Bar Refrigeration Buyers' Guide

Bar Refrigeration Equipment Guide

Back bar areas are notoriously limited in space, so every square inch counts and bar operators must get creative in how they outfit the room they have available. Bar refrigeration is the most important equipment behind the bar because its keeps drinks cold and equips bartenders to offer quick, satisfying service. This guide will help you select the bar equipment that's right for your business.

Before you decide on a new piece, measure the space where you'll be installing it to make sure it can accommodate your new bar refrigerator. Make sure to account for any equipment clearance requirements. Most back-bar equipment is front-breathing so it can be installed directly against neighboring equipment, but you may encounter coolers that must be installed with a certain amount of space between them and adjacent walls and equipment so the refrigeration system will have room to breathe.

Back Bar Coolers

The back bar cooler is designed to keep bottled and canned beverages cool, and give bartenders convenient access to drinks and other chilled products. Choose economical solid-door refrigerators when your drink selection is simple and the equipment won't be within sight of customers. You can also store other chilled products like lemons and mixers in a solid door unit. Alternatively, a glass-door bottle cooler can double as a merchandiser when it's used where customers can get a glimpse of the bottled and canned drinks you have to offer. Because of that, glass door units are the most popular.

The majority of bottle coolers are built with swinging doors. If you're outfitting an area that's particularly space-limited, consider investing in a cooler with sliding doors that won't block walkways when it's accessed by bartenders. You also have the choice between coolers with economical, scratch-resistant black vinyl exteriors and those with sleek stainless steel cabinets.

Bottle Coolers

A bottle cooler provides the most efficient solution for holding bottled and canned drinks behind bars. Small coolers measuring 24 inches wide hold four or five cases of 12-ounce bottles or around six cases of 12-ounce cans. The largest 95-inch-long bottle coolers can hold more than 30 cases of 12-ounce bottles or more than 50 cases of 12-ounce cans.

If you're looking for a bottle-chilling solution for an event or for a retail setting, consider an ice-cooled bottle cooler. Ice-cooled bins can be set up to allow guests to grab their own drinks, and they're the best option to use when the equipment will only be needed occasionally or for a few hours a day. Consider setting one up on an outdoor patio at your bar or resort. They make good solutions for event centers, too. Ice-cooled units need to be filled with ice and connected to a drain to collect melt water, but if is used only infrequently, one of these may make better economic sense than investing in an electric unit that must be permanently installed.

Draft Beer Systems

Draft beer systems, known sometimes as kegerators, give you an easy way to serve draft beers without investing in more complex beer delivery systems. These coolers are available in one-keg versions up to sizes large enough to hold five kegs. Each of a cooler's dispensing columns can be fitted with one or two taps, so one column can dispense beer from two kegs. Many systems have the capacity for an extra keg, so you're able to keep a supply of your customers' favorite brew chilled and ready.

To keep surfaces clean and tidy, kegerators are built with drip trays underneath their taps to capture excess beer foam. In the case of stationary equipment, that drip tray will connect to a floor drain. Mobile equipment mounted to casters is often engineered with a system that will collect that runoff and hold it until it can be manually emptied.

Some draft beer systems include additional cabinet space that can store bottled and canned drinks or chilled glasses and mugs. Those compartments are generally covered by sliding lids that give bartenders convenient access to their contents. Other draft beer systems are equipped with one or more glass doors and a cabinet with shelves for merchandising bottled and canned drinks beside kegs.

Commercial Wine Coolers

If you take your wine service seriously, consider investing in a commercial wine cooler for keeping each variety of wine you serve at its ideal serving temperature. If you opt for a single-temperature wine cabinet, makes sure it's designed to hold the wine you want to store in it or that it offers an adjustable temperature feature so you can dial in the ideal holding temperatures. Here are the ideal temperatures, given in Fahrenheit, associated with popular wine varieties :

  • White wines are best served between 44 and 57 degrees.
  • Light red wines are best served between 53 and 63 degrees.
  • Full-bodied reds are best served between 63 and 69 degrees.
  • Sparkling wines are best served between 38 and 50 degrees.

Source: Wine Folly: Does Temperature Really Matter?

Glass-door wine cases provide one of the best ways to show your wine collection to customers while keeping bottles chilled. More economical wine merchandisers are built with solid doors to provide a back-of-house wine-chilling system.

Small undercounter and countertop wine chillers hold a few dozen bottles or fewer. The largest full-size wine coolers have room for more than 200 bottles of wine. Wine bottles are best stored horizontally so their corks will not dry out and sediment will not collect at the bottoms of the bottles. Most restaurant wine coolers store bottles that way, but many retail wine merchandisers hold bottles at a slight angle so customers can get a better glimpse at the cooler's contents.

Glass Chillers

If you want to serve beer and cocktails in frosted glasses, invest in a glass chiller. This equipment is sized for dozens to hundreds of glasses and keeps them frosted so drinks served in them stay cold longer than drinks served in room-temperature mugs. The smallest 24-inch mug chillers can hold 100 glasses each. Busier bars can take advantage of 50-inch mug chillers that have an average glass capacity of 250 pieces.

Glass chillers hold internal temperatures around 0 degrees Fahrenheit to make mugs ice cold and frosty. Sliding-door glass chillers are the most common type, but space-limited venues can benefit from undercounter glass chillers with swinging doors. Whichever type you choose, be sure not to store food or drinks in the cooler; doing so is forbidden by health codes.