Sensory Check Your System for Spoilage: See, Smell, Taste?

Performing sensory checks on your tap system is important for obvious reasons:

  1. To ensure the health and safety of your guests
  2. To maintain proper draught beer quality
  3. To check that your line cleaner is performing up to par.

A draught beer system that is properly maintained on a two week schedule should never fall victim to spoilage issues. But if it has been longer than 2 weeks since your system’s last cleaning, or if you feel that recent cleanings have not been fully effective, you can perform simple sensory checks on your tap system to locate sanitation trouble spots.

How to Check Your System for Spoilage

Keg Couplers and Faucets

cleveland beer line cleaning, dirty couplerThe most common points of microbial infection on a tap system are the faucets and keg couplers. These two locations are constantly exposed to open air where airborne bacteria, mold, and yeast will continually take advantage of beer as a nutrient source, forming films on sugar and protein residues that develop on these components.

If a keg coupler is infected with microbial film, it will be very visible. Simply remove the coupler from the keg and inspect for any slimy, moldy buildup around the seal and keg-coupler connection. If a microbial film is present, those microbes are certainly infecting the beer in your tap system as well, and immediate corrective action is required.

Couplers should be removed from kegs and soaked in soapy cleveland beer line cleaning, dirty couplerwater. Most of the film will fall off and the remainder may be scrubbed off using a small brush (toothbrush works well). To prevent future films from growing, couplers may be sprayed regularly with a simple antiseptic solution such as 50/50 rubbing alcohol (isopropanol)/water or 50/50 ammonia/water. These chemicals are strong antimicrobial agents that are safe to use as a no-rinse sanitizer on tap system components and will leave no flavor or aroma in the beer.

Beer faucets are of equal concern as they will spend their entire life exposed to an array of airborne pathogens and spoilage microorganisms. Faucets are made of food grade materials that inhibit the binding and growth of airborne microbes. But a poorly maintained faucet loses its antimicrobial properties when beer and foam is allowed to dry on the exterior. These dry residues are an cleveland beer line cleaning, dirty faucet residueopen invitation for microbial contamination. Airborne bacteria, mold, and yeast will quickly bind to these residues, metabolize them, and produce off-flavors and aromas at the faucet.

If there is any visible film on or in a faucet, it should be de-soiled immediately using a clean wet cloth and faucet brush. Faucets must be sanitized at the end of each shift using a simple chemical no-rinse sanitizer such as alcohol, ammonia, or an oxidizer.

To check for faucet sanitation issues, first observe the outside of the faucet for any dry beer residue and mold growth around the lever, plunger, and shank collar. Next check the inside of the faucet by rolling up a white paper napkin, inserting it into the faucet spout, then twisting and removing the napkin to see if any residue is being collected. If there is visible residue on the napkin, your faucets are in need of more frequent in-house sanitation procedures.

Next, sensory check for spoilage by smelling the napkin for a number of aromas that are often present. They are commonly described as having pungent characteristics of stinky feet, cheese, and vinegar. If you detect any of these odors, then common spoilage bacteria and yeast are present which produce acetic, lactic, and butyric acids that we associate with having these classic beer-spoilage aromas. Also, be sure to check faucet covers in the same way you checked your faucets, as these can be a site of infection (and re-infection) if not kept to the same sanitary standard as your faucets. Faucet covers should be soaked in sanitary solution when not in use and cleaned regularly using a faucet brush.

Drip Trays and Drains

Another common spoilage site is the beer drip tray and drain which are located just inches below the faucets. Your efforts to maintain clean beer faucets will be aided if a clean drip tray and drain is maintained. An infected drain will emit intense sour spoilage aromas, as well as provide a secondary site for bacteria, mold, and yeast to breed and produce future generations that will continually re-infect faucets and draught beer lines. Stale odors will be evident and residue buildup is usually visible inside the drain tube if drain cleaning has been neglected. Drip trays and drains should be flushed daily with hot water and can be stored overnight with a thick detergent inside to kill odors and prevent further microbial contamination.


Proper refrigerator hygiene is of considerable importance to the overall sanitation of a tap system. It is natural for spillage to occur in a walk-in refrigerator or beer box. It seems that every time a keg is changed some small amount of beer seems to seep out and find its way onto the floor. These tiny beer puddles aren’t even noticeable at first, but over time they will build up to create a major sanitation problem. Cold-tolerant bacteria, mold, and yeast breed on these beer residues left in refrigerators. Refrigeration will slow their growth, but it will never stop it completely.

Films of mold on refrigerator floors become especially visible if proper housekeeping procedures are not adhered to. One of the best investments for a keg cooler (other than the kegs themselves) is keg racks that hold kegs about 6 to 12 inches off the ground. This enables easy, continuous clean-up without ever having to move or lift kegs to mop under. By eliminating beer residue buildup inside keg coolers, airborne bacteria, mold, and yeast populations are significantly reduced, thus preventing these microbes from entering the lines.

Vinyl Lines

beer line cleaning, dirty vinyl beer linesIf exterior tap system components have experienced spoilage issues, then it’s likely the interior of the system contains spoilage microorganisms as well. Mold on keg couplers quickly makes its way into beer and gas lines. If your system was properly designed with clear vinyl jumper lines, then you will be able to see microbial deposits if infection is present. These deposits will appear as dark discolorations, solid films, and/or spots of microbial colonies.

You may also check for spoilage aromas in your gas lines by removing the coupler from the keg, moving the coupler handle into its down position (as if tapping a keg), and allowing for CO2 to flow from the coupler. CO2 has a refreshing aroma like the clean effervescence of mineral water. But if vinyl gas lines are contaminated, the CO2 will smell more like bad breath or a dirty locker room. Be sure to return the coupler handle to its up position to stop CO2 flow after inspection, as CO2 buildup in an enclosed area, like a refrigerator, poses a severe asphyxiation hazard.

Due to the highly porous and absorbent nature of vinyl materials, infections in vinyl lines are very difficult to remove, even with extreme chemical cleaning attempts. Tap systems are designed so that vinyl line replacement is easy and affordable. It is recommended that vinyl lines showing signs of infection be replaced immediately. By cleveland beer line cleaning, dirty fobdoing so, permanent sources of spoilage are completely removed from the system, providing a clean slate for fresh draught beer service.

If your draught beer system is equipped with foam-on-beer detectors (FOBs), this may be another site of infection. These devices are made out of plastic materials that, like vinyl, will absorb residues and off-flavors over time. These devices also create dead spots (points where flow is limited) in the system, which promotes the deposition and growth of microbial films. Check your FOBs for discoloration and film. FOBs must be removed from the system, disassembled, and scrubbed internally in order to achieve proper sanitation.

Observe the Beer

Finally, observe the aroma, flavor, body, and head retention qualities of beer served from your system. The beer itself should be the initial indicator of sanitary quality and the final confirmation of a properly maintained draught beer system.

The most profound analysis is offered in the first glass of beer poured from each line every day. This pint has sat in the line the longest and has had the greatest opportunity to pick up off-flavors and aromas. Pour this beer into a clean glass that is free of any sanitizer residue. Immediately after pouring, draw the aromatics of the first beer in through your nose focusing discretely on the malt and hop aromatic qualities. Both should be intense and uncompromised by any foul odors.

Next, set the glass down and allow the foam to settle. Clean beer served in a clean glass will maintain some head on the surface of the beer and some head will remain adhered to the interior of the glass as well.

Also, look for clarity in the body of the beer. Most filtered beer will allow light to pass through regardless of the color of malt used. A beer served from poorly maintained draught beer lines may be hazy and block light due to suspended solid sediment that is picked up within a dirty beer line. If your beer passes olfactory and visual inspection, then taste it. Bartenders and servers should be encouraged to regularly sample draught beer so that they become intuitively aware of the unique qualities of each beer, and will be able to immediately recognize spoilage issues.

Be sure to have your beer lines cleaned every two weeks, as recommended by the Brewers Association and the State of Ohio, and perform random in-house sensory checks to learn the quality of your system, the quality of the beer it is dispensing, and the quality of workmanship of the beer line cleaner you have hired.

Lastly, perform sensory checks because if you don’t, someone else will. And that person will likely be a customer (or multiple customers) who will either rave to their friends about your beer selection and the quality of service, or insist on never going back because their stout was skunky and sour.

How to Increase Draught Beer Sales through Improved Service

In order to maintain a high level of draught beer sales, customer service must be top notch. There are simple ways for a bar or restaurant to encourage customers to order draught beer.

  • Menus must invite the customer to try what is on tap,
  • resources must be available that cater to individual preferences and curiosities,
  • and service and specials must follow suit of an intelligently designed beer list.

Guests entering the establishment should always be greeted with informatively designed menus. Just as there are many different varieties of beer, there are also many different varieties of beer drinkers. A good beer menu will consist of each beer’s name, style, alcohol content, the brewery and city the beer was brewed at, and a brief description of the beer’s characteristics.

A neatly assembled beer menu provides a comfortable approach to learning about new beers. Concise descriptions of character and origin bring comprehensiveness to a diverse selection. And if bartenders and servers are a dependable resource for further descriptions, customers will not hesitate to continue trying new beers.

Specials should be clearly posted inside the menu, as well as table tops, interior walls, and the entrance. Specials may be designed to showcase and promote draught beer. Certain draught beers can reappear throughout the menu as flavorings in cocktails (or “beertails”). Other beers may be suitable for cooking with and may be included on the lunch or dinner menu as ingredients in soups, beer cheeses, beer batters, mustards, and even malt vinegars.

Food pairings are another great way to introduce your customers to new beers. And be sure to offer happy hour pricing on a selection of draught beers. Design happy hour specials strategically so that they promote the sale of excess stock by encouraging guests to try beers they wouldn’t normally order. This will enhance their experience and expand their palates to keep them coming back.

Rotation is also key for encouraging repeat business. By continually introducing new beer varieties, regular guests will remain entertained. It is also important to be mindful of seasonal varieties and offer select beer and ale styles based on seasonal production. In addition, proper glassware should accompany each individual style of beer. Glassware styles and standards are designed to emphasize the focal points of each beer and exhibit the specific characteristics that define a particular style. Beer should be served with at least a quarter inch of head and presented in properly cleaned glassware.

As new beers come on tap, staff should be:

  • Continually re-educated as to the style and characteristics of each beer on the menu.
  • Knowledgeable and well-versed in drink, food and happy hour specials.
  • Able to provide accurate descriptions of menu options and helpful recommendations in order to satisfy guests and ensure their return.
  • Encouraged to taste each product so their descriptions are accurate and honest.

Are you having trouble serving the highest quality draft beer? Contact Cleveland Beer Line Cleaning today >

How You Can Tell if You’re Drinking from a Dirty Beer Line


We’ve all been there before. You sit down at your favorite bar, order a draught beer, and take the first sip. Only something doesn’t taste quite right. It tastes . . . dirty. Or flat. Or simply horrible. But what does that mean?

First, some of the characteristic indicators of a “dirty” beer line are the same for “dirty” glassware. These indicators are:

  1. Quick loss of head retention
  2. Lack of legs forming and remaining on the inside of the beer glass
  3. Seemingly flat beer due to rapid loss of carbon dioxide gas

All of these factors are related, but they can be the result two unrelated causes—a dirty beer line or dirty glassware. So let’s clarify the difference in terms of “dirty.”

Defining a Dirty Beer Line

The State of Ohio describes a “dirty” beer line as one that has not been kept in compliance with Ohio Administrative Code 4301:1-1-28: Beer and wine: cleaning and sterilizing dispensing apparatus. Although this code goes into no detail about how lines should be cleaned, what methods and chemicals should be used, or what the actual risks to the consumer are if beer lines are not kept to standard, it does state that line cleaning must be performed “not less than once every two weeks.” Therefore, by Ohio law, a “dirty” beer line is one that has not been cleaned by a registered line cleaner in over 14 days. How would you know this? Simply ask to see a bar’s line cleaning log. By law, all bars must maintain a log of their line cleaning, which will be initialed and dated by an Ohio registered line cleaner every time line cleaning is performed.

So how is “dirty” different from beer line to beer glass? A dirty beer line will have sugar and protein residue built up inside. These residues may break off when agitated by the flow of beer, resulting in chunks or flakes in the dispensed beer. This is an ugly surprise to the beer drinker, and quite embarrassing for the bartender and bar owner. Even worse, these pieces of beer solids harbor films of bacteria, mold, and yeast that will quickly spoil the beer once colonies are established inside the line. Even if beer flakes are not dispensed into the glass, be assured that residues do exist in the lines of unkept tap systems, and microbial biofilms harbored by these residues will taint the flavor of draught beer, leaving a sour or dry, cardboard-like taste in the beer, along with a loss of malty sweetness. It is mainly a variety of acids that are detected as off-flavors when sipping a beer that has been spoiled by a “dirty” beer line. These acids also break up the foamy head of a beer, wash those sticky beer legs from the inside of the glass, and expedite the release of CO2 from a once sparkly beer. If you think you’re detecting any of these off-flavors, or if you make any of these visual observations, then you’re probably drinking from a dirty beer line.  

Defining a Dirty Beer Glass

It is important to note that these same visual observations may also be made if clean beer is dispensed into a “dirty” glass. The flavor quality and sanitation of the beer will NOT be effected, so be careful before drawing any conclusions as to the cleanliness of the tap system. A “dirty” beer glass is any glassware that does not permit full contact of beer and glass. Beer sugars and proteins bind to glass resulting in full head retention and beautiful scaffolding of legs on the glass’s interior throughout the life of a pint, no matter how long or short that time may be.

So what could possibly get in the way of foamy head structure and leg formation on a glass’s interior? Well, anything else that sticks to glass. Sanitizers today, such as iodine, are designed to do just that in order to form a sanitary barrier between the glass’s surface and any potential airborne pathogens. This is great in terms of preventing the spread of foodborne illness; and this modern theory and methodology has been applied to all sectors of the food and beverage industry. Plates and silverware receive the same type of sanitary treatment, but the quality and presentation of food is unaffected by this. Rather it’s draught beer service that falls victim to modern sanitation methods.

If you suspect that sanitizer residue is killing the head on your beer, then ask the bartender to re-use your glass. Normally, a good first coat of beer on the inside of your glass will wash away sanitizer residue (consuming iodine will not hurt you) while laying a foundation for excellent head retention on your second, third, fourth . . . or fifth beer. If you notice improved head retention the second time around, then sanitizer was the culprit. Not a “dirty” beer line. This is more common than you may realize.

The second form of a “dirty” beer glass is one that is truly dirty. If it was washed with dirty water it will have an oily or greasy residue coating its surface, which repels water-based solutions like beer. This commonly results when bars do not change their wash-and-rinse water out frequently enough. This is also very common. Watch for a bartender’s or bar back’s attention to detail when running glasses through wash and rinse sinks, and also notice if glasses are being polished with a dry towel after washing and drying. The most important reason to polish is to remove any potential residues that will destroy the integrity of a quality draught beer.

In conclusion, if you order a familiar beer and it tastes and smells right, it is likely that you are drinking from a clean draught system. If you’re in doubt, look for visual indicators. And if you truly believe you’ve been served beer from a dirty beer line, ask to see the bar’s line cleaning log. Check that the date of their last cleaning is within two weeks. The date will be followed by the line cleaner’s initials and his or her 8-digit Ohio registration number.

Have any questions? Contact us today!

What Most Bartenders Don’t Know About Their Own Tap Systems

Most bartenders and bar owners have a fair working knowledge of how their tap system functions. They’re able to recognize operational defects and malfunctions involving factors like proper refrigeration, carbonation, and beer flow/pour rate.

However, what most bartenders don’t know is the impact poor sanitation has on the performance of a draught beer system.

“Closing the Cut” on Your Beer Lines

Beer is actually very dense with nutrients like various sugars and proteins, and there are dozens of species of airborne bacteria and mold that are constantly on the hunt for nutrient sources. When airborne microorganisms contact beer faucets (especially dirty ones) they immediately begin to feed on nutrient residues left on and inside the faucet, then begin to reproduce and colonize toward the nutrient source: the draught beer line. Proper faucet maintenance is a key factor in maintaining proper sanitation of a draught beer system. Because the faucet is essentially the “open cut” on a beer line that leaves the entire system susceptible to infection, proper faucet cleaning has a significant impact on the amount of bacteria and mold that enter draught beer lines.

While most of these microbes are harmless (i.e. non-pathogenic), they ALL consume the sugars and proteins contained in beer, thus affecting the body and overall malt character of a beer. Byproducts of their digestive processes are then released into the beer. These byproducts include acids that will sour a beer and decrease head retention, and mercaptans which are sulfur-based compounds that make a beer taste skunky. Many of these bacteria and mold will also release gases as a byproduct of their own fermentation, which can affect the perceived carbonation of a beer.

Proper attention to sanitary details is by far the most overlooked step in draught beer maintenance by bar staff. Simple sanitary methods, such as regular hand washing and continual cleaning around faucets and beer towers, greatly reduces the number of airborne microorganisms present. A 50% solution of rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) is a cheap and effective antibacterial solution for cleaning food grade surfaces without affecting the flavor of the food (or beer) being served. And regular cleaning of beer faucets, towers, and drip trays ensures that the levels of bacteria and mold in a tap system are kept to a minimum.

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