Protecting beer flavor and serving a craft beer in the way the brewer intended is something near and dear to my heart. Retail establishments are the last line of defense in a very long chain of custody in the craft beer industry. The farmers put their sweat and sometimes blood and tears into cultivating crops worthy of the craft beer community. This includes grains, hops, adjuncts and additives. Then the maltsters take barley and carefully modify it for use by the brewers. The brewers often times hand select ingredients and deftly balance science and art in crafting their beer. Brewer’s go to exhaustive lengths to combat spoilage organism and ensure the beer is free of any off-flavors. If the brewery is big enough, they use a wholesaler to bring their product to market. The wholesalers take great pride in carefully storage and transportation of the brewer’s prized possession in a way that protects the flavor by keeping beer at 38 degrees. Then after everyone has done their utmost to maintain the flavor of craft beer, from the famer to wholesaler, the beer is put into the hands of restaurants and bars staff to bring it home and properly serve it to thirsty patrons.
This is where we see the most problems: improper glassware, unbalanced draught systems, improper serving temperatures, and worst of all, unmaintained draught lines. I attribute most of this to lack of proper beer education. Draught beer is a complex system and requires constant attention to detail. The area where most issues arise is in the form of draught system cleanliness.
The Brewer’s Association publishes a free Draught Beer Quality Manual for any business to download in PDF format. This manual convers system balance, proper maintenance and trouble shooting techniques. According to the Brewer’s Association, the basic cleaning and sanitization requirements are: a caustic line cleaning every two weeks where the faucets are disassembled and cleaned, and an acid line cleaning every 3 months where the keg couplers and FOBs are taken apart and cleaned. Very few businesses ensure this cleaning is done to standard. In most states, it is the wholesaler’s (distributor) responsibility to clean lines where their beer is on draught. In most craft beer bars, a different keg is rotated onto a draught line as soon as the previous keg is emptied. Often times, the new keg is not from the same distributor, making it almost impossible for the distributor to clean the lines that “their beer” occupies. It also takes about 30 mins to clean draught lines, which would end up being a full time job for the distributor considering the number of brands each distributor has on draught within their given area.
While it is technically the distributor’s responsibility according to the three tier system, retail businesses need to take more ownership of their draught line maintenance and cleaning. There are restaurants and bars that I won’t frequent because their draught beer quality is not worth my hard earned money. It may be the distributor’s responsibility but at the end of the day, your retail location suffers before the distributor does. They have accounts all over town, so if their beer isn’t moving as fast at one location, it can be offset across the entirety of their accounts. A retail business does not have that luxury. If you market your business as a craft beer bar or restaurant, then you need to take direct control over your draught line maintenance. A number of the businesses that I have worked for clean their own lines. At my current place of employment, we clean the line and faucet after every keg kicks.
This can get expensive and is a difficult pill to swallow if you are operating a long draw draught system. It’s hard for the business owner to pour beer that is sitting in the line down the drain to clean the system. It feels a lot like a sunk cost. What many restaurants and bars need to realize is, the craft beer consumer is becoming increasingly educated on proper service and off-flavors. Those that view the lifetime value of their customers will realize that paying additional money to protect beer flavor will garner repeat business.
I would highly recommend anyone who wants to understand the requirements for maintaining a draught system and improving their service to reach out to me. I have the ability to take an unbiased look at your business and provide a range of solutions to improve your bottom line.