Keeping it clean — the draft lines that is

Local technicians Draught WISE don't laugh at these dirty lines

Shelly and Gregory Plaxton of Draught WISE clean up Victoria's dirty lines.

Shelly and Gregory Plaxton of Draught WISE clean up Victoria's dirty lines.

Local technicians Draught WISE don’t laugh at these dirty lines

You’re sitting at the bar with your friends, ready to enjoy a cold pint. But when the server delivers the round, your draft beer is so foamy it looks cloudy. Your friend’s beer has no head, and your other friend remarks there are particles in his drink. You might not know it, but you’ve just become the victim of a dirty line — and, no, not the sassy pick-up kind.

Victorians spend plenty of time thinking about where our beer comes from — the locality of the hops, the brewery that crafts the ale — but when it comes to the actual faucet and draft line that draws that scrumptious pint from keg to mouth, most of us don’t even bat an inebriated eye. Yet one company makes its business thinking about those details, and believes every consumer has the right to know the truth about beer.

“You wouldn’t boil something in water over and over again and never wash your pot,” says Shelly Plaxton, co-owner and founder of Draught WISE Draught Integrity Technicians. “People have this perception that because there is alcohol in beer it keeps everything clean, but it’s just not so … and you wouldn’t believe some of the things we see.”

Draught WISE has been cleaning nozzles and changing draft lines since 2010, when Plaxton and her husband, Gregory, launched their Victoria-based company at that year’s Great Canadian Beer Festival. Since then, they’ve mopped the market with a strong following, and 39 Victoria bars have now earned themselves the “Draught WISE Seal” for keeping up with the recommended industry standard of cleaning their lines every two weeks. Another near-dozen establishments call on Draught WISE once a month, with some remaining customers, or even home brewers, requesting infrequent visits. Cleanings are now performed with a rinse of sodium hydroxide (like that found in dish soap) instead of the chlorine of years past, and each session can cost a business between $45 and $100.

Nozzle and pipe cleaning isn’t the sexiest topic of the beer industry, but Plaxton says avoiding it doesn’t hide the facts: dirty lines are costly, sometimes unsafe and always affecting the quality of the beer, especially in craft brews.

When beer is pushed through draft lines, yeast builds up on the faucets, couplers and walls of the pipes, particularly the high yeast in unpasteurized craft beers. This can then result in “beer mold” or “beer stones.” Both can be gross or dangerous substances to consume, and Plaxton says drinking dirty beer can actually give people that hung-over feeling. Beer stones also have the added effect of creating traction and turbulence in the lines as beer rushes past, which results in foamy beer and a loss of product.

“We have a real beer culture in this city, and wherever you go you should be able to taste the beer as the brewmasters intended for you to taste it,” says Plaxton. “Of course, if you have a raspberry wheat ale filling a line for six months, then try to replace it with a pilsner, you’re going to taste a raspberry pilsner.”

Plaxton and her husband are huge advocates of the idea that it’s up to the customers to demand a clean product, and the company lists establishments that have earned their seal on its website. But while Draught WISE is not the only cleaning company on the Island (some larger restaurants hire their own cleaners, for example) Plaxton encourages every beer drinker to ask about cleaning procedures.

“If beer is one of your biggest sellers, you have to protect it,” she says. “This is just like an oil change for your car — there is a cost involved, but it has to be done and you will be happy you did. We want people to support local draft, not be afraid of it.” M