Due to the growing popularity of draft beer, especially craft beers and microbrews, having it on tap in your restaurant can be very profitable. In a higher-volume bar or restaurant where a half-dozen or more beers may be on tap, a walk-in commercial keg cooler is the way to go. However, walk-ins can be very expensive to buy and install.
These smaller systems are great for keeping a few seasonal or small-batch beers on the menu. They're also a good fit for outdoor bars, as they allow employees to pour beers without going to the bar inside. If you decide to get one for your patio, make sure the model you get is outdoor approved.
These models come with dozens of different configurations to best suit the needs of your bar or restaurant. Choosing the right one for your business will depend primarily on how many beers you want to have on tap. If you're going to use your draft beer system to store an extra keg or even some bottled or canned drinks, there are units to accommodate those needs as well.
Number of Kegs, Columns, and Taps
Columns are the stainless steel poles that rise out of the top of the cabinet and carry beer lines to the taps. Units are available with one or two columns, with up to two taps each for a maximum total of four taps per unit. If you want to serve more than four beers at once, you will either need to an additional unit or invest in a walk-in unit and run beer lines from the walk-in to the taps at the bar. You can buy a model that can hold more kegs than the number of taps it has so you can keep an extra keg or two on hand.
The two most common finishes on a beer dispenser kegerator are stainless steel and black laminate. Some models give you the option of a stainless steel front with black laminate sides.
- Stainless steel has a classic look and is resistant to dents and scratches. In busy bar environments, collisions with the equipment are inevitable, so durability is something to consider.
- Black laminate is priced lower and may not need to be cleaned as frequently as steel. Scratches on black laminate are not as noticeable as they are on stainless steel, but it's not quite as resistant to damage.
Three specialty options are available to make the model you buy a perfect fit for your bar. A built-in mug chiller keeps glasses or mugs frosty cold for your customers. Commonly referred to as a club-top, they also keep wares easily accessible on top of the unit for bartenders. A bottle cooler keeps bottles or cans cool in a refrigerated compartment. If you are thinking about buying one for outdoor use, make sure it is outdoor approved; models approved for outdoors are resistant to weathering and will hold safe temperatures in warm weather.
Upkeep and Maintenance
If you buy a draft beer dispenser, it is very important to keep the lines, keg couplers, and taps clean. Otherwise, a build-up of yeast and mold will alter the taste of the beer. Inexperienced bar owners sometimes forget this, creating a foamy, poor-quality beer that has an unsavory taste.
Cleaning the exterior parts of your unit involves a few simple steps. Make sure every night to clean the tap faucets and the area around them with a brush. Bacteria and mold can quickly grow in these areas due to yeast from the beer. Also, make sure to put plugs in the taps each night as these prevent contaminants from entering the taps.
When you go to replace an empty keg, take the opportunity to clean the inside of the beer lines:
- Before doing anything else, make sure the CO2 line is off.
- Remove the keg coupler (the part that attaches the keg to the beer line) and take it off the line. Disassemble it and soak it in a mixture of hot water and cleaning solution before giving it a good brushing.
- Take the tap faucet off, disassemble it, and soak it in a mixture of hot water and cleaning solution.
- Drop the coupler end of the beer line into a bucket. Add cleaning solution and hot water to a pump-spray bottle, attach the bottle to the faucet-end of the line, and pump the solution through the line. It will come out the other end of the line in the bucket.
- Disconnect the bottle, wash it out, and fill it up with clean water. Attach it again and rinse the solution out of the line.
- Remove the bottle; assemble and reconnect the keg coupler and the tap faucet.
- Turn the CO2 back on.
This process only takes few minutes per line to complete and will leave you with great tasting beer. It can also prevent product loss by reducing the amount of beer that has to be run through the line to get through the foam in each pour. If the beer line remains cloudy or off-colored after being cleaned out, it may need to be replaced.