lessons from espresso

The time to clean your tap lines is before you need to.

When we were expecting our daughter, I was smart enough to know that my caffeine consumption would increase exponentially upon becoming a parent, so we invested in a semi-automatic Gaggia espresso machine the summer before the due date. In the years since, that thing has pulled literally barrels of shots, and I was relatively diligent about cleaning the portafilter assembly with PBW and flushing the system with descaler every couple months.

But, just like the lines we use to run sweet, essential carbonated homebrew from a corny keg to a faucet, the occasional halfassed rinse isn’t good enough in the long haul. Last week the Gaggia started chugging, slowing down, barely mustering enough pressure to push a trickle of steam through a puck of ground coffee.

Citizens, this would not do. Daddy needs coffee.

No, what was needed was a deep cleaning, a teardown and rebuild using a mixture of bike tools (metric wrenches!) and citric acid from our friendly neighborhood LHBS to strip the accumulated calcium deposits that were clogging the valves in the brew group.

So I did that, and I wish I had done it before it ever got to the point that I had to live without espresso like some kind of Neanderthal, but the moral of the story is that fracking around with the limed-up shower screen block and group valve reminded me that it was past time to flush the lines on the kegerator, and once I did so, the Dunkel and the Hoppy Amber Lager immediately started drinking better and our all-around quality of life improved.

How do you clean your tap lines? BLC, PBW, alternating acid rinses, let the beer clean it out? Are you conscientious, or do you wait til it’s past due?

Advertisements

28 thoughts on “lessons from espresso

  1. I normally keg 2 beers at a time. After thoroughly cleaning the kegs, I keep one about half full with a hot PBW solution and run that through the lines after every keg I change out. I let it sit for about 30 minutes. While the lines are soaking, I rinse the keg and run hot water through the lines. I do this every time. Now the faucets on the other hand….. 🙂

  2. For me, it depends. If I’m in a hurry to pop the next keg or two, then the ball locks get a dunk in starsan and away I go. Usually its the winter months that get me cleaning. Total break down of the keezer and thorough cleaning. PBW, Starsan and really hot water are my friends. I have a spare keg and keg-to-keg hookups and transfer washes to and from each and it seems to do a good job with half the mess. A remote Co2 tank helps.

    Prost

  3. I have always just pumped sanitizer through my keg lines to clean them while disassembling cleaning and sanitizing the faucets and I’ve never noticed any particulate matter in the keg lines after sanitation so I haven’t worried about it. This post has inspired me to try out PBW to see if I can notice a difference in my Scottish light. But also, do you know of any clever ways to clean tap lines if there aren’t any spare kegs around? I want to be able to clean the lines without having to drink all of the beer in a keg.

  4. Kegs, taps, and lines (sometimes the gas lines – might be a little overboard there) get a cleaning with PBW and a hot water soak before a new batch is tapped. I don’t do the star san soak though. Skipping the star san soak hasn’t backfired on me yet. Kegs generally only last a month or so.

  5. I use a chlorine based rinser called beer line cleaner color (not sure if it is availible in the states) it is really cool. You mix it with hot water, hook it up and run a pint or so through the system. Them let i soak for 5-10 minutes. Them run some through again and it changes color when the system is clean. Then flush a lot of water and hook up the beer again.

  6. Sam. I read a post on homebrew talk once where someone took a hand sprayer (small handheld weedkiller type) and hook a barb to it. Let’s him pressurize water/sanitizer without a spare keg. I keep trying to remember to buy the stuff to try it, but keep forgetting! I’d post the link but I’m on my phone right now.

  7. Egads. You just gave me the skeeves again.

    I always did the soak and flush with PBW after every batch because kegging was new to me. Good habits are easy to treat as dogma when you don’t really know what you’re doing.

    But I tell you this because I couldn’t believe the difference in opacity and color when I changed my lines out at 14 months of use. It really made me wish I had coughed up the $10 bucks sooner. Bleugh.

  8. I use PBW then StarSan trying to do after each keg. Recently my method has changed from kegs to a 2liter soda bottle used with TheCarbonater, all of my ball locks are the threaded style. So the fluid screws off and into a cup of solution, on threads a gas lock to the fluid line with a simple squeeze of the bottle my line fills soaks then is rinsed with the same method. For me TheCarbonator was worth every penny (1,600).

  9. It should be more often than I do, but basically quarterly; or if I am going from a darker beer to a lighter beer it usually calls for considering a cleaning with BLC. I use the garden sprayer (58 oz.) technique.

    http://www.1sourcedist.com/Product/Details/4158335?enabled=true

    Unscrew the sprayer’s fitting and put some teflon tape on it and attach a brass fitting that is sized as the posts on a cornie keg and voila – portable pressurizable cleaning without using a full sized keg. I am cleaning a cobra tap beer line to take to a SB party as I type this.

    Cheers.

  10. I have a submersable pump (like for a fish tank, I guess), which hooks up to a liquid out post. I fill a 1-gallon glass bowl with hot water, run it through the lines, then circulate hot oxyclean free for 30 minutes, BLC for 30 minutes, then starsan for 30 minutes. I store my lines with starsan in them. When I kick a keg, I leave the line in the kegerator, and when I have at least 4, I run the cleaning process on them all.

  11. Hi Mike,

    i use a pond pump setup to recirculate hot beer-line cleaner through my liquid lines (~ 15 minutes per line). I then follow with about 1 quart per line of very cold tap water with a splash of Star-San mixed in, to ensure the BLC is flushed out and that the lines are sanitized before i push beer through them. While the liquid lines get a good BLC bath, the faucets get a break down and sauna soak in some warm Star-san solution.

    I did this earlier today, with your post inspiring some overdue line cleaning. I can’t say how much crap came out of the lines, but the Ruination IPA i have on tap tastes absolutely sublime; the Centennial flavor is brighter and more tongue-coating than when i first tapped the keg 3 weeks ago. Ditto for the Amarillo/Citra IPA and Foreign Extra Stout (on nitro) that i have currently on tap.

    Cheers,

    Bklmt2000

  12. This is fantastic advice. Perfect for those without a spare keg who have a need to freshen some stale lines. I award you many points!

  13. What’s everyone’s chemical of choice? I use the garden pump fitted with a ball lock setup and it saves a ton of co2. I’ve been using blc but am wondering if pbw or something else would be more value conscience. I only ask because I clean my lines after every single keg because with the pump spray bottle it’s pretty effortless.

    So, name your poison..

  14. I have to clean my Gaggia often as I have a huge calcium buildup problem if I use my well water. I found that going to RO water made the coffee taste better and the reduced the cleaning problem considerably. I don’t use the well water for brewing or wine making either.

  15. Personally, if i have a keg ready and carbonated and one kicks, i just hook it up and pour out about a pint and call it good.
    about every 3-4 months (which is like 2 kegs on each line maybe?) i do the following
    Hot oxyclean in the keg
    Pressurize with C02
    flip it on it’s lid and press the CO2 in.line to make sure OXY gets everywhere
    wait 10 minutes
    flip it back over, hook my liquid out line to it, run all of the oxyclean through the line out through the tap slowly.
    do the same with hot water and then starsan.

  16. I installed a ball valve in the bottom of one of my cornies that never held pressure. Fill it up with BLC, connect a line from the valve to my pump, and on the outlow side, connect a line from the pump to my little plumbing abomination (1/2″ camlock -> 1/2″ coupler -> 1/4″ bushing -> 1/4 npt to cornelius adapter -> ball lock liquid fitting). I plug the liquid fitting right on to that, place the open keg right under the tap and let it recirculate for about 20 minutes. I go right down the line and hit all the taps, then fill the keg with water for a thorough flush of each tap (no recirculation this time). No disassembly required, no wasted co2, and pristine lines!

  17. I’m usually doing two kegs at once since I usually do double batch brew days. So, once a keg kicks I either finish off or bottle off another. Pull the kegs, yank the gas and beer line/tube connectors and soak in PBW. Unscrew the Perlick from the shank, and unscrew the pinlock quick disconnects to soak in PBW too. Rinse all thoroughly.

    Add a couple gallons of water/PBW to keg, scrub and rinse thoroughly. Reassemble everything.

    Fill that bad boy in the pic up top with PBW, run through the beer line once. Fill with straight h20 and run through again to clear PBW out.

    Fill the keg with a couple gallons Starsan/Water solution. Shake thoroughly to coat the inside. Hookup the gas line, then run a hose from the Perlick to another washed keg. Open up the tap until the keg is emptied. Repeat with the second keg into a bucket.

    Now the kegs are sanitized and purged with c02 – go ahead and rack your carboys into them.

    Clean and sanitize your carboys. I can get all this done during my first mash (of a double brew day).

    Rejoice with fresh pours from clear beer lines.

  18. Funny you mention espresso. Recently I discovered (yet another) use for Star-San! Running a half reservoir through every couple months works as excellent maintenance and I’ve yet to need a total tear-down in almost a year.

  19. Long time lurker, first time commenter.
    I’m also a coffee and beer fiend and I’ve followed you for much longer than the current blog. I’m extremely paranoid about my beer lines. I clean them every changing of the kegs, soaking then with Foxx Superfulsh, often for up to 6 hours.
    With this regimen, I’ve never had off flavors or funny pours in all the many many years I’ve maintained my system. My beer always flows fresh and fast.
    As for the Gaggia, do you think my wife will mind me ordering one now? I like the red one.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s