It’s a wonderful feeling. You walk into a bar and your favorite Short’s beer is on tap. There is a sparkle in your eye and a lilt in your voice when you order. The beer arrives looking beautiful with a head of foam you could float a bottle cap on. You eagerly inhale the aroma and take a sip.
Wait. Something’s wrong. Your beer doesn’t taste right; it’s hard to put your finger on, but it’s not as good as you remember. Is that metal? Grudgingly you finish your beer and move on. Your friend who ordered the same beer immediately after you didn’t seem to mind. He must be crazy.
It’s not your fault, and it’s not your favorite beer’s fault, but you’ve both just fallen victim to Shank Stank.
Shank Stank? What’s that?
I’m glad you asked. Shank Stank is what we call the flavor that brass draft components add to beer. Brass imparts a metallic and somewhat gross flavor when it comes in contact with beer waiting to be served in the line. If you want to experience this first hand–find a brass item like an old door knob and lick it. Mmmm… Metal-ly. Almost like the taste when you accidentally bite your lip.
Why would anyone inflict this torture onto a poor beer drinker such as yourself? Usually bar owners are unaware to the fact that brass draft equipment can impart an off flavor to beer, because at first it doesn’t. Many shanks, couplers, and faucets are made from nickel or chrome plated brass. Like stainless steel, nickel and chrome are flavor-neutral. But unlike stainless steel, nickel and chrome can easily wear away. Cleaning solutions, or even the slight acidity in most beer, can actually dissolve the chrome or nickel coating. Over time this exposes the dull-gold colored brass which makes your beer taste so bad. So when the draft system is new everything tastes great, and often the change occurs so slowly that even the people maintaining the draft system do not even know what’s going on.
Luckily there’s an easy fix to Shank Stank and it comes in the form of sexy stainless steel. Stainless steel draft parts cost just a few dollars more than Nickel-on-Brass parts, but they remain flavor neutral, and if properly cleaned and maintained, should continue to pour great tasting beer forever.
So next time your beer is off, ask yourself if it is the fault of the beer or the line. And tell your bartender you don’t want no Shank Stank!