Shutting down a bar, restaurant or nightclub isn’t as simple as turning out lights and locking doors.
Things are more involved if an operation is closing temporarily or some equipment isn’t required to serve a limited delivery, takeout or curbside pickup menu.
Some operators have probably never had to deal with their draft system for more than a basic cleaning and maintenance, for example.
Stay-at-home and other orders from state and local government officials have forced the closure of bars that don’t serve food. Bars that can remain open for delivery and takeout are prohibited in some markets from selling alcohol.
Out of an overabundance of caution, some operators have closed their doors voluntarily to protect staff members, guests, the community at large, and themselves. There are also still fully operational venues throughout the country run by people who understand a deep cleaning and sanitization is in order to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak.
In each of these situations, the draft system needs to be addressed. It’s irresponsible and dangerous to simply leave it operational if it won’t be in use for an extended period of time. And considering how many bars are serving cocktails and wines on tap, the deactivation and cleaning of the draft system is even more important.
It’s likely that beer reps clean and maintain the draft systems for operators and managers with whom they have a good relationship. Still, this is information every owner, operator, manager and bartender should know.
Since most people’s minds will go to their supply of kegs first, we’ll start with tips for storing those. First, industry professionals should know to not store food on top of kegs—just don’t do it. Allowing kegs to reach room temperature or higher will lead to spoilage, so they must remain refrigerated. That means that power must be maintained even during a temporary closure. If the decision has been made to shut off utilities, the kegs will likely spoil, something that may be acceptable by operators considering the greater picture—this is an individual choice that must be made.
KegWorks, a retailer that has been selling draft equipment and more for both home and commercial bars for more than two decades, says to start the shutdown process at the gas supply. Whether or carbon dioxide (CO2) or nitrogen (N), turn the knob/dial to “Off” and double check to make sure no gas is still flowing. If, for some reason, the or CO2 or N tanks are inaccessible, KegWorks says to close the valves on the regulators or air lines.
Next up are the keg couplers. These are the “keys” that insert into the “lock” on the keg, more commonly known as a valve. A coupler is what allows CO2 to flow into the keg, pressurizing it so beer can flow out. The device pairs or couples the keg with the gas supply.
Pull the handle on the coupler out and then up. Turn the handle 90 degrees and then lift it up to remove it from the keg. Do not take this step until gas supply has been shut off!
We have recommended in the past that operators use shorter beer lines (five to six feet long maximum) whenever possible. This is because it’s often easier and less expensive to simply remove and replace these lines than take the time to clean them. If the system will be inactive for more than a few days, it’s probably a good idea to plan on removing and replacing longer draft lines in preparation for reactivating the system later.
For those not replacing draft beer lines instead of cleaning them, draft system retailers and beer experts recommend cleaning draft beer lines every few weeks and whenever a keg is swapped out. If we’re being honest, strict adherence to that second recommendation is unlikely. Inactive, unclean beer lines are breeding grounds for mold and dangerous bacteria, the last thing anyone needs right now.
KegWorks, Micro Matic USA, Northern Brewer and other beer specialists sell beer line cleaners in varying strengths, some with food-safe coloring so the presence of the cleaner can be detected. Cleaner can be pumped through the draft lines using a hand pump, electric pump, or pressurized cleaning keg.
The draft system should be flushed with warm water—never hot—if it’s not going to undergo a full cleaning or the lines being replaced, according to KegWorks. Cleaning solution should be left in lines for 15 minutes before being flushed. If deeper cleaning is necessary, repeat the process, leaving the solution in the system for 15 minutes again.
Now that the keg and gas supply have been separated, it’s time for a simple cleaning before storage. Clean at least the top of the keg and the neck with soap and water, then dry the keg. Per KegWorks’ recommendation, wrap the stem of the keg with plastic and seal it with tape.
The final step is to clean the couplers that were disengaged and removed from the kegs, along with the draft faucets. Using a beer faucet wrench, which can be had for between $5 and $20, will make the job easier and prevent damage.
Beer cleaning solution can be used to lean the couplers and faucets. Simply pour it into a bucket, add water, drop in the hardware, and let sit for 30 minutes to an hour. The couplers and faucets should be rinsed and dried before use. To keep this hardware clean and protected, wrap in plastic once it’s fully dried. The faucet wrench makes reattaching the faucets an easier task.
Preparing the draft system for inactivity and deep cleaning now will make getting it ready to go back to work much easier down the road. Documenting the process for social media is an excellent way to let guests know the team is dedicated to cleanliness and sanitation. It will also help operators, managers and bar staff become more familiar with the system and its maintenance.