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Sterilizing kegs

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Matt B:
I was curious as to how everyone sterilizes their kegs. Seems straight forward, but apparently not so for me.

I've had this perpetual problem where some of my beers are being slightly infected with what I think is lacto. I've determined that it's likely the kegs because I just tried some from the keg, has that sour twang to it, and the bottles (that I was saving for competitions now that I'm actually starting to do that) didn't. You're probably asking if I tasted it when I bottled/kegged it as well as take the FG: yeah, I did. I just don't remember tasting the twang, though I've discovered I have a hard time picking it up in a non-carbonated and warm beer, as I've kegged beer that was clearly infected and didn't really notice it at kegging time, so who knows.

I store my kegs filled with water with a couple cap fulls of iodaphore, clearly this doesn't seem to be enough. Every keg that I go through now I'm washing with PBW, boiling the posts, and running a torch along the dip tube to make sure anything that's in there is DEAD. Then running a gallon or so of star san through it, and storing it with the star-san and giving it a shake every couple of days. I haven't kegged anything since I started this regimen, I'm hoping it'll be enough .. this is miffing me off, I'm likely going to pour out 10g of american amber that actually came out reasonably good, and I just finished a pale ale that had a similar problem and just wasn't that enjoyable, I just had a hard time dumping it. I'm now past that point.

At least water the garden with it, don't just go down the drain.  :'(

PBW followed by StarSan one after the other is all I've ever had to do. Shake the heck out of the keg with pbw, dump it into next keg to be cleaned (repeat), make a big batch of StarSan and pressurize that keg - then I'll run all that through my beer lines, and catch it on the other side into another clean keg to sanitize it and run through the other beer line. I've only replaced all the gaskets upon initial purchase - YEARS ago. Maybe I'm just lucky so far.

It sounds like you're being quite thorough (torch) and removing the posts each time so I'm a little surprised.

I was going to suggest changing all the gaskets if you haven't, yet.  Otherwise, you might try an oxycleaner.  There is the name brand stuff that's pretty expensive but you should be able to the find a generic brand for much less.  I can get a tub for $2 and it has the same active ingredients.  Usually found around the laundry detergent section in your local big box store.  I swear by it.  I also use it in my carboys after fermentation and it removes the crusty krausen without scrubbing!  I haven't had an problems using oxycleaners with regards to infection, flavor, or any other issues.  I always rinse thoroughly and also follow up with StarSan or Iodophor.

I'm also wonder about the kegging process.  Is it similar to bottling?  Are you using a different set of equipment for kegging that the beer comes in contact with that could be the source of the problem (tubes, siphon, racking cane, cane tips, etc.).

Also, I don't know if you have multiple kegs, but is this problem isolated to one keg?

Matt B:
Thanks gents. Sounds like I'm hopefully on the right track.

I don't usually remove the posts, that's a new extra sanitation step that I've been taking.

The bottling process is pretty much the same for my kegging: in fact, I'll bottle a dozen bottles using the same tube, just hooked up to a wand, then when done bottling the few bottles that I want to do, I'll hook up to the tube to a ball lock and hook it up to the keg and keg away. I've switched between using the ball lock or just letting the tube dangle inside the co2-purged keg with the lid removed, both have had issues, so I don't think it's the ball lock, especially since it's rinsed and dunked in star-san even if I look at it wrong.

It's been several kegs, which also contributes to my overall confusion: How does an infection go from one keg to another? I have about 13 kegs in total, and I haven't tracked which ones have had infections and which ones haven't. This I will start doing now that I've determined it's not just a couple of funked batches and there's a problem somewhere.

I think it's possible I had a batch of bad beer in the carboy that went bad (that has since been fully sanitized.) And between the couple of batches that I've done that have gotten funked, they were hooked up to the kegerator, then later non-infected batches being hooked up to it that probably had some infected beer left in the line, etc, I can make loose enough connections to see how it happened and spread across multiple kegs, while not necessarily fully infecting that keg, but having enough of the bacteria left that survived the iodaphore that when I did keg the next batch, whammo. Which is one of the reasons I'm going crazy with the cleaning/sanitation regimen. Whenever a keg is now emptied, before I hook up the new one, clean the old with PBW, run the PBW through *both* beer lines (I have a dual faucet) just in case, rinse, run star-san through, keep star-san in the keg ready for the next batch.

If this persists, I think changing the gaskets in addition to everything else will be the next step. Though I think the few minutes the gaskets spend in with the barely boiling water should kill most things, and whatever does survive, the spritz of star-san should take care of the rest. But if this doesn't get better, that will be the next step.. quite possibly running boiling water through all of my kegs as well. Chemicals can't get everywhere: heat can. I just hope I don't have to go to that level.

And yeah, when I do pour the beer out, it'll be into the mulch pile which will feed my hops the next year, so the circle of beer life will continue :)

Don't boil the gaskets, instead purchase new ones. I generally do not recommend this, but since you believe the kegs to be the source of infection, mix a weak bleach solution -maybe 1/2 tablespoon per gallon- and put into the keg for a few minutes. Rinse thoroughly and then fill the keg with near boiling water. Dump and sanitize with StarSan solution keeping contact to ALL parts of the keg for at least 5 min. If that procedure plus new gaskets doesn't kill whatever is bugging you, then your issue is somewhere other than the keg.

One last thought - You are pulling the poppets from the posts during your cleaning regime before you sanitize, correct? Sanitizing without proper cleaning is a bad deal!


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