Draft systems give you the best experience when it comes to beer. There’s nothing like seeing beer flow from the faucet into an icy glass! The science behind draft systems is incredibly interesting as well, there’s a lot more to getting that perfect pour than you might think.
Bottle, Can, or Draft Beer Debate
When it comes to the majority of beers, draft takes the cake. Draft beer gives you the freshest taste with the most control, whereas canned beer often takes on the taste of the can, and bottled beer can begin to age in the bottle. Nothing beats a smooth draft beer, and it’s worth the work you put in to set up a draft system.
Physics of Draft Beer Systems
To the average person, it looks like you hook a hose up to a keg and it magically goes up to the faucet, right? You might be surprised at how big of a role physics plays into getting the beer to your glass. There’s many working parts and even some different types of setups that
Pressure. When you get a draft system installed, it comes with a CO2 tank that’s used to pressurize the keg. The pressure built up from the CO2 being pushed into the keg is released when you open the faucet, and that pressure pushes the beer through the tubing. Once your CO2 tank is empty, you can refill it at a variety of places like welding companies or gas suppliers. It’s important to pay attention to how much pressure you’re pushing to avoid beer that’s too foamy, and you can check on this by looking at the regulator on your CO2 tank. Oftentimes on draft systems, there will be a secondary regulator as well that shows you each keg is being dispensed at the correct pressure.
Temperature. Temperature is important to the quality and consistency of the beer. The flavor of beer is best when it’s cold, as that’s when it retains most of its flavor. Carbonation also begins to dissipate faster at higher temperatures. This means a warmer beer is going to lose its carbonation much faster than a cold beer would, making it flat or filled with foam. Stronger beers work better at higher temperatures, but nothing should be going above 45°F in the keg.
Fluid Dynamics. Flow and pressure go hand in hand with draft systems. The speed that your beer is being pushed out affects how good the pour will be. If your faucet is pouring too fast or too slow however, it doesn’t immediately indicate a problem with your keg’s CO2 levels. The length of your lines can have an impact on the amount of beer coming through at one time, and the longer a line, the more resistance and, in turn, control you can have over your flow. It’ll be less touchy to pressure adjustments and come out at a more consistent rate so you don’t have to continue to mess around with it more than you have to.
Effective Draft Beer Systems Basic Needs
It’s important to familiarize yourself with all the parts you’ll need when you install a draft beer system. You’ll be able to identify problems quicker and easier, and be able to make an educated decision on what type of setup is best for you.
Cooler/Refrigeration. Depending on the physical placement of your kegs, you have options on how to keep your beer cool. The standard and most common way of delivering beer is directly from a fridge nearby your draft tower, also known as a direct-draw system. If that’s not physically possible, you still have a few options. Glycol cooling takes a combination of chilled glycol (an alcohol based compound) and water and pumps it through a secondary line around the beer lines that chill the beer as it flows. This prevents the beer from losing its perfect temperature as it travels to the faucet. Air cooling is also an option. Beer lines are run through a duct that’s circulating chilled air along the lines to keep it cold, similar to the glycol system, just using cold air instead.
Kegs. This is the star of the show! Kegs hold all that liquid gold. There are several different types of kegs, usually named by size with a few mechanical differences based on what country you live in. The little hole with a button in the middle of it at the top of the keg is your valve. In the United States, the most common type of valve used by nearly every brewery is a D valve, with an M valve being recently introduced into American breweries. Keg sizes go from sixth barrels that hold around 5 gallons of beer to half barrels that hold around 15. Make sure you check the dimensions of your barrels so they’ll fit in your cooling system.
Coupler. A coupler is attached to the top of a keg through the valve. It feeds a line into the keg for CO2 and a line out of the keg for the beer. It’s important to make sure that you have the correct type of coupler for the valve on your keg, and in the United States, it’ll usually just be for a D valve. It’s important to make sure your coupler has an air-tight seal, or else you can lose pressure inside the keg.
Tubing. Your main air and beer lines will usually be made of clear food grade vinyl. Air lines will occasionally be a different color to differentiate them from the beer line. Depending on your cooling system, you may have some cooling lines as well.
Faucet/Tap. The faucet is attached to a draft tower where all the beer lines are housed. Faucets come in a multitude of types based on the type of beer you’re pouring. Basic faucets will get the job done, but if you want the premium, you can get faucets that offer a much smoother pour. You’ll also need to consider beers like Guinness, or other stouts that require nitrogen, as you’ll need a specific type of faucet to provide that. Tap handles are something to think about as well, it’s what we think about when we think of getting a draft beer! It gives a lot of personality, and it makes it easier to use so you can get that perfect pour.
Other Factors in a Successful Draft Pump System
It’s never a bad idea to plan ahead. The anatomy of your draft system can greatly affect how easy it is to maintain, fix, and modify later on. Don’t be afraid to enlist the help of a professional team to help you get to where you need to be. The quality will always outweigh the speed at which you get something done, do it right the first time and you’ll have less problems to deal with later. You don’t want to sink a bunch of money into something only to have it empty your wallet later with wasted beer and unhappy customers.
Why Draft Beer Pulls Can Go Wrong
The 3 main troubleshoots for a bad beer pull are cleanliness, temperature, and pressure. First and foremost, you should always be on top of cleanliness for your lines, faucets, and glasses. Not only is it a sanitation issue, but it keeps everything in good working order so your system can go for longer periods of time without needing replacements. If anything is coming out looking cloudy, you should immediately check to make sure everything is clean and check the integrity of your beer.
Carbonation is a combination of temperature and pressure. If your beer is too warm, it’ll be flat or have a lot of extra foam. This can also be an indication that your pressure is too low or too high. Always keep an eye on the temperature of your cooling systems and the pressure in your kegs.
Maintenance of Your Draft Beer System!
Being on top of maintaining your draft system is the best way to keep it in perfect working order. Educating your employees on how to take care of this system and seeing to it that it’s done in a regular fashion means less money spent on fixing things later on. Beer kegs at a baseline should be kept at around 38°F with a pressure level of around 12-15 psi. Beer lines should be cleaned once every 2 weeks with a chemical specifically dedicated to cleaning brewery lines, and then rinsed with warm water. When you’re cleaning things like a faucet, all parts should be disassembled to ensure everything is cleaned completely.
The True Cost of Draft Beer Systems
All of this information is great, but is it worth the effort to get a draft beer system? In today’s market, the simple answer is: yes! Draft beer is one of the most profitable items you can add to your menu. Installing a draft beer system can cost anywhere between $5,000 and $12,000, and as we just discussed, the best way to get the most bang for your buck is by hiring a professional and regularly maintaining your system. If you have a 15 gallon keg and sell 124 pints at $3, that’s $372. Compare that to the cost of a $189 keg and the kegs start paying for themselves!
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By this point, you should be educated enough to make an appropriate decision for what draft system would work best for you. The equipment and science behind draft systems can feel a little intimidating at first, but now you’re well on your way to looking into one of the most popular bar systems to date.