Pouring Picture-Perfect Beer with Draft Systems

Formed under the direction of the Brewers Association Technical Committee in March 2007, the mission of the Draught Beer Quality working group is, “To improve the quality of draught beer for all beer drinkers.” Among the group’s efforts to create universal standards regarding draught system component names, maintenance, cleaning techniques and usage, the first version of The Draught Beer Quality Manual was released in 2009. In 2014 the group released Draught Beer Quality for Retailers, a boiled down version of the original manual with charts, graphs and bullet points intended for easy on-premise use.

Three esteemed members of the Brewers Association presented a draught beer webinar hosted by Nightclub & Bar and sponsored by MillerCoors. Matt Meadows, Director of Field Quality for New Belgium, Rob Gerritty, Sierra Nevada Trade Quality Manager, and Ernie Jimenez, Learning Instructor for MillerCoors through MillerCoors University, focused on Draught Beer Quality for Retailers and the right and wrong ways to maintain, clean and use draught beer systems.

Up first was Sierra Nevada’s Rob Gerritty. According to Rob, the current trend in draught beer is full-flavored beer from an authentic source. Stated plainly, this means that consumers are going to cool places and want authentic beer from a distributor that actually cares about beer, poured by a bartender who knows about beer, and they want it to come from an authentic source. Your guests want to know what brewery produced the beer, why they made a particular style of beer, what hops they used, what yeast was used, and any other bits of information they can obtain. Just as importantly, they don’t want just any beer experience, they’re seeking quality draught beers: aromatic, attractive and clean, presented in a clean glass. Consumers know more now than they ever did before and they aren’t accepting of a draught beer with a collapsed head in a dirty glass. Rob then delved deep into the essential elements of dispensing quality draught beer: freshness, cleanliness and carbonation.

In terms of freshness, craft brewers do a lot during fermentation to accent the aromas in their beers. Quite often, these aromas are references to nature: hops, citrus fruits, pine needles, and other bright scents. In Rob’s opinion, an excellent way to talk about freshness is to talk about staleness. Draught beers that aren’t fresh give off very distinct aromas and flavors of cardboard, wet paper, cooked cereal, rotten vegetables, aged fruit, and dulled, muted notes. Suppliers do their best to ship fresh beer, packaging stable beer (chemically and microbiologically stable, meaning no oxygen and no bugs), shipping it in good condition at a reasonable age to maximize the selling days available to distributors. They also often communicate their quality standards to distributors. Continuing down the line to the distribution side of things, distributors plan their inventories with suppliers. Distributors also store beer according to supplier standards, rotate their inventory according to date in order to help retailers manage freshness (removing out-of-code product), and monitor par levels. Retailers need to be sure that they store the beer cold as beer poured warm doesn’t perform well, and ensure that they pour the beer while it’s in code and fresh. Rob addressed the subject of on-premise beer aging, stating that while it may seem “cool” for a bar to say they have an aged beer program, very little beer purchased through distributors is intended to be aged.

Opting to spend more time discussing cleanliness than carbonation, Rob explained that brewers are still attempting to pinpoint tighter carbonation levels. Hopefully, we’ll one day soon have a standard pertaining to carbonation level. Until that day comes, retailers should keep in mind that beer should be fresh and crispy with sparkle and effervescence. The topic of cleanliness is one that the entire webinar panel – and every supplier, distributor, retailer, and operator of a bar or restaurant – knows is of critical importance. Out of the 50 continental United States, distributors only come on-premise and clean draught beer lines in 37 states. Beer lines, draught system components like couplers, and glassware must be clean in order for draught beer to perform to standards. Lines should be clear, not tan or brown. The brown in beer lines is beer residue which consists mostly of malt protein and hop resin, although it may also contain small percentages of microbes. The Brewers Association draught beer line cleaning standard is as follows:

  • The cleaning agent should be caustic and contain sodium hydroxide.
  • The concentration should be a 2- to 3-percent solution.
  • Temperature should be 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • The cleaning agent should be applied via a pump recirculation method.
  • Contact time for the cleaner is 15 minutes.
  • Beer lines should be cleaned every 2 weeks.

Because cleanliness is such a crucial part of draught beer quality, the current trend in beer lines is shorter runs with skinnier tubing. To help people understand this trend, Rob used a couple of examples. A trunk run of 170 feet with 3/8-inch diameter tubing will have a gallon of beer in it, quite a large loss when cleaning. In contrast, a trunk of 40 feet with 1/4-inch diameter tubing will have only a glass of beer in it. Additionally, shorter runs of beer lines can be removed and replaced at a much lower cost. Operators should also consider another trend, found in breweries across the country: stainless steel dispense components. Most systems are made with brass, which is pitter, corrosive, reactive and transfers metallic flavors. Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, Coors and many other breweries use smooth, stable and inert stainless steel which makes a profound difference on the beer. Finally, beer-clean glasses are achieved through the use of a non-petroleum-based detergent, a refreshed water rinse, and trichloromelamine for sanitization. They are also air dried to be completely dry and germ-free. If you would like to pre-wet rinse your glasses, Rob says you should just make sure to use potable water with a charcoal filter.

To conclude his portion of the webinar, Rob discussed the past, present and future of beer. Not that long ago, technology belonged to the big breweries and none of them agreed with best practices. Now, not only do breweries discuss the technologies they’re developing and using, they collaborate with other breweries. Today, suppliers, distributors and retailers share common goals and distributors are making progress in the sale and delivery of the freshest beer. The industry will continue to evolve, with quality the building block of the future. Rob also shared some predictions from the owner of Sierra Nevada, Ken Grossman. Ken has predicted more:

  • hoppy beers,
  • lower alcohol beers,
  • cans,
  • local players,
  • big bottles,
  • “funky” beer,
  • trade practices,
  • brewery supply-side challenges,
  • and trade quality issues.

Matt Meadows, New Belgium’s Director of Field Quality, further broke down the contents of the BA’s Draught Beer Quality for Retailers manual, praising its ease of use, focus on the sensory experience, and how quickly it allows decision makers to get to bottom line facts. The manual is separated into 4 main sections: “Key Considerations and Components: What Should Your System Look Like?”, “Proper Operation of Your Draught System,” “Draught System Cleaning and Maintenance,” and “Case Studies and Economics of Line Cleaning.”

He also shared the following information regarding draught systems:

  • Understand that regulators are set for the recipe of the beer, not for the draught system. The settings are the same across the board for direct draw draught systems – regulators aren’t set for flow rate.
  • Long draw (glycol) systems are different from direct draw and require different regulator settings. You’ll find a great regulator setting calculator online at mcdantim.mobi.
  • Gas blenders are worth the initial investment because it’s less costly in the long-run than purchasing pre-blended cylinders.
  • DO NOT USE AIR COMPRESSORS! They’re terrible for draught beer (or any type of beer, for that matter) because they dump oxygen onto the beer, oxidizing and aging it overnight well beyond the best buy date once it’s hooked up to a draught system.
  • Huge, long draught line systems cost you money so go short, as Rob mentioned above.
  • In agreement with Rob’s segment of the webinar, Matt also suggests using stainless steel rather than brass since the better taste means you’ll sell more beer.
  • A note on growler safety: Many of these glass vessels are not pressure rated and they’re essentially time bombs. Use stainless steel growlers.

Finally, Ernie Jimenez of MillerCoors presented a few draught beer system case studies. One of the studies, Case Study 4 in Draught Beer Quality for Retailers, supports the trend of shorter beer lines. Using a long draw system with 50 feet of line from cooler to faucet, you’ll have about 30 ounces of beer in the line. Assuming you have 10 lines, that’s 300 ounces or about $15 of beer loss total. In the long run, that’s a miniscule amount. In attempt to drive home the significance of clean beer lines, Ernie exposed the negative financial impact of dirty lines. Retailers who only clean their beer lines once every 8 weeks will actually see a decline in sales of 7 percent, amounting to a 55 half-barrel per year loss. Clearly, the importance of cleanliness to pouring picture-perfect draught beer cannot be overstated.

For more information on draft beer line and best practices join Matt, Rob and Ernie at the 2016 Nightclub & Bar Convention and Trade Show March 7 - 9. Registration is Now Open at www.ncshow.com.

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