Demand Clean Draft Lines

Even in this craziest of political seasons, most of the mainstream media’s campaign coverage falls into two familiar categories: stories reporting the latest poll results alternating with reminders that polls are meaningless. The most obvious reason polls are getting less accurate by the day is their overreliance on the shrinking demographic of people who make it a habit to talk to strangers on landlines, but there are other factors at play. One of the biggest reasons it’s hard to gauge the nation’s collective mood is that most of us change our minds about every damn thing every damn day for hyper-personal reasons.

Well-intentioned but doomed political pollster: “Do you think the country is headed in the right direction?”
Me: “Of course it’s not! How can you insult me with such an obvious question during this time of crisis!”
Pollster: “So I’ll put you down as a ‘no’ for now and call back next week to see if CVS has the good frozen pizzas back in stock?”

These scenarios play out in a particularly selfish direction when the poll is regarding the economy. We all interpret “In light of the recent weakening of the British pound combined with a decline in first-time unemployment claims, do you agree with the decision to raise interest rates?” to mean only and exactly “Hey pal, how’s your checking account balance?” Our opinion on the global economy therefore varies from Doomed (not gonna make rent next month) to Pretty Decent, Considering (found $10 in jeans this morning) to Excellent (made your last car payment the same day you got a raise).

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What I’m saying is that utter financial ruin has rained down upon my once-nice life to such a specific and devastating effect that I don’t even know who I’m going to vote for anymore. Until last week, I was pretty certain I’d go with the candidate who is at least marginally less likely to get us all killed within her first month in office, but now the state of my personal economy compels me to back whichever candidate will get my employee discount restored at the bar down the street.

About 10 years ago, my unfriendly local pub drafted me into service as a weekend doorman, a position I held off and on until the fall of 2012. I’ve filled in a handful of times since then, but I haven’t worked there at all in at least the past three years. But for whatever reason, I’ve remained eligible for the fantastic employee discount — $2 pints of draft beer. And when I say “for whatever reason” I mean because it was a nice way for the bartenders and I to collude against the owner. They’d steal his beer for me, and I’d over-tip them for their effort. My wife even married into the same deal. It was great for everyone! Other than the guy whose beer we were stealing. Man, it was a pretty scummy arrangement, now that I type it all out.

Anyhow, one of my co-conspirators was recently promoted into management, and one of his first orders of duty was to tighten up the employee discount policy. I’m not sure of the full specifics, but as pertains to my own situation it seems the new boss defines employee as “someone who, you know, actually works here.” This is perfectly fair — I wasn’t hit with a dose of bad luck so much as my too-good luck finally ran out — but it means my beer costs tripled overnight. That means two things: my cat no longer has a college fund, and this joint damn well better start cleaning its draft lines because I’m not paying $6 for a glass of dirty beer.

It’s a recovering dive bar that’s trying to clean up a bit to change along with a neighborhood that doesn’t do as much working-class day-drinking as it used to. The Budweiser tap was recently retired, and the last time I was there drafts included Firestone Walker Luponic Distorion, Notch Infinite Jest, Harpoon Hoppy Adventure, Fort Hill Hera Pils, Lagunitas IPA, and a half-dozen other good things. The problem is the draft lines, which are over a decade old, haven’t been cleaned in at least a month, and I don’t think they’re flushed too carefully even when they are, so only really hoppy beers taste even close to right. Pilsner just can’t withstand a run through a cruddy plastic tube.

This is a pervasive problem here in Boston and likely elsewhere. Bars that never put much thought or effort into their draft programs are suddenly ratcheting up the quality, variety, and price of their kegs, but they’re not doing enough to guarantee consistently good beer flows out of them. It’s generally recommended that a bar sanitize beer hoses every two weeks and better places do it every time a keg changes. With the popularity of rotating tap lines these days, even if your pipes are in clean working order you should rinse them out before you replace a keg of porter with a Berliner weisse.

I know the competition for taps makes it hard for any brewer to turn down an invitation, but I’d still be wary of selling my beer at a bar that can’t be trusted to show it in the proper light. I know what Castle Island Candlepin is supposed to taste like, so when I got a bad pour at this bar recently, I knew better than to blame the brewer. But who could fault the guy on the stool next to me if he said, “Hey, what’s that new stuff on the left? Oh, it’s a local session IPA? Cool, I’ll take one,” then had a couple sips, shrugged, and decided it just wasn’t for him?

Conscientious bar patrons are often wary of freshness, and I don’t blame us for that, but I also understand it from the bar’s perspective. The business model calls for getting 100 or so pints out of every half-barrel keg of beer, and a bar can’t just dump half of it every time a keg is selling slowly (if your state allows happy-hour pricing, you can lower the price to encourage sales, but that’s not legal where I live). But maintaining clean draft lines is the easiest, most important favor your bar can do for you, and it might be time we start getting more vocal about places that aren’t keeping up their end of that bargain. If Firestone Walker is kind enough to brew a beautiful batch of Luponic Distortion, and my cat is generous enough to loan me $6 to buy a glass, the least the bar can do is make sure it gets from point A to point B without swimming through a couple months’ worth of beer slime.