If you’ve ever been served a cloudy or off-tasting beer–something unpleasantly sour, barnyardy, or even assertively buttery–you may very well have been the victim of dirty beer lines.
Commercial beer lines, as well as draft faucets and couplers, should be cleaned every two weeks, and most reputable bars abide by this rule for good reason. They know all too well that cleaning beer lines any less often means running the risk that yeast, mold, bacteria, and mineral deposits called beerstones will build up in their draft system and adversely affect whatever beer is being poured. Unfortunately, many patrons aren’t aware that the conditions under which bars store and dispense beer can be so impactful. In many cases, rather than attribute a beer’s off flavors to improper draft maintenance, a beer drinker will assume the problem occurred during the brewing process and may totally write off a beer he or she might have enjoyed had it not been tainted.
For a brewer, then, a bar’s dirty beer lines have the potential to wreak havoc on business and brand reputation. If someone dislikes a product at first taste, a brewer will be hard pressed for another chance to win him or her over as a loyal customer. And save visiting every bar that sells its products to test for quality, breweries have no control over their beers once a keg leaves its possession.
It was in response to this problem that the New York State Brewers Association (NYSBA) instituted its Draft Quality Program–a first-of-its-kind statewide program that encourages beer retailers, including bars, merchants, and breweries with tasting rooms, to become certified in proper draft system maintenance.
According to NYSBA board member Ethan Cox, becoming certified should not prove difficult for retailers that already practice good beer line hygiene and use proper beer cleaning equipment. After a multiple choice, written examination, retailers interested in certification are asked to submit to a performance test, during which beer line cleaning technique is monitored from start to finish and evaluated in accordance with national best practices. NYSBA, for instance, requires certified businesses to practice re-circulation pump cleaning, which flushes beer lines clean by way of chemical and mechanical action. Retailers can also be inducted into the program by using a certified beer line cleaning service.
Participation in the program is completely voluntary so as not to add to the industry’s already high regulatory burdens, Cox explained in a phone interview. Still, certification is in everyone’s best interest. The brewing company, retailer, and customer all benefit when beer is presented in the best possible way.
The program is still in its infancy, and just over a dozen retailers have earned certification by publish date. But even if throngs of retailers don’t jump on the certification bandwagon right away, Cox is happy simply to have opened a dialogue about draft system maintenance.
“Anything we do that prompts people to pay attention to beer line cleaning is a win,” he said.