12 Aug 2009 @ 9:56 AM 
 

A (true) short story about cleaning your tap lines.

 

This past week, I took a trip to the beach. The Jersey Shore, to be exact. While I was there, I did what I did everywhere: I hunted down beer. My first goal was to find a package store somewhere on the island I was on that actually had a decent beer selection. Rough, but doable. I managed to find some Dogfish Head, some Sierra Nevada, and some Sam Adams and, amazingly, an Affligem Dubbel (which was phenomenal when paired with Stilton, I might add). I could not, however, find any beer from Flying Fish Brewery which is just an hour away, regardless of what they say in their “Down The Shore” section.

The other thing I did, with the magical help of BeerMapping, was track down the only brewpub within an hour drive of me. Luckily, my sister-in-law needed a ride to the bus station nearby, so my wife and I took the opportunity to visit.

We sat down at the dark bar knowing full well that we were soon on our way back to the beach house for prepared dinner on the grill, so we opted for an appetizer – a spinach and cheese dip with pita wedges. It was lovely and very cheesy. My wife ordered the dunkelweiss, I ordered a sampler of all the beers. There was a light lager, an IPA, the aforementioned dunkel, an Irish red, some sort of unspecificed English-style ale, and a bock. As is my custom, I started with the lightest and worked my way to the darkest. What follows is real dialogue:

Me (sipping the light lager): Wow.

Wife: Good?

Me: Well… umm. How’s yours?

Wife: It’s decent.

Me: (sipping the dunkel) Yeah. Okay.

Wife: What do you think?

Me: It’s decent. (taking another sip of the light lager) Holy crap.

Wife: Is that really good?

Me: You’ve got to try it. It’s the best example of an infected tap line I have ever had!

Wife: Uhh.. do I have to?

And that was my positive experience. A perfect example of a tapline with a Pediococcus infection: overpoweringly sour, hazy. Two other beers also exhibited this problem, though not as obviously. I theorize that I probably had the first pull of the day of the light lager (at 5:00 PM). It was amazing. If I had ordered a full pint — and had the bartender seemed less surly — it would have gone back after a sip. As it was, I was almost too thrilled to find the example of something wrong. It’s so rare to get these things in the wild!

It’s actually inexcusable in a brewpub where, presumably, the brewmaster is in frequent contact with the beer and the staff. They even had one of those fancy Brewers Association “Support Your Local Brewery” stickers on the door on the way in! So they’re almost definitely current members of the BA and have knowledge of the Draught Beer Quality Manual. How does this happen?

It’s not just “oh that beer geek will be upset.” That’s hardly the problem. What I drank was unrecognizable as a light lager. It had more in common with a Flanders Red. Sour – unforgivably sour, and nowhere to hide. It’s a light lager, for crissakes. It’s not like there’s roasted grain or hops to hide behind.

In my imagination, this story happens all the time in New Jersey, where it’s hard enough finding something to drink that isn’t BMC:

A guy meets up with his buddies for a drink after work. They want to go to this brewpub place.

“Whatever. You guys are pussies, but if that’s where you want to go, let’s go.”

So he gets to this place, all his buddies order IPAs or Irish Reds or whatnot, and he asks the bartender, “What do you have that’s most like Bud?”

“Oh, we have this light lager. It’s called ‘Light Lager.'”

(Really.)

She brings him a pint. It looks all right. It’s not as light or as clear as Bud, but he is in some namby-pamby brewpub, so they probably can’t get that shit right. He takes a sip. It’s awful. It’s sour and a little vinegary and tastes nothing – and I mean nothing – like any beer he has ever had. How can anybody think this tastes like Bud? He looks up at his buddies and they’re all enjoying their fancy-pants beers. He’s on their turf, and he’s given them shit about the choice of beer, so he doesn’t say a thing. He pounds it and orders a Jack and Coke saying, “I just can’t get behind this brewpub crap, man. It’s just not the same.” and never ever orders a craft beer again.

Hyperbole? Yeah. I mean.. read the rest of blog. I truck in hyperbole. But you get my point:

Every time a bar that’s serving (what should be) decent beer doesn’t keep its tap lines clean it’s giving a bad name to every craft beer and beer bar out there. People who are moving outside their comfort zone won’t go back outside of it if they get burned the first time.

Help spread the word for good beer: keep your tap lines clean.

Tags Tags: , ,
Categories: brewery, brewpub, distribution, travel
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 12 Aug 2009 @ 09 56 AM

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Responses to this post » (12 Total)

 
  1. nate says:

    This is funny, but the serious point is well taken. Neglect/laziness could forever damn a adventurer back to the pits of plain beer.

    I used to work at a bar…loved it when our distributors cleaned the lines, because they’d hook us up with new samples and shwag.

  2. Erik says:

    Interesting post but can you elaborate on what’s actually happening with the Pediococcus infection? What’s happening to the beer? What’s causing the infection? How is it solved? How common is this among the brewpubs you’ve been to?

  3. erik says:

    Sure thing.

    My guess about what was going on is that the lines themselves (possibly the serving tank – but that would really be uncleanly) have a Pediococcus infection. So while beer is sitting in the lines – say overnight – the Pediococcus bacteria is actively growing in the beer that’s sitting in the lines.

    Pediococcus creates lactic acid as a waste product (just like ale yeast makes ethanol and CO2). The most common flavor you might associate with lactic acid is sauerkraut. It’s also found (in positive ways) in some spontaneously fermented Belgian beers.

    The upshot is that if you have the first draw off of a line with a Pediococcus infection, you’re drinking an *incredibly* sour beer. It’s probably also a little hazy (mine was) because of the bacteria colonies in the solution. Later pints may not exhibit the same sourness – or any at all – but to the casual consumer something will almost definitely taste … wrong.

    It’s solved by pushing a cleaning solution through the lines on a regular basis, though in a really bad case it’d be better off to just replace them. It’s recommended that pubs clean their lines at least once every two weeks, though I can’t see a reason (outside of, maybe, time management) that you wouldn’t try to clean the lines every week.

    As far as common? I’ve never run into dirty lines in a brewpub before. As I noted earlier, it’s an environment where the person making the beer is in close contact with it, so they know when something is wrong. I have run into dirty tap lines in more divey bars, but never anything as noticeable as the one above.

  4. Todd Parker says:

    I recommend that you send a copy of your post to them. A little shaming might wake them up a little (and really you were nice and didn’t name them). Otherwise, they might just explain that beer sales are down because of the economy. I’ve noticed that some brewers get so accustomed to their beers that they become used to the off flavors and don’t notice their presence. Also, I fear that this might be the case, but I’ve seen some brewers who are annoyed by the fact that they are made to make a non-manly beer like ipa’s and imperial stouts and they never drink the beer that they are forced to make. Or maybe the brewer is on vacation.

  5. erik says:

    I did actually send a note to the management of the pub explaining to them that I thought they had a problem on their hands (I haven’t heard back, yet).

    I didn’t want to actually publicly shame them here, but I did think that the experience was educational on a couple of levels.

    After doing a little research, I’ve found that the brewer for this particular pub is contracted in from another local brewery. So he really may not be in touch with the product on a regular basis. At the same time, it is the responsibility of the management of a brewpub to see that their product is being presented well.

    And if they don’t know any better – what are they doing managing a brewpub?

  6. Simply Beer says:

    I’m from Jersey, you really should send the brewpub a note about this. This is unacceptable at any establishment featuring any beer, craft or macro! Luckily for me the establishments I tend to frequent are diligent about cleaning, I mean come on it’s your business!

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