Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Keep Your Lines in Line

Kegging. The mere mention of the word sends homebrewers' hearts aflutter as the imagination drifts blissfully to thoughts of wondrous beer variety, nectar of any quantity no more than a tug of the tap handles away, with the onerous chore of cleaning and filling bottles having become a distant memory. In a hobby not short on achievement milestones and plateaus, the transition from bottled beer to kegs for many brewers represents a coveted accomplishment; those who have made the switch find themselves extraordinarily glad they did so.

Ah, but kegging does not come with out its own obligations for the amateur cellarmaster. Proper line maintenance is chief among them. Over time, beer lines will accumulate gunk such as yeast and beer stone, leading not only to an unsightly display but also problems such as excessive foaming and off-flavors. In other words, not something a proud kegging homebrewer will want to contest with.

Since creating my kegerator (outside/inside) in 2006, my typical line-maintenance procedure has been: 1) rinse line with water as soon as a keg empties; 2) give lines a periodic soak in Oxyclean and iodophor solutions. At some point, not too terribly long ago, it became evident this technique was not adequate for maintaining proper line cleanliness.

Thus I acquired some PBW (Powdered Brewery Wash – a heavy-duty alkaline cleaner originally developed for Coors), mixed up a fairly strong solution, flushed the beer out of my lines with water, and then filled them with PBW. I believe I allowed them to soak overnight, after which I rinsed with additional PBW followed by a good rinse with potable water.

The results were remarkable. Though PBW and Oxyclean (or generic equivalents) are similar in composition, PBW was able to rip away deposits that Oxyclean simply couldn't touch. The solution that had soaked overnight came out an unmistakable golden color, tinted by the deposits alone. Simply looking at the lines after the cleaning versus before, the difference is night and day.

It's frightening to think that I had let my lines get to such a sorry state; naturally, they had attained that condition slowly and gradually, making their degradation a little difficult to fully grasp as it progressed. But seeing them restored even close to their native state illustrates just how far gone things had wandered.

A stricter, more regular line-cleaning regiment will obviously become part of my routine. Draft beer at home is among the more wonderful household features I can imagine, and a little effort here or there is more than worthwhile to ensure my beer stays as well taken care of as it keeps me.


Billy Broasjavascript:void(0) said...

Good post Brad. After reading it I went to my kegerator and looked at the lines with sorrow. I really need to keep on top of them and they'll be getting a soak tonight. Thanks for the kick in the butt!

Brad said...

Go get 'em Billy... proud of you!

Thanks for stopping by!

beerjim said...

Brad, those lines were disgusting. And I drank beer out of them! Yuck. I immediately checked my draft lines and they are pristine. I use BLC which is highly alkaline.

Brad said...

But I bet you never would have guessed at the time how foul the lines were... just imagine how much more delicious my beer would have if they were sparkly-clean.

beerjim said...

Time to sample some more beer. When should I come over?

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