What’s That Invisible Organism in Your Glass?

This is, I believe, what’s known as the spit-out-your-morning-coffee lede:

Wisconsin beer lovers who belly up to the bar for an ice cold tap aren’t always being served the fresh draft they’re paying for and instead are getting mouthfuls of unwelcome bacteria.

That’s the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on the nasty little problem of bad beer lines. Those lines are what move beer between the keg and your pint glass, and if they’re not cleaned regularly, bacteria builds up. (If you were a microscopic bit of bacteria, you’d have nothing better to do than drink, too.) Dirty beer lines won’t make you sick, but they give beer a buttery or sour flavor (the latter because the relevant bacterium can be lactobacillus, which provides yogurt or sourdough bread with that characteristic tang). You’d think that the famously beer-drinking residents of Milwaukee would be bothered by bad lines—this is a city that was once called “the beer capital of the world”—but the town’s apparently notorious for them: A Journal Sentinel investigation “tested six beers from five bars and restaurants picked at random and found four were ‘dirty’ by brewers’ standards.” On the other hand, that sample included a Budweiser that was infected with lactobacillus, which I think we can all assume was an improvement.

The Journal Sentinel notes that the increased number of bars serving craft beer, and not just mass-market lager, means that line cleaning is more important than ever: “Heavier beers provide more food for the bacteria and when coupled with the fact that many craft beers aren’t pasteurized, lines provide a breeding ground for bacteria.” When patrons are served a bad beer, they blame the beer, not the bar. That’s why the craft beer blog Appellation Beer observed about this story, “Brewers across the nation will be cringing.” The Journal Sentinel quotes Dan Carey, the brewmaster of New Glarus Brewing, a cult only-in-Wisconsin brewery, on his feelings when he gets a New Glarus beer out of a dirty line: “It ruins my evening. It’s my baby, and damn it, you’ve ruined it.”