Has this ever happened to you? You just ordered your favorite beer. You know, the one that you've had a thousand times and could easily pick out in a blind taste test. You take a sip and are immediately disappointed with the dirty, musty, buttery suds. Maybe you ask the bartender to double check that it's the right beer. You start wondering if it's a bad keg or if the brewery has started to go down hill with its quality control.
It could be that you're just drinking from dirty draft lines.
My first big "ah ha" moment came from a reverse situation. When I first moved to Seattle there was one particular beer that became my go-to whenever I was hanging out anywhere that didn't specialize in beer*. I drank it not because I really liked it, but rather because it was pretty much ubiquitous in the city. The beer and the brewery both had a great reputation, but I didn't think very highly of either. My experiences left a bad taste in my mouth that I just couldn't get rid of. One day I visited the brewery in person and had that very same beer. I am so glad that I did! I took a sip and literally blurted out, "holy crap! This doesn't taste anything like the shit that I've been drinking. This is really good!" This was around the time that we were planning TeKu's opening. I had been doing a lot of research on draft systems and draft maintenance and realized that the groaty off-flavors I'd been tasting weren't the brewer's fault; they were the bar's.
Beer enthusiasts make a big deal out of getting the very best beer drinking experience. We gravitate to only the most well-crafted products, keep an eye on freshness, and obsess over proper glassware. What many of us don't think about, though, is draft cleanliness. The Brewer's Association recommends cleaning lines with a caustic solution every two weeks to remove organic buildup (yeasts and bacteria that can develop nasty off-flavors). Most reputable establishments will follow these standards; however, there are plenty of places out there who don't. Before you grab your next draft beer at your local pub, ask when the last line cleaning was. It might make you reconsider your order.
* The beer was Lucille IPA from Georgetown Brewing. Now that I know what it's supposed to taste like, I'm a big fan of both the beer and of Georgetown brewing. We did our first collaboration beer with Georgetown for Seattle Beer Week 2016. Speaking to the quality of the beer itself, Lucille won a gold medal in the 2018 Best of Craft Beer Awards.