Wednesday, December 12, 2007


I wrote a thing a few months ago about trying (and disliking) a popular West Coast beer at a certain East Bay, California-area beer bar, and received a very curious email. The fella that wrote it told me that the establishment in question has a terrible reputation for not cleaning its taps, an allegation that, if true, would probably damage any standing and cred the place has with beer drinkers across the San Francisco Bay Area. He claimed that identical beers tasted on tap in two different locations frequently tasted fantastic at one bar, while woefully stale/unfresh at the alleged tap-neglecters - and that sources “in the know” knew for a fact that the dirty lines were not being cleaned. If there’s one thing I’ve been convinced of in readings over the past year, it’s that bars have an obligation to clean out their beer tap lines at least every two weeks, lest beers come out tasting foul, cloudy or flat. Any place that’s not adhering to this will almost certainly lose my business, and probably yours too.

I was inclined not to believe the hype (as Anne Frank said, “Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart”), having as I did an excellent ALLAGASH WHITE at the bar in question not too long ago. Taps have to be clean to serve up a beer that great, right? Then there was my trip there last week. I tried an AVERY WHITE RASCAL, which I absolutely loved when I had it in a bottle, and……eww. Totally bland, flat & boring, with almost none of the intense witbier flavors I enjoyed just a month or two ago. Could it be true? I ordered an EJ PHAIR PALE ALE. EJ PHAIR are a Concord, CA-based brewery whose beers I’ve never explored, and I’d heard good things. The pale ale was the one they started the brewery with. How bad could it be? Well, my notes say, “thin, grassy, weak”. I scored it a 5/10, but I’m starting to wonder if that’s not entirely fair. What if each beer came served with micro-organisms, bacteria and sediment? What if…..the rumor was true?? Anybody?

UPDATE: We received this from our original correspondent. It could be a case of nitrogen – not unclean taps…..oh, and for those who’ve asked why I haven’t named the bar in question? Because they could be wholly innocent, and these strange-tasting beers could be flukes. If you really want to know, just click on the links in the post and it’s pretty easy to figure out. Anyway, here’s some postscript from our correspondent:

Just read your post from today with interest as I am the one who originally reported the tap/lines issue some months back at ______. I found out later that a good friend (same guy, one who drinks there all the time) asked them about it again and it was explained that they have to use nitrogen (more so than usual, if any other places use it at all, my understanding is that CO2 was the method) in order to get the beers to the taps because of where all the kegs are kept. I don't know exactly where they keep their kegs. I do know, however, that this would seem to make sense because it's always been this similar fizzy, lightly carbonated (and not in a good way, almost like soda) taste/sense that I always seem to notice in the guest beers there. I still drink there from time to time because it's so close to home and right by BART, live music, great patio etc, and I have never failed to notice this flavor/sense/taste. I go to Barclay's, Toronado, Lanesplitter quite often so I know how these beers are supposed to taste, something surely isn't right there. In the meantime, I've also spoken to some friends I met recently at Barclay's and they have absolutely noticed the same thing so I know I'm not alone.


Anonymous said...

Uh. Where are you talking about? All this double talk is confusing me. I'd like to avoid this place until I can be certain that they do clean their taps regularly.

Rick Sellers said...

Jay, lines are an issue with far too many bars I've found. Last week I had about half a pint of SN Celebration and had to call it quits on the beer it was so bad. I don't know of this particular place, but you could easily as them who cleans their lines. If they reply that their reps/distributors do it, then that's not a good sign. In researching a piece I wrote on the Toronado that was one reason Vinne and Tomme both listed for loving Toronado, that they clean their own lines. If you find that the distributor is cleaning the line, perhaps a call into the brewery telling them their beer lines aren't being properly maintained at this place/by this distributor wouldn't hurt.

muddball said...

Sorry to comment on an old post, but the Beer Retard turned me onto your blog and this post got caught my eye.

It's fairly common for bars to use a combination of nitrogen and CO2 to dispense beer if the kegs are a long distance from the taps or located in the basement below the bar. In such cases more pressure is required in the keg to force the beer out the tap, say for example 30 psi. A typical CO2 pressure required for proper carbonation is more like 15 psi (depends on beer style and temperature). If CO2 were used at 30 psi to push the beer it would be overcarbonated coming out of the tap. Nitrogen is much less soluble in beer than CO2, so if a bar has to push the beer through long lengths of tubing or to a higher elevation, they will use a mixture of nitrogen and CO2 instead of pure CO2 to avoid overcarbonation. It's a fairly common practice and probably not the cause of the problems at the bar in question. Unless they are using pure nitrogen which would be a huge mistake as the beer would go flat and have a completely different character. Carbonation is such an important contributor to the beer experience...

Anonymous said...

Muddball you have a some good info that you have given.But as person who does this type of service for a living there is alot more that could come into factor here.Although they do use nitro to move beer ,it should be a blended systems instead of straight nitro=(nitro/co2).When long draws come into affect we use beer pumps to keep beer stable and not have to fource air into the beer.I could also go on about how important it is to clean every 10 days.Thats everthing faucets lines and taping devices to keep mold ,beer stones ...from growing.Regular cleanings are required by brewers but Resturants have to work in cooperation the the distributors or Draft beer companys.Alot of bars refuse service for cleaning to save $$$ and in the longrun the consumer gets bad tasting beer.Bitter,Buttery,Vingery Beer..Bummer
Thanks for you time