Thursday, March 17, 2011

Counterpoint: push out the hate, bring in the love

Recently, some of the local craft-beer types have been discussing the issue of dirty beer lines on Twitter. Specifically, by calling out bars that serve beer from dirty lines with a #TCdirtylines hashtag. You can read about the inspiration for the idea by the gentleman who started it over at Beer Genome. This conversation is something of a follow up to the recent #MNCleanpint silliness that was going around recently.

There are some very good points made at Beer Genome. In the interest of getting good beer to customers, having clean beer lines is absolutely essential. It's certainly more valuable than having a "beer clean" (as opposed to regular clean) glass which actually does nothing to improve the flavor of beer. Beer geeks love to talk about "lacing" though, despite it not really being an indication of anything intrinsically related to beer quality. It's true that residual detergent and sanitizer can ruin beer lacing, but lipids do as well. Lipids, which can be present on unclean glasses, are also naturally present in beer. They're a bi-product of healthy yeast, and also exist in higher quantities in grains like rye and oats than in barley which tend to leave certain beers with a less long-lasting head and less lacing. Next time you're at your favorite brewpub compare a pint of IPA to a pint of oatmeal stout. Don't tell anyone, though, lest we have to talk about how beer tastes instead of how it looks.

Which is what brings us back to dirty beer lines, which can, and do, drastically affect the flavor of beer. An unpleasant nutty, or buttery flavor can be due to beer lines which have not been cleaned regularly. They can also occur in beer itself, regardless of the lines.  And while I agree that it's something which should be prevented, I'm very wary and skeptical that calling bars out on Twitter (or anywhere) is the best way to do so. Firstly, and most importantly, there is really no way for a bar patron to determining that the beer in their glass was served through dirty beer lines unless they're under the bar. Much as we hate to admit it, beer faults can originate at the brewery as well. Asking random people to accuse their bar of having dirty lines because of a perceived flavor defect is a witch hunt. While it may be satisfying to publicly label a bar with perceived dirty lines, the best course of action is to send the beer back, tell the bartender why you're sending it back, and ask for something else. Most bars will accommodate such a request if made politely. If they don't, leave and don't go back. Secondly, it's ultimately the brewery's and distributor's responsibility to ensure that their beer is being served properly. Letting either of them know, in addition to letting the bar know about your experience is much more valuable than a passive aggressive scarlet letter. We should at least give them the chance to solve the problem, right?

And anyways, who really cares about bars that refuse to clean their lines? I'd be much more interested in hearing about bars who DO serve their beer consistently well. #TCgoodbeerbar seems much more productive to me. If we're really interested in preventing dirty beer lines, legislation and being vigilant are much more effective, in my opinion.


  1. While it is absolutely possible to tell dirty lines by flavor, not everyone has the training to distinguish bad lines from other flaws. What anyone with a decent palate can tell is that the beer doesn't taste as good as it should.

    As for beer-clean glasses, any place that is taking the trouble to serve beer in a beer-clean glass is probably also doing right with the gear that's out of sight and having those lines cleaned regularly.

    In general, I think it is better to point out the positives in public and discuss the negatives in private. The late Michael Jackson wrote millions of words about tens of thousands of beers, but I never saw him write a negative word about a one of them.


    Ray Daniels
    Director, Cicerone Certification Program

  2. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Ray. Getting poorly treated beer is frustrating, but I always hope people make efforts toward correcting the problem rather than just complaining. If the latter becomes common it would be easy for non-beer-geek bars to write off craft beer customers as not being worth the time.