Working With Beer Hose, Clamps and Connections

Part of using and understanding a draft beer system is working with hoses, clamps and connections within your system. Sometimes it can be overwhelming to look at the tangled mess of hose in your keg box or cooler. Hopefully, armed with a little understanding of what's in there, what’s happening, and how to work with it can help make sense of it all.

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Vinyl Hose the Imperfect Choice

Physical Flexibility is the key attribute of hoses needed within a cooler or keg box. Why? You need the ability to move kegs around and change kegs quickly and easily. Hoses need to be resilient to prevent permanent kinking and be resistant to chaffing. Some ability to stretch is also important allowing tension without pulling fittings apart.

These qualities are true in both full size, walk in coolers as well as kegerator boxes. Stiff hoses or rigid piping cannot do the job in these areas. So we have flexible, vinyl hose to fit the bill for use in coolers and keg boxes. (As you will see soon, semi-rigid hose has uses also).

The vinyl hose used must be food grade vinyl that does not impart tastes or smells to the beer within the hose. Using hose that is found in hardware and big box stores is not appropriate. This hose should only be supplied by an appropriate dealer.

Vinyl hose comes in a variety of colors as well as clear. Most installations will use clear hose for liquid lines and red hose for gas lines. It is wise to use different colors for gas versus liquid lines so that it is easy to tell them apart, especially in low light areas like your cooler.

Vinyl hose is easy to work with, connects with fittings easily, can be used with both liquid and gas installations and as mentioned, fits the requirements for flexibility. Therefore it must be the perfect hose for you to use. Unfortunately, it’s not perfect.

The one drawback vinyl hose has is that it is NOT impermeable. Although your gas and beer will not leak out of the hose, odors and other liquid and gaseous pollutants can get in.

This limitation is minor and simply requires you to avoid storing unsealed food or chemicals in your cooler or keg box. Also, you should avoid perfumed cleaners like Lysol. Those smells can penetrate the hose and affect the flavor of the beer inside.

Cutting Beer Hose

Cutting vinyl hose is easy to do with a sharp knife, but a hose cutter is going to help make a more even, straight cut. Hose cutters are inexpensive and easy to find and will help ensure leak free assemblies. See the section below on how to make the connections.

If you are using a knife the best bet is a razor blade, utility knife. Use a piece of scrape wood as a cutting surface. Holding the hose down on a surface will help you make a straight cut.

Other types of hoses and tubing are used primarily with long draw draft systems that extend the service point beyond the immediate exterior of the cooler box. In these cases physical flexibility is not required and impermeability is needed. Often these hoses snake through unsavory places like crawl spaces, above ceiling tiles and embedded in concrete floors.

In these systems semi-rigid, polyethylene hose is used. In most cases the polyethylene hose is out of sight and out of mind so you will not be working with it. Further discussion of long draw hoses can be found here.

Stainless steel tubing is also used in some applications, usually as long tailpieces leading up from the base of a draft tower to the faucets. Stainless is also used in the coils inside the Jockey Boxes used at events and parties. Jockey boxes are subject to pollution from the ice and liquids that are placed in them. Stainless steel is impermeable and is a good conductor so it fits the bill well for this application.

Beer Line Clamps

Every hose used in a draft system is meant to convey either liquid or gas from one point to another within the system. In order to do this, either end of the hose needs to be mechanically connected to other parts such as regulators, keg couplers, valves and other parts. This mechanical connection almost always involves a type of clamp to hold the hose onto the part in question.

There are various types of clamps that can and are used in draft beer systems each has advantages and disadvantages, strengths and weaknesses. Here is an overview of the various clamps:

Worm Clamps

These are the common clamps that you see used in many ways including garden hose and certain other plumping applications. They operate by using a screw mechanism and a metal strap with a continuous series of slots cut into it. The screw mechanism engages the slots to pull the strap closed or push the strap open. The screw is turned with a standard flathead screwdriver. ONLY stainless steel worm clamps should be used to prevent corrosion and eventual failure.

Key Advantages – very available in most hardware stores and even the hardware section of most variety and grocery stores; moderately easy to use and requires no special tools to operate; completely reusable; various sizes allow for a wide range of hose diameters.

Key Disadvantages – uneven clamping pressure applied around the circumference of the clamp; mechanical advantage of the screw can allow over-tightening and possible damage to fittings and cutting through hose; sharp edges can cut your skin when working with and around these clamps.

Recommendation: recommended with some reservations.

Snap Ring

These clamps are made of semi-rigid plastic and operate using finger pressure to tighten the clamp via a toothed locking mechanism similar to a ratchet.

Key Advantages – very easy to use and requires no tools to operate; reusable; will not corrode.

Key Disadvantages – plastic can fatigue and break after repeated uses; uneven clamping pressure applied around the circumference of the clamp; not readily available; must be sized exactly to match the hose diameter.

Recommendation: recommended with some reservations.

Single Eared and Double Eared Clamps

These clamps are circular, metal straps manufactured with one or two “ears” that hold the strap in its open position until pinched closed using special pliers. Once closed the strap cannot be reopened.

Key Advantages – very easy and quick to use with the proper tools; even clamping pressure applied (especially the double ear clamp).

Key Disadvantages – requires a special tool to use and remove; not reusable since the clamp must be cut with the tool to remove; not readily available; must be sized exactly to match the hose diameter.

Recommendation: highly recommended for those willing to purchase the tools (generally used by professionals).

Stepless Clamps

Considered to be the best clamps because of equal clamping pressure they apply around the whole clamp. Similar to single ear clamps, stepless clamps need a special tool to activate and remove.

Key Advantages – 100% positive clamping pressure when assembled correctly. Easy and fast to use.

Key Disadvantages – requires a special tool to use and remove; not reusable; not readily available and must be sized exactly to match.

Recommendation: highly recommended for those willing to purchase the tools (generally used by professionals).

How to Attach and Clamp a Beer Hose

Sometimes it is the most elementary of things that can cause the most frustration. This is true of attaching hoses. The attachment point and the hose, though correctly sized, just don’t seem to fit together. Do not however, succumb to the temptation of increasing a hose size just to make it fit. You will get a leaking connection and an improper hose size.

In a draft beer system all the hoses whether gas or liquid are attached to the various parts via a hose barb. A hose barb is an extruded metal tube that is manufactured with a series of rings around the tube. These rings are rounded on their leading edges and angled on their back edges. These are the “barbs.” This arrangement allows the hose to slip over the rounded edges as it is attached while the angled edges prevent the hose from slipping off. When the connection is finalized with a clamp, a positive seal is created between the rings of the tailpiece and the inside surface of the hose.

By design this connection needs to be a tight fit. That’s where the frustration comes in. It can seem like getting the hose to fit over the tailpiece is a monumental challenge. Here’s a very simple trick to get the job done quickly and without frustration:

1. Make sure the hose barb and the hose are matched in size using the inside diameter of the hose as the guide. 3/16 inch inside diameter hose needs to be attached on a 3/16 inch hose barb.

2. Heat up a small pot of water (it doesn’t have to be boiling, just hot to the touch).

3. With the pot of hot water placed in your work area, slip the appropriate clamp of your choice over the hose end that will be attached.

4. Dip the end of the hose (the first two or three inches) into the hot water for a minute. The hot water will soften the vinyl hose and allow you to stretch its diameter (remember stretch ability is one of the advantages of vinyl hose).

5. After a minute remove the hose, slip it onto the hose barb all the way to the “hilt” of the barb, pull your clamp over the assembly and engage the clamp according to the clamp style you are using. The clamp should be placed just an 1/8 inch from the end of the hose and be sure that it is over the “barbs.”

6. You’re done and ready to move on to the next connection if there is one.

7. As an alternative to hot water you can chew on the hose end vigorously for several seconds to soften the hose.

Here are a couple of more hints:

1. When cutting hose, be sure the cut is straight not angled. This allows for complete contact with the hose barb.

2. Size your length of hose so that there is an inch or two of slack, if there’s room. This will make assembling the connection easier.

3. The hose barb in question should be mounted to the part (keg coupler, regulator, etc). Do not try to screw together parts with the hose attached. This will twist the hose and create problems.

4. Removing the hose from a hose barb is often impossible. If you are disassembling parts, cut the hose longitudinally along the barb to get it off and then cut a new end horizontally.

5. Do not forget to put your clamp on the hose before assembly. Also, if putting a hose on a tailpiece/hex nut assembly, make sure that assembly is together before connecting the hose and clamping it.

Learn More About Hose Barbs, Tailpieces, etc. Learn About Different Hose Sizes and Their Uses