Give yourself a break to daydream for a minute. Imagine you’re at your local haunt hanging with your very best friends drinking some incredible brews. The beer is tasting perfectly crisp with a beautiful frothy head delivering a bouquet of fresh aroma with every sip. Of course, you’re drinking draught beer.
After all, it really is the superior way to enjoy a frothy pint. Kegged beer is almost always the freshest beer that a person has available to them. The sturdy wall of a keg protects the beer from sunlight and oxygen, two environmental factors that degrades a beer’s flavor. Due to the lower cost of kegs compared to bottles and cans, kegged beer is usually sold very quickly in bars which means there is a quick turnover to a new keg of beer. Not to mention that this savings is usually passed down to the customer who can get more beer for their buck. It’s also more friendly to Mother Earth, preventing waste from packaging such as cardboard, bottles, and cans.
The average customer probably isn’t aware of the work that goes into making sure that this experience is pleasurable. Everything that comes in contact with the beer, from the keg to your glass, has to be impeccably clean so that your beer doesn’t taste like anything other than your beer. To ensure a clean environment for draught beer service, line cleaning service is either done by a wholesaler representative or by a third-party beer line cleaner. Using chemicals are essential to effectively clean beer lines, so it’s important to adhere to safety precautions to prevent any harm to customers and the person doing the line cleaning.
Don’t Let a Lawsuit Happen to You
Earlier this year, a person was awarded $8 million after being served a beer that contained beer line cleaning chemical solution. The taps were meant to be out-of-service while line cleaning was in process, but somehow that message wasn’t fully understood by all the staff. According to attorneys, the client “immediately began experiencing intense burning in his mouth, tongue, esophagus, and stomach. He then began convulsing, hyperventilating, and vomiting before Henderson Fire Department arrived on scene. Lawyers say doctors later told (the patient) he sustained permanent damage to nerves and tissue in his mouth, tongue, and gastrointestinal system.” (Source: KVVU)
Only a couple of years ago, two women in Nebraska were accidentally served beer line cleaning chemical solution while having cocktails at a movie theatre. The solution was being stored in a repurposed alcohol bottle when a bartender mistakenly added it to their drink. One of the women reported that she felt like her “lips were burning off” after sipping her drink. Both women began vomiting and were treated and hospitalized for chemical burns. (Source: NY Post)
These are only some of the unfortunate situations that have become public knowledge. I personally know at least two people that have been unknowingly served beer line cleaning solution. A former co-worker of mine once called me panicked because she had taken a sip of beer that started to burn her lips and mouth. She quickly learned that the lines at the bar were being cleaned and the bartender, unaware, had poured her a glass of line cleaner. I advised her to seek medical treatment, and she was treated at the emergency room for minor esophageal burns. She was lucky because the chemical wasn’t mixed at the concentration recommended to effectively clean beer lines. A weakened chemical solution isn’t an ideal cleaning agent, but in this case the over-diluted chemical prevented my friend from suffering more severe injuries.
Steps to Prevent Chemical Ingestion in Your Taproom
Accidents like these are easily prevented by taking a few precautionary steps such as rinsing the lines with water after cleaning and measuring the pH of the rinse water to be confident that there isn’t any cleaning chemical left in the beer line. Bars or line cleaners should post signs at the draught tower reminding staff that a cleaning is in process. There’s no such thing as overcommunication when it comes to safety concerns. Those that handle chemicals should make sure that all bottles are clearly labeled, stored properly in a designated area, and have access to Safety Data Sheets (SDS) for each chemical used.
It’s extremely important that the person or people cleaning beer lines have been properly trained. Training can come from a technical school that offers brewing education, courses offered by chemical and equipment manufacturers, or hands on knowledge passed down by more seasoned beer line cleaners. When selecting a staff training or vetting a beer line cleaner, make sure that draught management training includes a prominent focus on safety.
I know these stories are scary, but they shouldn’t prevent anyone from wanting to drink kegged beer. Beer on draught is still the most economical choice at a bar. Not only is it wallet friendly, but it’s the closest a person can get to enjoying a beer as the brewer intended besides getting a sample right off a serving tank at a brewery. It’s a rare and beautiful thing in this world when the less expensive option is also the highest quality option. Of course, this is only possible when the draught system is clean. We should never have to compromise cleanliness for safety or vice versa. The good news is that we don’t have to. Communication and education around safety allows all of us to continue enjoying beer without the fear of injury. If you are a person who plays any part in serving beer, running a bar or restaurant, or maintaining a draught system, educate yourself to be aware of the safety risks and precautions you can take.