There are few things as satisfying as having your own beer on draft at home. In many ways, kegging your homebrew is much easier than bottling it. However, there are tradeoffs—namely, the need for different equipment and the need to maintain it. Specifically, you need to regularly take steps to keep those draft lines and faucets clean. After all, it would be a shame to ruin all that hard work.
Fortunately, cleaning your draft lines is pretty easy, and you can do it with stuff you probably already have on hand.
To find out the best way to go about it, I asked an expert: Neil Witte, who founded the TapStar draft quality certification program. Based in Kansas City, Witte is a Master Cicerone who also runs Craft Quality Solutions, a service that designs and installs draft systems at bars and taprooms. It also consults and trains staff on quality and service. Witte started out as a homebrewer in the early ’90s, before going pro in 1997. He worked as a brewer and later a quality-control liaison for Boulevard Brewing and then Duvel USA.
Here are Witte’s answers to questions about keeping those home draft systems clean.
How often should we clean the lines? What about faucets and couplers?
“For high-use bars and restaurants, this is every two weeks. Home kegerator users can extend that a bit, but I wouldn’t go past four weeks. Faucets should be disassembled and cleaned at every line cleaning. Couplers don’t need disassembly every time but need a good external scrubbing.”
Can we use PBW or similar cleaners?
“I’ve known many homebrewers to keep their systems clean just fine with PBW, as long as the lines are not really dirty. PBW removes organic soil but isn’t as effective as a caustic cleaner if there’s a lot of soil build-up.”
Will just rinsing with Star San cut it?
“Star San isn’t a good idea. Sanitizer is for killing bacteria on things that are already clean, but it isn’t good at removing soil. It would be like if you had really dirty hands and you tried to wash them with hand sanitizer. They need to be washed with soap first.”
Can we put the cleaner in a keg and push it through with CO2?
“The method of cleaning is a consideration, too. Homebrewers with kegerators likely have some type of swing-top or corny keg on hand for racking their beer. These same kegs work great for cleaning lines. Just mix the chemical—PBW or a stronger caustic for dirty or problem lines—in the keg, close it up, tap it on the system, and pull it through.”
What about that caustic? How strong?
“For caustic cleaners, there are a number of good products out there. Make sure it’s made specifically for cleaning draft lines and make sure it gives explicit directions on how to mix a 2–3 percent solution. Some manufacturers don’t state that clearly.”
For more easy-to-follow advice on this topic, see Keep Your Draft Lines Clean.