If you run a restaurant or bar and are considering adding beer to your menu, consider installing a draft beer system. Beer on tap is a popular order for many beer drinkers, since it is fresher and more flavorful than beer from a bottle, not to mention it gives them something they cannot get from a liquor store. Draft beer can also be a profitable option for many bars and restaurants. Learn how common tap systems work and how offering beer on tap can benefit both you and your guests.
In This Article You Will Learn:
- Choosing the right draft system for your bar
- Setting up and maintaining your draft system
- How serving beer on tap can be profitable
The Ins and Outs of Draft Beer
Many operators find that selling beer on tap makes for a more committed customer base as well as a more consistent profit. Anyone can buy bottles or cans in a liquor store; people come to bars to try their old favorites or intriguing new brews from the tap. A draft system can be great for business, but only if you do it properly. There are several types of draft beer systems, including the following:
Direct Draw Draft System:
How it works: The direct draw beer dispenser is the most common and simplest system used in commercial beverage service applications. The keg is kept in a cooling unit only a few feet from the dispensing faucet, requiring only about five feet of tubing. The beer is dispensed using CO2 to create pressure and push the beer through the tubing to the beer tower, where it is dispensed.
Making the choice: Choose a direct-draw tap system if you are storing all your kegs beneath the bar as opposed to a walk-in keg cooler in a different room. This is ideal for people running portable bars, such as at outdoor concert or catered banquets, or for bars that only offer one or two beers on tap. Choose a direct-draw tap system if you are storing all your kegs beneath the bar as opposed to a walk-in keg cooler in a different room. This is ideal for people running portable bars, such as at outdoor concert or catered banquets, or for bars that only offer one or two beers on tap.
Air-Cooled Draft System
This system relies on a walk-in cooler to house the kegs, insulated air ducts to surround the beer tubing, and a fan to circulate cold air from the cooler through the ducts. The circulating cold air maintains the beer lines at a cool temperature. This system works best when kegs are within 25 feet of the tap, and uses significantly more energy than direct draw systems.
How it works: This system relies on a walk-in cooler to house the kegs, insulated air ducts to surround the beer tubing, and a fan to circulate cold air from the cooler through the ducts. The circulating cold air maintains the beer lines at a cool temperature. This system works best when kegs are within 25 feet of the tap, and uses significantly more energy than direct draw systems.
Making the choice: This type of system can usually accommodate many kegs of beer and many tap lines, so it would be a good choice for a bar serving several beers on tap. Operators considering this type of system must have the infrastructure in place for a keg-cooler and air ducts, and there should be no more than 25 feet between the cooler and the tap. Bends in the ductwork add distance and may reduce cooling efficiency.
Glycol-Cooled Draft System
This system employs a Glycol cooler, which circulates Propylene Glycol. This is an organic compound often used as an indirect cooling agent for beer draft systems. The Propylene Glycol circulates through strong, flexible plastic tubing which runs along or around the beer lines, supplying a cooling agent to keep the beer at a constant temperature from the walk-in keg cooler to the tap in the front of the house.
How it works: This system employs a Glycol cooler, which circulates Propylene Glycol. This is an organic compound often used as an indirect cooling agent for beer draft systems. The Propylene Glycol circulates through strong, flexible plastic tubing which runs along or around the beer lines, supplying a cooling agent to keep the beer at a constant temperature from the walk-in keg cooler to the tap in the front of the house.
Making the choice: This system is the best choice for operations in which the keg cooler is farther than 25 feet from the bar. Glycol lines can run without the need for ducts, so they can be run just about as far as you need to get them from the keg to the tap.
No matter what system you use in your bar, any draft system can lose money if not properly operated. Whether your beer is too foamy, the keg goes flat or customers are returning beer because of a funny taste, make sure you are operating your draft system to maintain the most possible product and hence make the most money off your investment.
All About Pressure and Gas
We’re not talking about the unhappy side effects of that burrito you had for lunch. For draft beer systems, pressurized gas provides the force behind the tap beer. Gas is important, since too much gas pressure can result in foamy beer, and too low gas pressure can result in flat beer. The type of beer and the type of draft system you use in your bar determines which gas is best to use and how the pressure should be set.
(Tasty Tidbit: Guinness is known for its two-part pour, or double-pour. The nitrogen content in this beer produces thousands of tiny bubbles which need more time to settle than the CO2 carbonation in most other beers. Hence, experts—and just about any Irishman—insist that Guinness be poured only about two thirds of the way into the pint, allowing it to settle for about 30 seconds to a minute before pouring the rest. The two-part pour results in a thicker, creamier head, a signature aspect of this beer.)
CO2, or carbon dioxide, is considered an ingredient in the beer brewing process, and as such it is a natural part of all beers. If the right pressure is not maintained, the beer may become either flat or excessively gassy. For lagers, ales and other light beers, manufacturers suggest using pure CO2 at about 20-25 PSI (pounds per square inch). A five pound tank of CO2 can usually serve about six half-barrel kegs, give or take. This i s the preferable choice since it is not hard to find and sells for less than ten dollars in many regions of the U.S. Keep your CO2 tanks outside the walk-ins if possible; this will extend the life of your CO2.
Nitrogen and CO2 Gas Blend
Some beers are brewed with nitrogen content and require a gas blend of nitrogen and CO2 to propel the beer through a tap system. Perhaps the most recognized nitrogenated beer is Guinness. Since this stout has a low CO2 content, using too much pressurized CO2 as a propellant can adversely affect a beer’s flavor or consistency. Using a gas blend provides a higher pressure without the higher CO2. Nitrogen gas will also help dispense a smoother beer with a creamier head. Set the PSI gauge to about 30-40 PSI (pounds per square inch) for Guinness and other nitrogenated stouts.
Keeping the System Clean
It may seem like a no-brainer, but keeping the plastic beer tubes clean and sanitary is one of the most important parts of maintaining a functioning and profitable draft system. As it is, beer within the draft system is susceptible to contaminants like yeast and molds, which grow inside faucets and other components. Bacteria can even make a home in the beer lines, despite the cool temperature. These growths can contribute to poor tastes or smells, and this in turn can make your customers head for the door. Many operators choose to hire a professional to clean their draft system. Whether you do this or do it yourself, be sure to do the following:
A thorough cleaning of your draft beer system is required to remove or significantly reduce any impurities. Do so twice a month at least
Clean all components.
When cleaning, remove faucets and other parts from the beer towers. Cleaning all pieces independently with hot, soapy water and a brush helps remove hidden contaminants in hard-to-reach places.
Be accountable for clean beer lines.
Cleaning all the beer lines is essential to controlling the overall cleanliness of your equipment, protecting the quality of your beer. Sometimes a distributor will send a contractor to clean your beer lines for you, but if they represent a single brand, they may spend more time cleaning their own brand’s beer lines and less time cleaning your competing beer lines. Clean the lines yourself if you suspect something like this. Schedule thorough cleanings with your staff once or twice a month to remain personally accountable.
Draft Beer and Potential Profit
Determining the profit you can anticipate from draft beer sales is nothing a few calculations cannot handle. Read on to get a feel for the profit potential from implementing a draft beer program.
Example: Each half barrel keg is 15 ½ gallons, which is 1,984 ounces total. Consider how many ounces you pour in a pint of beer. If you pour 16 ounce pints, assuming about 14 ounces of that is beer and two ounces are the foamy head, you can probably expect to get around 130 pints of beer from each keg. Let’s say you sell each pint of the beer for $3.50. This would produce a gross profit of about $455. Subtract the wholesale cost of the keg—call it $100 to be safe—and your total net profit is $355.
Selling five kegs a week means selling 260 kegs a year. This in turn will produce about $92,300 in net profit per year.
Of course, the numbers will vary depending on the type of beer you keep on tap and how much you actually sell. But by the numbers, you can see that draft beer can be an enormously profitable aspect of your bar business, if the system is maintained and the bartenders know how to use it. Conversely, for every beer that is spilled, flat or too foamy, you could be losing profit. These signal problems with the draft system or incorrect pouring, both of which are detrimental to your profits. >> Learn How to Pour the Perfect Draft Beer
Be sure to understand your draft beer system before getting started with your beer sales. You want to make sure you know how to handle any issues that arise, and usually something or other will come up. Draft beer sales can be a big profit maker for your operation. Just make sure you know what you are getting into and how to run things in the best possible way to make both a good impression as well as a good profit.