The New Mexico IPA Challenge is well underway, and the question of fairness has come up a bit, to say the least. Well, at least from a technical standpoint, rest assured, our IPA Challenge is as fair as it can be because the Brewers Guild and its volunteers have taken steps to ensure that each beer gets the proper treatment, such as the proper cleaning of draft lines before and during the competition.
Draft beer line cleaning is a little known and often overlooked aspect of the craft brewing scene. But, it is much more important than we think. It’s far more important than the temperature of our beer and what sort of glassware it arrives in. (Although our friend Karim may argue with me on that.) Have you ever sat down at a new bar or establishment, and, having seen it on the list, ordered up your favorite IPA? And, upon first taste, you say to yourself, “Is this the same beer? I know this beer. This tastes weird. This isn’t my beer.” But, it is.
We all have, my friends. Aside from other small variables, like how old a keg is, when it comes to taste issues with a well-brewed beer at a bar, pub, or even (to a much lesser extent) brewery, the problem is usually dirty draft lines. Dirty draft lines cause all sorts of disgusting and unsanitary health issues, but often most noticeably to the public, the issue is taste. And, if we’re not in the tasting business, why are we even talking about beer? Without clean draft lines, the beer that your favorite brewers worked so hard to create won’t be the same beer you find in your glass. Can you see why this would be an issue in a competition based on taste?
So, I put it to the folks at Prime Lines, the company responsible for cleaning the lines prior to the preliminary round and then the first leg of the NMIPAC. I wanted to get down and dirty to clear up why it’s so important that someone properly maintains beer lines for this competition as well as for all beer drinking, ever. Amen. Enter Prime Lines co-founder Angelo Oroña.
DSBC: So, tell me a little bit about Prime Lines, who you are and what you do?
Oroña: Prime Lines Inc. is New Mexico’s first and only third-party draft beer system maintenance and installation company. We clean nearly 1,000 lines statewide for New Mexico’s breweries and wholesalers. We adhere to the Brewers Association guidelines for draft system maintenance, as set out in the Draught Beer Quality Manual. This means we clean all lines under contract on a bi-weekly basis to ensure the beer gets from keg to glass as the brewer intended.
Additionally, we design and install draft beer systems for bars, restaurants, breweries and taprooms, including the forthcoming LOBO Taproom on UNM’s Campus!
DSBC: For a new LOBO Taproom on campus? That’s some big news! We’ll be sure to cover that as more news is forthcoming.
Prime Lines has been an associate member of the New Mexico Brewer’s Guild since they founded the company in November 2016.
DSBC: How did you guys get involved with the New Mexico IPA Challenge (NMIPAC) this year? Was this Prime Lines first major involvement?
Oroña: For the last two years, Prime Lines has cleaned and serviced the lines for the elimination round of NMIPAC, held at Duel ABQ. All faucets, keg couplers, and lines were professionally cleaned by our team to ensure the integrity of the beer and the competition. John Gozigian (executive director of the NM Brewers Guild) asked that we clean all the lines prior to competition.
DSBC: So on a technical level, what does Prime Lines do to “level the playing field?”
Oroña: Prime Lines helps to level the playing field by giving each beer a chance to be presented the way the brewer intended. The lines are cleaned with a special caustic solution that is designed to eliminate any organic compounds that may have been left behind from a previous beer that was poured through the line. The beer faucets are scrubbed clean and the keg couplers are serviced to perform as intended.
DSBC: Are you folks cleaning ALL the lines for the duration of the competition?
Oroña: Prime Lines was asked by the NMBG to clean lines for the elimination round of the NMIPAC. We routinely service and clean the Taos Mesa Taproom, so we made sure to service that account before the first round. I have no doubt the other host breweries will present the beer at top quality! For Bosque’s Bernalillo facility, these IPAs may be the first beers ever to flow through the lines!
For the Second Street Brewery Rufina second leg of the NMIPAC, brewers Tom and Kevin will be cleaning the lines late Friday night after the close of business.“That way they can make sure everything is clean, and flushed, and cold before (Saturday) morning,” front-of-house manager Mariah Scee informed me.
DSBC: What other variables is the Guild controlling to keep this a fair competition from a technical standpoint? Temp? Pressure? Etc.?
Oroña: Each of the beers for this competition is preserved in a chilled environment prior to competition. The beers are served under ideal conditions by volunteers that have experience in beer dispense. Many volunteers work very hard to ensure that the NMIPAC is a great event and fair competition.
In years past, the IPAs of the Challenge have been poured through jockey boxes — the cooler and hose set ups you often see at festivals — due to the sheer number of beers, and the inability of most taprooms to pour all of them (often alongside their own beers). Not every brewery has 24-plus taps.
DSBC: In your expert opinion, what are some of the drawbacks to pouring IPAs through various jockey boxes?
Oroña: Jockey boxes are never an ideal beer dispense option. Maintaining beer keg temperature in the middle of a New Mexican summer with bags of ice is challenging. Variations in jockey box design can also lead to technical issues arising during the competition. Variables such as consistent temperature, CO2 pressure and line restriction all play into pouring a proper beer.
Prime Lines was established to protect the integrity of beer. Our partnership with the New Mexico Brewers Guild on the NMIPAC was a natural fit. We deeply care about draft beer quality and hope to continue to support NM’s burgeoning craft beer scene. We are proud to be on the forefront of clean draft lines and draft beer dispense education in New Mexico.
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With clean lines, we have beer as the brewers intended. Gone, hopefully, are the days of pouring issues mucking up a clear-cut victory. Of course, that leaves the rest of the competition in the hands of those who come out to these events. As with all democratic processes, you can’t complain if you don’t come out and vote. And no, it’s not a perfect system, but it is well run by people who really care about beer. Now it’s at least a fairer fight without pouring issues to worry about.
As for the rest of the competition, I’ll leave you with a quote from a friend of the Guild and the Crew, Boxing Bear co-owner Kevin Davis. Via Facebook, he commented, “This friendly competition is about raising money for the Guild, celebrating NM’s great breweries and having a few laughs along the way. Everyone works hard to put on this event… not the easiest job to organize. Kudos to Duel and Taos Mesa for hosting the first two rounds, and thanks to John G and the Guild volunteers who work tirelessly behind the scenes making it fun. Cheers!”
The IPA Challenge continues tomorrow from noon to 4 p.m. at Second Street Rufina, locatd at 2920 Rufina Street, Santa Fe, NM, 87507. Tickets available here!
This is Luke’s fifth time covering the Santa Fe NM IPA Challenge, and his fifth year with the Crew.