Beverage Equipment

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A Guide to Beer, Wine and Cocktail Systems

Convenience, consistency and speed of service are some of the benefits of draft beer, wine and cocktail systems.

Beer and Wine Systems

Draft beer systems quickly and efficiently supply between one and hundreds of beer varieties. This equipment works in conjunction with refrigeration units that store beverages at the optimal 36 degrees F and serve at temperatures between 38 degrees F and 40 degrees F. Wine systems can hold up to 26 bottles of white wine at ideal temperatures in the low 40 degrees F to low 50 degrees F and reds between 55 degrees F and 65 degrees F. Kegs for both beverages typically last 90 days, depending on volume.

The amount of beer and wine that will be on tap, the distance between the bar and kegs/cooler, and whether nitrogen is dispensed with beer or wine will determine what type of system best suits a given application.

Direct draw is a simple, self-contained system that includes between one and four doors, with a dispensing tower and beer and/or wine taps on top. With a smaller diameter of about 9 inches, as many as four skinny kegs can fit into one door of a direct draw cooler compared with one standard-size keg. Direct draw systems typically require dedicated space behind the bar.

Glycol-cooled remote beer and wine dispensing systems represent one of the most popular and recommended solutions for larger operations with more extensive bar service. This type is ideal for any long-draw dispensing setup running 25 feet or more since it delivers cold beverages at longer distances.

Remote units contain beverages in a dedicated walk-in cooler that is situated away from the serving area. Insulated trunk lines in the floor or ceiling carry beer and wine from the containers in the cooler directly to the tap. The number of lines varies, depending on the different types of beverages being served. In addition, these systems use separate lines to circulate chilled glycol through the bundle to keep beer and wine cold. A separate refrigeration unit, referred to as a line chiller or power pack, cools a glycol bath and utilizes a pump to circulate glycol through the lines.

With a remote draw system, the balance between the pressure and temperature must be maintained or beer can become over-carbonated and foamy and wine flavor can be compromised. The CO2 exchange during drafting also must remain consistent or beer can become flat over time. As a rule, any air taken out of a keg must be replaced. Also, the distance between the keg and tap determine how much pressure needs to be applied to get the beer and wine to properly tap. During installation, calculations need to be made in terms of the length of the lines and power pack size to achieve optimum balance.

If it is not a direct draw system, then the beer conduit will need to be routed either overhead or through the slab using pull boxes. In this case, coordination with electrical, plumbing and HVAC components becomes necessary.

Direct draw units can accommodate up to four kegs per unit but require more handling compared to remote draw systems as kegs need to be changed out more often.
Because direct draw systems have limited storage space, these may be best for operations with fewer beer and wine selections.

Components include a compressor, an evaporator fan, a thermostat, a glycol reservoir with a coil or plate chiller, supply and return lines, glycol trunk lines, beverage lines, a faucet, and a drip tray. With this type, valuable space behind the bar is preserved and operators can accommodate more extensive beer offerings.

Air-cooled beer systems may be a more affordable option compared with glycol chilling for short-draw draft systems. Air-cooled systems circulate cold air to keep beer at optimal temperatures in a walk-in cooler, around the beer lines to the faucet. It works by transferring beer to a beer faucet from a walk-in through trunk lines that are at a remote location. Circulated air cools beer in the keg, beer line and beer tower.

Air-cooled systems utilize either a single- or dual-duct system. Single-duct systems house trunk lines inside a small-diameter flexible tubing that’s inside a larger-diameter flexible metal tubing. A dual-duct system has one large-diameter flexible tubing. In both types, the tubing is attached to the cooler at one end and the beer tower at the other. The single-duct system has the walk-in cooler’s blower fan distributing cold air through the smaller tube to the beer tower, keeping the lines cold. Cold air then reaches the beer tower and is pushed back to the cooler through the larger tubing. In a dual system, the supply and return in the tubing generate a continuous loop of forced air to keep beer temperatures cool in the lines.

Wine dispensing systems with storage for bottles and kegs are available in one- to three-door models. These hold a trio of 1/6 kegs in each tapping compartment, while other models store up to 48 wine bottles. Underbar storage wine dispensing units have two compartments with independent temperature zones that fit two 1/6 slim kegs. Another type has individual compartment temperature controls and drawers for storing up to 30 wine bottles. Since wine is more expensive than beer on a per keg basis, the more easily managed direct draw systems are used most often. If wine is not fully utilized in less than three months, or if kegs are not changed out every two to three weeks, a dispensing system may not be worthwhile.

Direct draw wine dispensers, available in 24-inch-wide units that breathe in the back or 36-inch-wide models that breathe out the front, require adequate space for proper ventilation.

Draft beer systems offer regular tops or club tops, the latter of which hold and chill mugs.

Less expensive draft beer systems utilize line pressure regulators, which are set up in zones to help prevent excessive beer foaming. This allows bar operators to adjust the pressure for each line individually, rather than for the entire zone. Used in high-volume bars, turbo taps are longer than the traditional type and extend to the bottom of a beer glass for faster pouring. Foam on Beer Prevention (FOB) systems help minimize beer waste when taps are changed out but can be challenging to use.

Draft Cocktails

Like beer and wine systems, draft cocktails can be more efficient and enhance speed of service while reducing labor. Operators make certain cocktails in bulk ahead of time and store them in a keg so the drinks are ready to go on tap when a customer orders one. Some of the
most popular cocktails served with this method include margaritas, negronis, old-fashioneds, tonic drinks and nitro beverages.

It’s best to focus on the most popular cocktails or those ordered most frequently since the shelf life of kegged cocktails can be limited. Cocktails with spirits tend to last longer and taste better over time. It’s best to avoid mixtures with perishable ingredients like syrup, dairy, egg whites, or fresh-squeezed juice, which has pulp that can clog the lines.

Draft cocktails are typically stored at 29 degrees F, and the science behind these systems is different than with beer and wine. Hiring a professional cocktail draft system installer will ensure the PSI setting is correct for the menu. Also, because there is less control over shaking and stirring, figuring out the proper dilution levels is key during preparation. Agitation a couple times a day, especially for concoctions that are heavy in syrup and/or sugar, is recommended so ingredients don’t settle to the bottom of the keg.

Like with beer and wine draft systems, cocktails can utilize both direct draw and remote systems. Equipment required for draft cocktails includes 300- to 500-ounce kegs, a nitrogen tank with a regulator for noncarbonated beverages, a CO2 tank with regulator for carbonated drinks, an air line, barrier tubing and a draft tower.