One of the biggest returns for bar operators today is the money invested in line cleaning. Line cleaning is critical to serving a great glass of draft beer, and the cost associated with cleaning should be viewed as an investment with a high return.

All draft beer systems whether the beer line run is short, as in direct draw box, or long as found in an air shaft or glycol system, must be cleaned every two weeks. This is mandated in the recently published; Brewers Association “Draft Beer Quality Manual”. This manual is the result of brewers (large and small), draft beer equipment suppliers and technical experts coming to consensus on line cleaning standards.

The standards define the procedures, timing, equipment and chemicals that must be used to assure that draft beer is served as the Brewer intended. The cost of cleaning is not disclosed in the Brewers Associations manual. The cost and benefits associated with line cleaning will be addressed in this article. The exact cost to clean each and every line can be precisely calculated and can be broken down into two components:

  1. The cost of beer lost during cleaning.
  2. The cost for the service in terms of time, labor and materials.

An average total cost (long draws and short) to clean one draft beer line is between $6 and $12 dollars. Several reasons are usually given for not cleaning draft beer lines as recommended by the breweries and draft beer professionals. The reasons will vary depending on the state where a business is located. In some states a bar operator has to pay for a line cleaning service. In other states the beer wholesaler is responsible for cleaning the beer lines and the bar operator is concerned about how much beer is wasted and sent down the drain. Lastly, no matter what state you’re in, line cleaning can be destined as an expensive, inconvenience requiring downtime and lost revenue.

A bar operator’s or beer distributors reluctance to spend the money to properly maintain and clean the beer dispensing system will result in off-taste beer and decreased sales and profitability. What this means in dollars and cents is much more difficult to calculate than the cost to clean a beer line. It is also a much larger number.

The following scenario will give explanation:

A bar operator who is concerned about the cost of line cleaning elects to have draft beer lines cleaned monthly. This doubles the recommended time between cleanings. Beer spoilers: bacteria, yeast and molds flourish in the beer lines and begin to impart an off-taste into all of the beers on tap.

The off flavor will be noticeable in the light lagers and wheat beers with subtle flavor profiles, more robust ales and stouts will mask the off taste for now. However, within a short amount of time the flavor will be detected in all the beers on tap. Bar patrons drinking the lighter beers will taste the off flavors produced by the beer spoilers and take one of four costly options:

  1. Not order another draft (stop drinking).
  2. Complain to receive a refund or exchange for a different beer.
  3. Switch to bottle or can beer.
  4. Elect to drink elsewhere.

Assuming a pint of beer sells for $4.50, losing the revenue from just two pint sales cost the operator more than proper line cleaning would have cost. Draft beer sales and revenue will continue to decrease with each day that passes without an effective line cleaning process. The realized cost of lost sales and customer good will is much greater to the operator than the cost to clean line in accordance with the Brewers Association line cleaning standards.

The real cost of line cleaning – Is NOT line cleaning.

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