South Africa’s pubs are ruining our beer

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I lived and worked in London during 2008/9 and being a South African I naturally did time behind the counter, working bar in a local pub. One of the regular features of pub life in Britain is the weekly flushing and cleaning of the draught lines.

After hours the pub flushes the beer out of the lines and then cleans the entire system by pumping strong cleaning agents through the pipes. It’s a massive expense of beer as it takes a good few pints per line to empty, and then dozens of litres of water to rinse out the cleaning agent, before you use a few more beers to litmus test the line is safe. And it’s something many pubs in South Africa never do.

There are a lot of reasons why pubs in the UK are forced to clean their lines. For starters, it stops beer becoming infected with the bacteria and wild yeasts that build up in the pipes over time. This excess bacteria and yeast can spoil the aroma, and taste of the beers that it’s pumping. Really filthy lines can become contaminated with mould, which in large enough quantities can actually make people ill.

Apart from anything else, yeast growing in beer lines ferments and produces carbon dioxide. This is then released into the beer causing excess foam when the beer is poured, in a process called fobbing, which increases the beer wastage a pub gets and reduces its potential profits.

This excess foaming is, by the way, a great way to tell if your local pub is one of those that doesn’t clean and has dirty lines. Watch the barmen. If they know how to pour a pint (and honestly who doesn’t) but are still battling, with glasses full of foam under the tap, or are using a spoon to scoop out the foam, the chances are their lines are filthy and you should skip the draught in that establishment.

And it’s not just lines that need cleaning, fob detectors, taps, couplers and all ancillary equipment should also be kept clean to prevent bacterial infection. While beer nozzles should be unscrewed every night and washed as the fact that they are exposed to the air makes them a major source of infection for beer.

We don’t have laws about cleaning draught equipment in South Africa, but if the brewers are doing their jobs and making an increasingly better quality beer, then bar owners owe it to them, the public and themselves to step up their game and pour our pints through clean, healthy systems.