How Do Breweries Clean Kegs?

Breweries large and small have to take great care to clean their kegs thoroughly. If you’ve been asking “how do breweries clean kegs?” the answer is quite simple. Very, very well. While the alcohol in beer will likely kill 99.9% of anything harmful that might sneak into beer through unclean kegs and lines, bacteria and other contaminants can still present a huge problem. Let’s talk about it.

Why Breweries Clean Kegs

Yes. It’s true. Alcohol kills most bacteria. In fact, even the crappiest beer is unlikely to physically harm you. Think about it. How often do you hear about people getting sick from bad beer? Never. That’s how effective the alcohol in beer is at killing harmful bacteria.

What is interesting about this little tidbit of information is that alcohol is made from yeast, which means it is a byproduct of yeast that combats harmful bacteria. Furthermore, good bacteria also fight bad bacteria, and yeast and good bacteria seem to work rather well together.

So what’s the problem?

Why do we have to clean kegs if yeast and good bacteria are so busy keeping us safe?

Flavor and aroma.

That’s it.

Bad bacteria can sit in beer lines and in the scratches and cracks of beer kegs, hidden away in film that does not get properly washed away, and it can wreak havoc on flavor and aroma.

The problem can get so bad that you won’t even be able to smell the beer, much less taste it.

And if you can taste it, you might end up with a batch of super buttery flavored beer, or worse, a brew that tastes like baby vomit.

No one wants that.

So yes, you have to clean your beer kegs.

How Often to Clean Beer Kegs

In general, most breweries clean their kegs after every use.

Kegs that have been sitting without beer should be cleaned once a month.

It’s a good idea to get into a solid routine on a regular schedule that you’ll stick to. That way, you’ll never let weeks upon weeks go by without washing your kegs.

You’ll know you’ve gone too long without cleaning your kegs when you can see visible buildup inside the walls of the keg.

 

How Do Breweries Clean Kegs

In the broadest sense, you can wash your kegs with a typical high-quality keg sanitizer. Virtually any keg sanitizer from a reputable company will do.

In the last decade or so, many breweries have switched from highly caustic sanitizers to non-caustic sanitizers that are just as effective and less dangerous to the humans using them. Furthermore, caustic sanitizers can allow for calcium and magnesium buildup. Non-caustic solutions, in contrast, will inhibit the growth of these kinds of “beerstone.”

While non-caustic sanitizers may be a bit more expensive up front because they cannot be recycled, in the long run, you’ll end up saving money because you won’t have to use both a caustic chemical for cleaning and an additional detergent to remove protein deposits.

When you work with an acidic non-caustic detergent combination that will wipe out bacteria and get rid of beerstone buildup.

To clean the kegs, breweries will choose the solution that works for them, and then use either a bucket with brushes or a keg washer. Fill the bucket or washer with solution, and then scrub down all of the equipment thoroughly. Then, hose down the equipment completely with water.

While cleaning, pay attention to any cracks, scratches, or tiny holes. If you notice any of these irregularities, be sure to replace the equipment. Bacteria love to hide in those small creases and lie in wait to contaminate your precious brew.

Or, of course, if you can afford it, you can use a keg washing machine aka a keg washer.

To clean keg lines, you can pump solution through the lines using a keg line cleaner and then rinse those lines with clean, filtered water.

Be sure you wear gloves and protection for your skin and eyes while you’re cleaning in case you are exposed to any chemicals.

And that’s it!

Regular cleaning with a solution you trust is all it takes to prevent nasty off-flavors in your brew.

Cheers!

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