Maintaining a Keg System By: Tom Ayers
Kegs are great. If you’ve read my articles long enough you know I love my Kegerator and prefer kegging to bottling, mostly because I’m lazy and like the added control. But let’s get one thing straight, kegging is not for the lazy. I quickly found out that there is a lot more to the maintenance of the kegging system than meets the eye.
Let’s start with the kegs. Before you use or reuse them you need to clean and sanitize them. But lots of questions come up from homebrewers about how often, how detailed, and in general how to, when it comes to kegs. First, when you get your kegs you should disassemble them and do a full clean. Followed by a sanitization.
To do a proper cleaning you should remove both keg posts, poppets and the dip tube. To do this you will need either a 11/16” or ⅞” deep well socket, depending on your keg type. Trust me, invest the money in the sockets, they will make your life easier and thus you will clean more. Also remove all of the o-rings and replace them if they are worn. A dip tube brush can be used to scrub the inside of the dip tube. You can use PBW and hot water to clean the kegs. After cleaning be sure to pump some out of the dip tube and liquid post. To do this you just put the keg back together, pressurize, and tap the keg pumping out cleaning solution.
To sanitize the keg, after it is put back together mix up some star-san or your favorite sanitizer directly inside the keg. Close the keg and pressurize it to make sure the lid stays put. Shake, swirl, or roll the keg around to coat the entire inside. Let it sit for as long as the sanitizer recommends; two minutes for star-san. Pump the sanitizer out of the keg to ensure the dip tube is sanitized. Once the keg is empty you have a sanitary and sealed keg.
So that was a lot of work, huh! Of course the natural next question is how often do I have to do that? That depends. If you are competition brewing and bottling off of your kegs you should fully clean them, including disassembling the entire keg, after every batch. If you are less stringent you can get away with an oxiclean soak between each batch for a few batches depending on how often you go through them in lieu of the full cleaning. You should do a complete disassembly after no more than 3-4 batches. Of course you should fully sanitize prior to filling the keg every single time!
After the kegs, you should consider your chilling device (Fridge/Freezer). Fridges and more so freezers have a habit of producing mold and other undesirable junk because of the moist and cool environment. If you neglect the interior you will end up with mold everywhere, especially if you spill any beer. Be sure to regularly scrub the inside and drop a moisture absorbing agent like damp-rid into the bottom. Interior fans or even small dehumidifiers also help reduce the moisture inside the kegerator.
Ever been to a bar and had your favorite beer on tap but it just didn’t taste right? A prime suspect for this is dirty tap lines. I’ve gone too long between cleaning my lines and trust me you will know when this happens. The flavor of the beer will change, head will dissipate quickly, and the beer will become cloudy when served. This is easily preventable and remedied. Grab yourself a bottle of Beer Line Cleaner (BLC) and mix up a batch. Re-circulate it through all of your lines a few times, followed by water and sanitizer. Once you do this you will see a dramatic difference in the beers you have on tap almost immediately.
Along with your lines you will need to clean your taps. If possible just clean them when cleaning your lines by pumping cleaner through them. Occasionally you will want to remove them and give them a good soak and interior scrubbing with a brush.
The best way to keep everything clean and operational is a little diligence when using your system daily. Before connecting lines to kegs, spray a little sanitizer on the posts and in the quick disconnects. Keep the spray bottle around the system at all times. Make a batch using distilled water and it will last, once it goes cloudy it is no good. When you are done using the taps for the day, spray a little sanitizer up the tap and cover it with a tap cover. The tap cover and sanitizer will keep away infectious items and fruit flies.
With these steps and a little elbow grease you can have a great kegerator that will keep your beers cool and tasty. I’ve neglected my beer machine once and I found out what dirty beer lines look do to beer and how much mold can pop up overnight. If this happens to you, never fear, it happens to the best of us. I recommend a complete tear down and full clean. Suck it up and you will be back on track with great tasting beer. Wait too long and infections will work their way back up the lines and into the kegs ruining them permanently.
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