Having a beer with one of our local Lancer guys and listening to his tales from the cellar is a deliciously awful experience. From the safety of our favourite well-cared for pub draught system we can vicariously enjoy the horrors of those less fortunate.
It is of course no laughing matter, there should be laws against serving infected or flat or over-fizzy or soupy beers for upwards of $9. For this price, expecting not only a formal letter of thanks from the publican but a halo effect around a perfectly stored and pulled glass of beer wouldn’t be unreasonable.
Most publicans take good care of their draught systems; understanding that it is pouring dollars into the till as well as beer into a sparkling clean glass. For those that are reading this in the secure knowledge that their rigorous two weekly cleaning regimes, three-monthly descaling practises, temperature-controlled cellars, well-set gas pressures, routinely scrubbed faucets and un-degraded, well-insulated lines can rightly skip through the next few paragraphs of prose with a healthy self-righteousness.
For those that maybe aren’t quite so confident, a brief re-cap of the unassailable necessities of draught system care wouldn’t go amiss.
- Every two weeks, beer lines must be cleaned with a standard caustic-based system like Bracton. There is generally a beer wastage factor to consider, but so be it.
- If you have a flowback system in your cellar putting the beer from the lines back into the keg then please rip it out now. Beer lines are not sterile no matter how you look after them – flowing back beer is a bit like pouring left over milk from your morning cereal back into the bottle.
- In the height of summer, consider cleaning every week – we’ve noticed buttery, vinegar flavours developing in just a few days when the thermometer goes over 30° These are bacteria such as Pediococcus & Acetobacter doing bad, bad things to the beer.
- Calcium deposits or beer stone builds up in beer lines over time. This causes serious carbonation break-out or fobbing, making beer very hard to pour – cleaning with a specific acid cleaner every three to six months will avoid this.
- Break-down beer taps or faucets when you’re cleaning the lines and clean them with a small brush and a caustic cleaner – if you haven’t done this for a while, be prepared for some unpleasant findings.
Cellar temperatures of anything between 4°C & 12°C are fine, and erring toward the higher end of this spectrum has many advantages; the beer is more than happy, energy costs are lower and only the most asthmatic cooling system won’t easily over-chill beer by the time it’s gone through the font. And slower moving beers won’t pick-up too much carbonation.
A keg in a cool room at 4°C for two weeks, even with Cellamix, will get fizzier over time.
A big subject and one for a chat with your local installer, but using CO2 & Nitrogen mixes like Cellamix is always going to be the best bet. Using pure CO2 will almost certainly carbonate your kegs over time. And pressures should always be below 100kPa (15PSI) for the same reason.
These degrade over time and do need to be changed. Old lines will look dark and opaque and will harbor an infinite number of bacteria-sized holes where spoilage beasties can hide away from even the most thorough cleaning. Changing these lines every year is recommended, but with care they’ll last a couple or even three – definitely no more than that.
Neal Cameron is director of the Institute of Beer (IOB), brewing director for Beer Farm, and one of country’s most experienced brewers.
The Institute of Beer is the exclusive licensee of the globally renowned Cicerone training in Australia, and a venture formed by Cameron, former Woolworths national liquor purchasing & marketing director Ian Kingham, and brewery aficionado Dave Phillips.