Investigator Exclusive: Contaminated beer found at popular pubs

4:10 PM, Mar 1, 2011   |    comments
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NORTHEAST OHIO -- Ben Franklin said "beer is proof that ...God loves us and wants to make us happy."

But tests of draft beer at local restaurants and bars show beer lovers have good reason to be sour. Industry insiders say there's a dirty, little secret that needs to be exposed.

The problem they say is dirty beer lines, the lines connect the keg to the tap.

"It's one of the big, big problems in the industry," Luke Purcell, of Great Lakes Brewing said.

Purcell said he has seen beer lines in some places that are so dirty "it was actually surprising beer could actually flow through it."

By law, beer lines must be cleaned once every two weeks.

Tremont Taphouse in Cleveland spends about $500 a month cleaning their lines. "There are a lot of places that try to skirt it as much as possible because it's not a cheap process," owner Chris Lieb said.

Clevelander and brewer Andy Tveekrem judges beer quality across the country. He says if a brew smells and tastes funny, it should raise a red flag.

The foul odor and flavor could be the result of the presence of lactobacillus bacteria. It won't make you sick, but it can alter the taste of tap beer.

Brewers told Channel 3 News they get upset when their beer doesn't taste the way they intended. They don't want to lose a customer, especially over a dirty beer line, and at $3 to $8 for a fresh draft, customers deserve what they pay for.

Channel 3 News used sterilized containers and went on a pub crawl across northeast Ohio, collecting beer. We took samples from 10 local bars and restaurants and delivered them the same day to Accra Labs in Twinsburg.

Microbiologist Roger Pryor tested the beer for lactobacillus.

The good news is that six of the 10 samples passed with flying colors. Those samples came from: Harry Buffalo and Panini's in downtown Cleveland, Melt in Cleveland Heights,  Herb's Tavern in Rocky River, Tail Gators in Twinsburg and Winkling Lizard in downtown Cleveland.

Winking Lizard had the cleanest beer in the Channel 3 News survey, showing only one colony of lactobacillus. The sample was virtually bacteria-free.

Four of the samples showed levels that Pryor said should raise a red flag.  Those samples came from the Clevelander in downtown Cleveland, Cornerstone Brewing in Berea,  Ruby Tuesday in Beachwood and Johnny Malloy's in Strongsville.

Ruby Tuesday and Cornerstone said they planned to do additional cleaning of their beer lines and also test their beer to ensure it's of the highest quality.

"We at Cornerstone Brewing Company strive to produce the perfect beer, using only the finest quality products available," according to a written statement.

A spokesman for Ruby Tuesday thanked Channel 3 News for making them aware of the findings. The restaurant said in a written statement that it is "committed to providing uncompromising freshness and quality in the food and beverages that we serve and anything less than our high standards is unacceptable."

The owner of the Clevelander said it's installing a new system by St. Patrick's Day that should address the bacteria problem. And the owner of Johnny Malloy's said it will step up the cleaning of their beer lines from monthly to every two weeks, as the state requires.

Here are the test results:

Restaurant/Bar                                    Lactobacillus Count ___________________________________________

Winking Lizard                                                 1

Melt                                                                30

Panini's                                                           37

Tail Gators                                                      45

Herb's Tavern                                                  75

Harry Buffalo                                                    93

Clevelander                                                     75,000

Johnny Malloy's                                               75,000

Cornerstone                                                  109,000

Ruby Tuesday                                                115,000           


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