Kegs and Draft Maintenance

Kegging is a great upgrade to your home brewery. Instead of washing 48 bottles you can clean 1 big bottle but the flexibility doesn’t stop there. In a keg you have the ability to control carbonation, introduce dry hops, but most importantly, reduce oxygen exposure. Before we get started discussing maintenance of a keg and draft system, we recommend using appropriate chemicals. Using incorrect chemicals will cause damage to your keg, draft lines, or rubber gaskets. Always follow the recommended instructions for any of the chemicals and wear appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) when using these chemicals.

Chemicals and Cleaning Supplies

The right tools for the job can make all the difference when maintaining your draft system. Keeping your lines and hardware free from debris and organic matter build-up is very important. When looking for the correct chemicals you want to be aware what they do. When dealing with organic matter like yeast or hops, you want chemicals that can break it down and remove it from the lines. Caustic cleaners are excellent at doing this. It is important to note that caustic equates to corrosive, so both acids and alkaline chemicals can be caustics but in this example we will be referring to caustics as an alkaline.

Caustics or alkaline chemicals are fantastic for breaking down organic matter, they can be particularity nasty to your skin (you being an organic and all) so make sure to wear your appropriate PPE. Next you want to make sure you always follow the recommended dosing for these particular chemicals. Many of the chemicals will require either a re-circulation through the system or some amount of contact time. Again check the instructions on the chemicals for exact use cases.

Recommended Alkaline Cleaners

  • Superflush
  • Beer Line Cleaner BLC
  • Powdered Brewery Wash PBW
  • Craft Meister Alkaline Brewery Wash
  • B-Brite

Now that we have discussed removal of the organics we can address the other byproduct build-up Beer Stone. Beer Stone or calcium oxalate, is the brownish coloring you see in your boil kettle or in your faucets. Beer Stone can build up in the lines over time and hold on to bacteria, off-flavors and aromas. Acids are the only chemical that can break down Beer Stone and keep your lines clear from build up. Just like the caustic cleaner follow the instructions for each chemical and wear the appropriate PPE. Acids will still require a contact time to fully work so consult the instructions for more information.

Recommended Acid Cleaners

  • Acid Line Cleaner ALC
  • Star-San
  • Saniclean

Additional Tools

We know which chemicals to use and how to use them but how do we get then into the lines? There are different ways to accomplish this task. Some of the methods are easy and others can be complex, this really depends on how many lines you are cleaning and how they are laid out. The most common method for cleaning is to use a pump bottle and manually pump the cleaner into the lines.

Pump bottle bundle includes: Cleaner, Faucet spanner, faucet brush and line connector. Normally in stock.

The other methods include a jumper line, you can buy it per-assembled or make your own with the a faucet connector. You can pump the chemicals into one line and out the other using a cheap garden pump. This method will allow you to jumper multiple lines and recirculate cleaner through the system. The possibilities are endless and if you have questions please come talk to us.

Faucet Jumper
Faucet Connector with barb

Tool Box Must Haves

There are some must have tools that anyone using kegs should keep handy. They are great for cleaning and needed for maintenance.

  • Faucet Wrench – Used to remove the faucet from the shank.
  • Keg lube – While some will say it is optional it can be the difference between a leaky seal and snug fit. However if your o-rings are damaged don’t use this, replace them.
  • Replacement O-rings – Over time with constant use and cleaning the O-rings will wear out and need to be replaced. It is better to have them and not use them than need them and not have them.
Faucet Wrench or Spanner
Keg lube
Replacement O-Rings

Kegs

Knowing how your keg comes apart is the first step to ensure that you are cleaning and sanitizing everything correctly. At some point you will have to replace parts, some kegs have been in service for more than 20 years. It might be a simple replacement of the o-rings and seals or you might have to replace a pressure relieve valve (PRV), lid, or fitting.

Ball-lock kegs have become the dominate style in the market making finding parts relatively easy. You can still find Pin-Lock parts but they are becoming less common, if you are looking to purchase a keg or expand your collection just be aware of these limitations. Many Pin-Lock keg owners will purchase an adapter to convert their Pin-Lock style to Ball-Locks.

No matter which style you purchase keep in mind there are different manufacturers of these kegs. Some kegs have different thread types for the gas/liquid fittings, feel free to consult us or bring the keg down if you are in need of replacement parts.

Image courtesy of AHA, Summer 1995 Zymurgy Magazine

Connectors

As mentioned above there are 2 types of kegs, Pin-Lock and Ball-Lock style. The connectors are what defines the keg type with ball lock being the most common. Each keg has 2 fittings; gas in and liquid out. These fittings are shaped differently so you do not mistakenly put the disconnects in reverse (though with a little force you sure can, but don’t).

Image courtesy of AHA, Summer 1995 Zymurgy Magazine

General Cleaning Practice

Kegging Day

  • Fill the keg with 1 gallon of hot water and 1tsp of cleaner (PBW, B-Brite, etc).
  • Seal the keg and apply a small amount of CO2 to ensure the keg is pressurized.
  • Shake the keg back and forth to ensure that everything is good and rinsed.
  • Connect the liquid disconnect to the keg and allow the cleaning solution to run out of the keg, this step will ensure that the pickup tube on the inside of the keg does get cleaned. (Later on we will discuss a tube brush).
  • Once most of the cleaner has left the keg, remove the disconnect. Depressurize the keg and empty any remaining cleaner.
  • Rinse the keg thoroughly with clean water.
  • Add in your sanitizer of choice, seal the keg and pressurize.
  • Shake the keg back and forth to ensure that everything is coated with sanitizer. Let the keg sit for a few moments.
  • Once again connect the liquid disconnect to the keg and allow the sanitizer to rinse the pickup tube.
  • Once most of the sanitizer has left the keg, remove the liquid disconnect and leave the keg to sit.
  • When you are ready to fill the keg, depressurize the keg, shake out any remaining sanitizer and begin the filling process.

Kicking a Keg
You have finished a keg now what?

  • Disconnect the keg from the draft line and depressurize it.
  • Rinse the keg out with hot water, put the lid back on and swirl the water around to loosen the yeast cake stuck to the bottom.
  • Give the keg a few good rinses, once everything is clean put some hot water in the keg and pressurize it.
  • Connect the keg to the draft line and rinse the line out of any remaining beer/yeast.
  • Once you have rinsed everything you can either leave it until you have more time to clean it. (Don’t wait too long to fully clean a keg, you’ll risk staining and off flavors).
  • Make a cleaner mixture and run it through the lines to flush them out.
    • NOTE: Chlorinated water can flavor stain your lines, so the sooner you flush everything out the better.

You are now ready to handle your kegs and draft system like a professional. If you have any questions never hesitate to contact us.