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The Variety Of Things That Can Affect The Quality Of Beer

By Author: Ian Lee
Total Articles: 8

A brewer may take as much as several months to brew, finish, and package a barrel of beer, and yet the quality and flavour of it can be ruined in the few seconds it takes for the beer to travel from the cask to the glass if the beer lines and tap through which it travels have not been correctly maintained. Failure to clean the system regularly will result in beer that can have a variety of different tastes, none of which is what the customer wants.
There are a number of things which can contaminate beer, and one of these is yeast. This can be a very minute amount left over from the brewing process or it may be wild yeast that floats in the air. It is usually to be found as a growth on parts of the dispensing system which are exposed to the air, such as the tap and keg couplers, and is grey or white.
Mould is another contaminant and is usually a result of exposure to the air, so again the taps and keg couplers, along with drains, can be affected. Mould is usually black or brown.
Bacteria are another contaminant, but when found in beer are not actually a human health hazard. However, they affect the appearance, aroma, and taste of the beer giving it a cloudy appearance and an "off" taste which is sour or like vinegar and it can smell like rotten eggs. There are a number of different bacteria, but there are four main types affecting beer lines, and one of these is lactobacillus of which there are about nine different species. They produce lactic acid which gives the beer a sour taste.
Pedicoccus produces diascetyl which in high quantities will give the beer a buttery flavour. Acetobacter produces acetic acid in large quantities and will give the beer a sour taste and make it cloudy. Pectinatus produces acetic acid, lactic acid, and propionic acid, along with dimethyl sulphide and hydrogen sulphide, producing the smell of rotten eggs.   
Calcium oxalates can also build up in the beer lines and the taps and keg couplers. These are known as beer stone and result from the brewing process. Water and barley contain calcium, and oxalic acid is present in hops and may be created during the process of converting barley into malt. The combination of these ingredients, along with the fact that the beer is dispensed cold, creates beer stone in the beer lines and these eventually break off the inside of the beer lines if they are not regularly cleaned. The flakes are usually brown or grey and high amounts can affect the taste of the beer.  
All of these give good reason to clean the beer lines regularly – at least once a week. However, beer line cleaning results in a lot of waste, not just of beer, but also of chemicals and time. While the amount of beer lost will vary depending on how many bars a pub has, a typical figure is around 250 pints of beer, lager, or cider a month.
Furthermore, if a pub sells cask conditioned or real ales, the beer line should be cleaned every time the cask empties. Many people are tempted to flush it with water, but in reality, in order to maintain the optimum beer quality, it should be subject to a thorough clean every time the cask is changed.
However, today, modern technology is helping to reduce the amount of wasted time, beer, and chemicals used by automating the processes and making beer usage savings. They can also allow one line to be isolated and cleaned at a time, which lets the rest of the taps be fully operational. 
Beer usage savings can in addition be made by a system which reduces the reproduction of bacteria. It cannot kill all bacteria but uses digital technology to slow the rate at which they grow and reproduce and can in fact reduce cleaning cycles to once every six weeks in some cases. Obviously, this can have a dramatic impact on beer wastage, together with the associated savings on cleaning chemicals and the amount of time spent on cleaning.
Cambridge Scientific Solutions produces the BeerSaver6 digital system of reducing the amount of time spent cleaning beer lines by reducing the rate of bacteria growth. The system can reduce the cleaning cycle to once every four to six weeks, resulting in considerable beer usage savings.

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