, believes outside vendors do a better job. “Most employees don’t understand the fittings and connections, and a typical bar owner won’t train them properly. We strip it all, take it apart, put it together, check the washers. Another advantage is we’re in and out quickly, and we have all the parts.”
Jacob Passey, assistant director of brewing at Pinthouse Pizza with three locations in Texas, says “responsible restaurant or bar operators should do it themselves to make sure it’s done frequently and correctly to their standards. We pride ourselves on running the cleanest draft system we can. Full system breakdown of couplers and faucets every week, as well as cleaning the lines at least once a week and every time we change beers on a draft line.”
Pinthouse Pizza considers cleaning a valuable educational opportunity. “A lot of customers don’t understand the difference between clean or dirty draft systems, so part of our job is letting people know what we do to keep it clean, and describing what happens with dirty systems. Guests share stories about unpleasant tasting experiences elsewhere, which gives us the opportunity to educate.” Passey adds, “we have a huge advantage since we have a brewery at every pub, with head brewers able to review and replace faucets and couplers as needed.”
Two primary types of cleaning apparatus are available. An electric recirculating pump is favored for nearly all systems, because it administers mechanical cleaning by increasing the normal flow rate through the beer lines during the cleaning process, as well as reversing flow. The Brewer’s Association does not recommend relying on a static or pressure pot for cleaning. Because they lack mechanical action, they require at least 20 minutes of soaking time to compensate.
Product loss is an inevitable cost of cleaning. “You lose three-quarters of an ounce of product per foot of line when cleaning,” says Lenox-Martell’s Thomas. “So, a 100-foot run loses 75 ounces of product, that’s almost five pints.”
“We consider it a cost of operating and maintenance, just the price of clean beer,” acknowledges Passey at Pinthouse.
Employee and customer safety must be prioritized. Chemical cleaners are caustic or acidic, so eye protection, gloves and boots are mandatory. Safety data sheets accompany cleaning solutions. Post these sheets and train employees accordingly.
After chemically cleaning lines, flush with water until no trace of detergent remains. Verify this by testing pH. When the post-cleaning water reaches the same pH as tap water, rinsing is complete. While strips may be used, a pH meter is far more accurate, according to Scott.
Cleaning solutions are highly alkaline or acidic, so they may qualify as hazardous waste and be inappropriate to send down the drain. Check local laws and sewer capabilities for responsible disposal.
Specific cleaning instructions are widely available. Equipment suppliers and cleaning solution suppliers may provide protocols. The Brewers Association offers two free downloadable Draught Beer Quality Manuals, a 32-page resource for retailers (also available in Spanish) and a 92-page edition with greater technical detail, along with a printable log.
The manual states: “Time, temperature, mechanical action and chemicals (including concentration) are the four interdependent factors that determine draught system cleaning effectiveness… If one factor is reduced, the loss must be compensated for by increasing one or more other factors.” Essential to balancing these components is following instructions exactly for the specific system and chemicals employed.
General minimum cleaning and maintenance guidelines include:
- Every two weeks: Alkaline cleaning of draft lines for organic contaminants. Disassemble, clean and inspect faucets, couplers and tapping devices. Clean FOB-stop devices.
- Quarterly: Acid cleaning of draft lines for mineral deposits.
- Every six months: Disassemble and clean FOB-stop devices.
- Annually: Replace poly vinyl jumpers and direct draw lines.
Serving a flawed, sub-par pint is bad for your brand. Offering patrons an exciting, revolving selection of craft brews demands commitment to a consistent cleaning routine, ensuring they’ll be handed a delicious, high-quality brew every time, bringing them back for more pints and more pizza.
Annelise Kelly is a Portland, Oregon-based freelance writer.