Beerfly: The dirt on bad draught
by Glen Edwards
Brewers are frustrated that some bars aren't coming clean over how they serve draught.
Unhygienic serving methods have long been the bane of beermakers. At best, dirty delivery of draught can ruin the complex taste of a good beer or, at worst, make you feel like you’ve ingested tap water from a cheap Mexican motel.
Indifferent serving establishments are a particular sore spot for beer experts who consider keg-to-glass the purest method of tapping into the brewer's best taste intentions. Some breweries, like Vancouver Island gem Lighthouse Brewing Company and Vancouver's premium Storm Brewing Ltd., don't even offer their precious recipes by the bottle.
Keith Lemcke, executive editor of the Draught Beer Guild and marketing manager of the World Brewing Academy, recently wrote to Beerfly expressing his concern over the number of bars spoiling the beer experience.
"You would be quite surprised to know that an obscenely high percentage of draught beer served is compromised in some fashion, rendering it substantially changed from the way the brewer had intended it be served," states Lemke.
Wolfgang Hoess, brewmaster for Vancouver Island Brewery, is in full agreement.
"From what I have observed and tasted there definitely needs to be a lot done to make the draught beers more appealing, pleasing and better tasting. Unfortunately, the brewery itself doesn't really have any control over it — it’s the licensee," says Hoess.
Generally, brewers recommend that, every two weeks, draught lines are flushed out and all hardware and faucets are hand-cleaned. Weekly line cleaning is essential, however, in licensed places where the beer does not flow as freely — low-volume establishments where beer may be left stuck wallowing in the works, incubating all sorts of grubby germs.
"You're dealing with beer, and beer is like milk," relates Stefan Tobler, brewmaster for Okanagan Spring Brewery. "It's susceptible to microbiological (bacterial) growth, so you have to keep draught lines as clean as possible."
For those patrons looking to bypass the road to bad beer experiences, here are a few tell-tale warning signs ...
A muddled mug — whether smeared with oils, lipstick, dirt or residuals from a previous beer — is one of the top pet peeves of brewmasters.
"It's the most common (problem)," says Bill White, brewmaster for Oland Specialty Beer Co. "Dirty glasses ruin any beverage you put into them. You smell the cleaner from the dishwasher. You see spots all over them. If you pour in a beer and you got bubbles on the side you know you’re drinking from a dirty glass. It kills the foam and it takes so much of the enjoyable things away."
Watch out for bartenders who habitually dip the tap into the beer while pouring a glass.
As the drink orders pile up, the spout will soon carry the history of a night's pouring. For that reason, the draught faucet should never even touch the glass, let alone be immersed in the beer.
"Putting the glass in the spout while the beer is being pushed up (should be avoided)," says Lynda Askew, manager of Oland's instructional Beer Institute. "That tap is going into someone's beer. Through the course of an evening there's quite a build-up of crud and bacteria.”
Beer folk also encourage bars to take the bumper rings off the faucet mouth. These rubber parts harbour bacteria, invite fruit flies and degrade the outer surface of the faucet, creating pits in the brass where bacteria can lodge. If the faucet mouth is dipped in the beer, oils that collect on the outer surface — from the bar and restaurant atmosphere — will immediately begin to break down the foam.
"Next time you are at a bar that has those rubber bumpers around the mouths of their faucets," Lemcke warns, "Look closely under the bumpers at the stuff that has accumulated. It can be pretty nasty."
Scotch the butterscotch
If you have a draught beer that smells slightly like butter or butterscotch, chances are the establishment’s beer line contains an infection.
"Such an infection will not make you sick," writes Lemcke, "but it does indicate a real hygiene problem."
Trump this trick
The "Dairy Queen Swirl" describes the sleight of hand used for beer left on the service counter too long.
With the head dissipated, a bartender revives the beer with a quick stir of a bar spoon to recreate the foam head.
Some bartenders may also artificially resuscitate end-of-the-keg beer by long pouring the liquid into a low-held glass or shaking the glass up and down when filling to foster a fizzy foam substitute.
"If I'm ever served a beer that doesn't have a (proper) foam head on it, generally speaking I'll send it back," says Askew
According to Lemcke, many draught system installers build systems to run under a mixture of nitrogen and CO2 gas, commonly known as Guinness gas or the trade name Aligal.
Unless each line has been individually engineered to work with the right pressure of that gas, the beer ends up de-carbonated in just a few days. Small changes in carbonation affect the aroma, flavour, foam-creation, and "mouth-feel" of any beer. Some bars even use air compressors to push beer through their lines, which "is as bad an idea as anyone ever had."