6 Reasons Your Draft Beer Is Funky (Also The Likely Reason That Draft Beer Could Cause Headaches)

by Michael Garrison

For years draft beer has been rumored to cause headaches, even with low consumption (1 or 2 beers). To date the case has been made by many but the cause has not yet been found. Some people suspect it is from dirty beer lines filled with bacteria that cause a bacterial infection. They claim the intense hangover is actually your body fighting the infection, but according to a spokes person from the Nationwide Brewers Association, there is no correlation.  "The bio chemical reaction between those lactobacillus and other common bacteria does not result in more alcohol being created that would contribute to a hangover being worse." None the less, dirty beer lines are just gross and can make beer cloudy and taste bad. (Calcium Oxalate) or Beer Stone, as it is also known, will collect in the beer lines as fast as several weeks. This needs to be cleaned or it will affect the color and taste of the beer. Here is where you can start. 

Get Started with the Simple Stuff

If you’d like to avoid this kind of debacle, than you need to inspect your draft system NOW. Start with the little things:

  • 1. Use a thermometer to ensure that your draft beer and the cooler in which it is stored are the correct temperature (somewhere between 34 o F and 38oF).
  • 2. Make sure that your beer faucets are clean, functioning properly, and that your drip tray and drain are clean and free of any debris.
  • 3. Untap your kegs and check your keg couplers. They should be free of any filth or yeast deposits and the large washer on the base of each one should be in excellent condition.
  • 4. Check the air and beer lines of each tap for leaks and faulty hose clamps. If you haven’t already done so, set up a line cleaning schedule in which your beer lines are cleaned and flushed at least once a month. In most areas your beer distributors will provide this service free of charge.
  • 5. Your beer distributor should also be able to help you check the PSI readings on the regulators that control the amount of gas being used to “push” your draft beer. Record the correct settings and contact your distributor or a certified draft technician immediately if they begin to change. NEVER fidget with the regulators if you are not trained to do so. It will usually do more harm than good.
  • 6. Contact your beer gas supplier and make sure that they will be servicing you frequently enough to keep up with demand. Some larger draft systems use blended gas and require things like blender boxes and nitrogen generators. Make yourself familiar with these and check them frequently for leaks and any out of the ordinary noises.

  • Servicing Your Keg Box

    If your draft beer is stored in a direct-draw keg box or “kegerator,” there are a few simple things you can do to improve the performance of your system. Start by locating the compressor. In larger keg boxes, it is usually located down and to the far left. In single keg boxes, it’s in the bottom rear. This is the refrigeration unit for your keg box. WATCH OUT! There’s a fan in there and it can really cut you if you’re not careful. Unplug your keg box momentarily and inspect the compressor to make sure it’s clean and free of any dust and debris. Once your hands are clear, plug the keg box back in and listen. When the compressor starts up, it should run without any loud noises or rattling. If this is not the case, contact a refrigeration repair company immediately.

    Now, it’s time to take everything out of the keg box and clean the inside thoroughly. Also, to remove any standing water and untangle any beer or gas lines. On the back wall, there may be cut-off switches leading to each gas line. Make sure that the switches are turned so that they are in the “on” position (parallel to the gas line). Many keg boxes have hoses that blow cold air into the beer towers above. These hoses will look like a loose spring or coil, wrapped in plastic, and are usually white. If they have somehow slipped out of the beer tower, they will be dangling down into the keg box. Slide them back up through the roof of the keg box and into the tower above. Next, place a thermometer in the keg box and monitor it daily.

    The temperature can be adjusted using the thermostat dial inside. Now, put ONLY the kegs back in and tap them. Never store other items in the keg box. Every cubic inch of space you take up means less cold air inside. Every time you open the door to get a ketchup bottle, some chilled Jagermeister or a jug of strawberry daiquiri mix you are letting out all of the cold air. This will inevitably lead to warm beer and a broken compressor. The keg box is for kegs only.

    Maintaining Your Walk-In Cooler

    If your draft beer is stored in a walk-in cooler, use the following easy tips to keep things running smoothly:

  • Locate the refrigeration unit/compressor and make sure that it is running smoothly and is free of dust, debris, and any ice caused by condensation. Watch out for fan blades. They can cause some nasty cuts.
  • If your unit is not blowing out cold air or seems broken in some other way, contact a refrigeration repair company immediately.
  • Inspect the cooler ensuring that the walls, floor, and ceiling are thoroughly clean.
  • Make sure that all draft equipment is secure and that all beer and gas lines are untangled and well organized.
  • If the kegs are stored on shelves, make every effort to regularly inspect the integrity of the shelving and placement of the kegs to avoid any accidents or injuries.
  • Keep food of any kind far away from the kegs, preferably in another cooler.
  • Place a thermometer near the kegs and monitor the temperature frequently – you can adjust the temperature using the thermostat dial.

  • Servicing Your Glycol Unit

    If your draft beer is stored in a walk-in cooler and your taps are located far from the kegs, chances are your system uses a long draw glycol unit, sometimes called a “cold pack.” This device runs propylene glycol, a food grade antifreeze solution, through an insulated draft trunk line keeping the beer chilled all the way to the taps. Two glycol lines run alongside the beer lines. One line brings chilled glycol to the taps and the other returns warm glycol to the cold pack.

    There are four main parts to this device: the compressor, the motor, the pump, and the glycol bath. The glycol bath is a small tub where the glycol is stored and chilled. Using a coil submerged into the bath, the compressor chills the glycol to around 31 oF. The motor continuously spins the pump which moves the cold glycol out and the warm glycol back into the glycol bath. This process seems complicated, but it is fairly easy to make sure the unit is doing its job. If the beer in the walk-in cooler is cold, but the beer emerging from the taps is warm and foamy, then something is wrong with your glycol system.

    Trouble shooting a glycol unit can be tricky and you may want to contact your most trusted beer distributor or a certified draft technician for help. If you can locate the glycol unit, you can carefully open the lid and dip a thermometer into the glycol bath to get an accurate temperature reading. If the glycol bath is warm then the compressor is probably broken and you should contact a refrigeration repair company to have it fixed. If the glycol bath is cold, but the beer at the taps is warm then the motor or pump is probably damaged and is no longer circulating the glycol.

    You should contact a trusted beer distributor or the manufacturer of the glycol unit to find out the best way to go about repairing the unit. Because propylene glycol can break down into water over time, the glycol bath should be checked for ice every six months; the glycol mixture should be drained and replaced once a year. If left unattended, the glycol mixture will slowly turn to water, which will freeze solid and shut down the whole system. If your bar or restaurant uses a glycol unit, do your best to familiarize yourself with the unit and be aware of any warning signs that may indicate an impending problem.

    Keep Up Preventative Maintenance

    Spring is definitely the best time for cleaning and maintaining your draft equipment, but it’s really something that should be done at least every three months. Otherwise, your draft system will pick the worst time to let you know that something’s wrong. Foamy, tepid, draft beer leads to more waste, poor product quality, and a reputation for mediocrity.

    Setting up a preventative maintenance schedule can only serve to make your bar more organized, professional, and ultimately, more successful. Do your best to develop good maintenance habits at your bar or restaurant today and you’ll be sure to see the benefits in no time at all!




    Michael Garrison
    Michael Garrison

    Author




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