There are few things worse than the excitement of seeing one of your favorite craft beers on tap at a bar only to discover, upon first sip, that something isn’t right. Have you ever said, this beer doesn’t taste like it’s supposed to, or, there’s something funky going on with this glass? Your night is ruined, and you fall into non-carbonated pit of despair. Okay, maybe that’s a little dramatic…but it does suck. Badly.
Your average distributor distributes hundreds, if not thousands or hundreds of thousands, of SKUs, each representing a different product. Many of the SKUs are for kegs. Those kegs end up in the bars and restaurants where you like to spend your time and hard-earned American moola, but it doesn’t end there for distributors. You see, even after those kegs leave the warehouse and are settled into their homes of pouring at around 38 degrees Fahrenheit, the distributors are responsible for keeping those lines clean, double checking the temperature and troubleshooting any issues with the carbonation/gas supply, which is known as keeping the system “in balance.”
Maybe that doesn’t seem like such a big deal until you consider the number of lines a given distributor has out in the market at any given time: hundreds of hundreds, all over their distribution area. Now, consider that each of those lines should be cleaned at least once every two weeks using a very specific process with specific chemicals. Even with a dedicated draft tech maintenance department, this is time consuming and difficult to make sure some lines don’t fall through the cracks in the chaos of it all. This is one reason why some distributors, such as the one I work for, have begun outsourcing their draft line maintenance. Some distributors are even using maintenance management systems such as this software solution you can see provided by Axxerion, for example. These management systems can greatly improve the organization of the maintenance to keep operations and cleaning running smoothly and on-time.
A Head for Profits, based out of Nashville, TN, is one such draft maintenance company. A Head for Profits will clean your existing draft lines regularly as well as perform routine maintenance and monitor the lines, troubleshoot and repair any issues that come up, install new lines, work special events (like beer festivals) to ensure the beer keeps flowing smoothly, and even execute quarterly deep cleanings and provide training.
AHFP is committed to providing the “Perfect Pint” every time. So how does one go about serving that perfect pint every time? “By thinking like a bar owner, a distributor, and a brewer,” Jeff Walton told me last week when I left the comfort of my desk and ventured out into the field to see AHFP in action. In addition to being the Director of Training and Information for A Head for Profits, Jeff is also one of the founders.
A Head for Profits got their start (somewhat by accident Jeff joked) per the suggestion of a customer in 2010. Since then, the company has spread throughout the southeast United States, reaching as far south as Florida. Freelance draft line maintenance is certainly a niche market, and AHFP has tapped into it with great success.
AHFP’s draft technicians are Micromatic Certified, in addition to receiving other certifications. The company also utilizes an Android app for its employees as well as a website with an advanced interface, which Jeff was kind enough to show me. The Android app allows employees to log their work, while the website lists all the draft lines they manage overall or at a given account (currently around eight thousand!), what type of beer is on the line, when it’s due for service, and so on. Jeff hopes to soon incorporate the BJCP style guideline into the report for each of these beers, so they can really make sure the beer truly pours and tastes how he brewer intended it to.
Of course, flat beer isn’t the only horror that can befall a beer lover enjoying a beer at a bar, though it is arguably the most common. Seeing visible debris floating in a beer (usually the result of filthy lines) is enough to turn most people off. Equally terrible is the unidentifiable debris sticking stubbornly to the sides of your glass, for this my friends is the beer world’s equivalent of hair-in-your-food/leftover lipstick on your coffee mug. Excuse me while I go vomit.
Something more subtle that could diminish the true beer nerd’s experience is a glass that’s not “beer clean”. Once you know what you’re looking for, it will haunt you forever. A beer clean glass should have bubbles rising steadily from the bottom, not from the sides of the glass (an indication that there is some kind of residue or gunk on that spot). A beer clean glass should also display lacing, which looks really cool when it happens. Lacing is when a bit of the foam on top of your beer is left behind in neat rings after each swig (picture tree rings). Does the bar you’re in serve their craft beers in their appropriate styles of beer glasses? If the answer is yes, you my friend are in a classy joint, and I hope you tip well.
As a consumer, never be afraid to ask a bartender or server when the last time their lines were cleaned, or to politely tell a server that you are concerned about the state of the lines due to the quality of the beer you received. Seriously, have you SEEN THE HORROR that can manifest from neglected draft lines? Google it some time, but not when you’re feeling hungry or before going to bed. Bacteria and mold love dirty beer lines. It isn’t just disgusting to look it, it’s a serious sanitation issue. Same goes for a dirty glass. And for the love of all things hoppy, don’t let them serve you a craft beer in a frosted mug or pint glass; craft beer is yummy. We want to taste this beer. I digress.
It’s easy to see the appeal of outsourcing draft line maintenance for distributors; most importantly, the quality of the beer will always be as it should be (how the brewer intended their beer to taste) and if not, will be fixed quickly. Additionally, time spent not cleaning draft lines can be utilized by the distributor’s foot soldiers selling new beers into accounts or keeping existing beers stocked at said accounts (yay variety and consistency!) which in turn benefits consumers like you!