There’s nothing quite like cozying up to a barstool with a freshly poured tap beer, taking a big sip and getting a surprise mouthful of buttery tasting brew. Diacetyl, the chemical that causes that foul taste, is just one fun side effect that can happen if the tap lines aren’t clean.
Proper line cleaning, recommended every two weeks by the Brewers Association, can be expensive and time consuming. Every foot of a tap line holds roughly 0.75 ounces of beer. So, a brewery with several long lines from a few tap handles to kegs dumps a painfully substantial amount of beer when running cleaning chemicals through the system.
“Both of our pubs have very long draw draft systems,” said Mike Doble, owner of Explorium Brewpub. “Those lines hold lots of beer, but they have to be evacuated of the beer in order to clean them. When we clean lines at Southridge we have to purge about 200 pints of beer at the start of the cleaning process. That’s a retail value of about $1,200. Never mind that our system takes two guys about eight hours to clean.”
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Technology is making the task easier by reducing the need for chemical line cleaning. Milwaukee-based Draught Guard utilizes a control module that sends a low-frequency signal throughout the entire beer line, regardless of length, that inhibits the growth of biofilm. The system is always working, is non-invasive and has no effect on the beer passing through the line.
“Draught Guard’s signal provides an ongoing, 24/7 treatment that maintains beer line cleanliness and protects the beer that’s served on tap,” said Kevin Brauer, Draught Guard’s director of business development. “Our basic goal is to extend the biweekly chemical line flushes to at least every eight weeks.”
In 2018, Draught Guard’s found its first local customer with Broken Bat Brewery. The system is now in place at breweries like Explorium, Leinenkugel’s and Lakefront Brewery, Wisconsin Applebee’s locations and sports venues like Dodger Stadium.
“Clean lines are the bloodline of what we do at the taproom, so it’s absolutely of utmost importance to maintain a clean draught system for us at Broken Bat,” explained Tim Pauly, owner of Broken Bat. “We started using Draught Guard in 2018 at our old taproom and were speechless after the first few months of test results. Draught Guard operates in the shadows and takes almost zero time or effort to use. That’s the biggest thing. The saved beer and labor costs of cleaning the lines with less regularity while maintaining better line cleanliness is also a major perk.”
“They did not ‘sell’ us on a system, they proved it worked by installing it on 25% of our system then did lab testing on the beer that came through the lines,” said Doble. “Their analysis proved that the protected lines, even after 90 days, had less bacteria than lines that were cleaned consistently.”
Cost saving and ease of use is certainly nice for breweries and bars. But it all comes down to making sure the beer drinker doesn’t have a bad experience, no matter where they are.
“There are consequences if (cleaning is) not done properly,” said Brauer. “Take any breweries we’re working with. If their beer goes through a dirty line and doesn’t taste like it’s supposed to, you won’t want to ever try it again on tap. That’s not the brewery’s fault most of the time, it’s up to the establishment.”