In this post, Rick Uzubell from Cabaret Design Group discusses how air-cooled draft beer systems work. Discover the cost and design limitations, such as draft beer line length when purchasing an air-cooled draft system for your restaurant, bar, sports bar or nightclub.
How Are Air-Cooled Draft Beer Systems Designed?
Hello again everyone and welcome to another edition of Design Buzz. Today we're going to talk about Long-Draw Draft Beer System design, and when we talk about long-draw draft beer systems, we're talking about systems that operate remotely from the bar, unlike a direct-draw cooler, which sits below the bar top or directly behind the bar, as we covered in two previous videos.The long-draw systems basically operate from a walk-in cooler, and at the more basic level, the traditional concept that was developed for long-draw systems was the system known as an air-cooled system, shown here in this blue dotted line. We also have what's called a glycol system, which we’ll be covering in a subsequent video. Now with the air-cool systems, the process begins in the walk-in cooler; now these systems really basically work off of a mechanical blower, which is relied on totally to keep the integrity and the temperature of the beer within its operating range from the point where the beer originates, in the walk-in cooler, to the point where it's dispensed. Now the air-cooled system, the heart of it is not only the walk-in cooler, but we also have what's known as a "beer shaft.” The shaft is really nothing more than an aluminum conduit, several inches in diameter, which houses a number of small diameter PVC lines, each of which is connected to a different brand of beer inside the walk-in cooler. In this particular arrangement, here we see the device over here is our blower motor, mounted to the inside wall of the walk-in cooler; this blows the cold air from the walk-in cooler along the length of the beer shaft. Now we're relying on the integrity of the temperature of the beer to be maintained. Walk-in coolers normally operate within the range of 36 to 38 degrees Fahrenheit. This is specified by the people who manufacture (brew) the beer and this gives optimal flavor to the beer, so it's generally recommended that you maintain your walk-in cooler within that range. Air-cooled systems are generally specified by the manufacturers of the equipment to operate no more than 25 feet. The particular system, designated here, is about 60 lineal feet, as the crow flies, which is a little bit more than 18 meters. Now, at this juncture you would you could say to yourself that this is not an application for an air-cooled system -- this is true. I'm showing you the idea as an example because we're going to be talking about the glycol systems next.
What Is The Ideal Location for an Air-Cooled Draft Beer System?
We could, alternatively, move the walk-in cooler conceivably to the area where the office is shown here, and if that's the case, we would be within several feet of the tower from the walk-in cooler, so we're within striking range. Let's say if this is 10 feet or 12 feet, whatever we have, there are two constraints that really dictate the success of an air-cooled draft beer system. Number one, every 90 degree turn that the beer shaft takes, once it leaves the walk-in cooler, you lose five feet of functional length; the longest normal length that you would consider for such a system would be 20 feet, so if you have one 90 degree turn, that already bumps you down to 20 feet or less. Now, ordinarily these systems will be delivered from the walk-in cooler either overhead or below the floor and then if that's the case, then your draft beer shaft would be running below the floor; it will come up directly below the tower and then you would be delivering the beer. However, the other problem, though, that's not printed, is the design constraint that is what will commonly can be experienced in an air-cooled system, is that for every 90 degree turn you take with the shaft you're going to gain two degrees Fahrenheit in the temperature of the product, which starts to create huge problems, because we don't really have many ways of adjusting this temperature. You don't have anything else except for the cooling of the walk-in cooler itself and a crafty installer to try to make it all work; even in a short distance it's a challenge. Ideally, an air-cooled system would be installed this way you would take your walk-in cooler -- and let's say if this bar is on the first floor and if you had a basement in your building, the walk-in cooler would ideally go directly below the bar, so that you could run your beer shaft -- and you're pushing the air vertically through a column up to the tower, where you then start to accumulate warm air at the base of the tower; so, you really have to also have a means of recirculating that air and bring it back into the walk-in cooler so that you maintain a constant flow of chilled air to the tower.
What Type of Tower Selections is Available for Air-Cooled Draft Beer Systems?
Now, the towers for air-cooled systems are different from other the towers that we're using -- that you may be seeing nowadays -- the very cool towers that you see in most modern bars and nightclubs and brew pubs and places like that. You're not looking at an air-cooled tower, most likely. The reason for that is that you have to have a large diameter head on top of the tower so that the air can recirculate. This is the pronounced difference between air-cooled towers and the glycol towers, so you have, generally speaking, a narrow range of tower selection for air-cooled systems. Air-cooled systems are basically entry-level systems, in my book. I would say their popularity is definitely waning, now that we have the glycol systems at our disposal. Although you can still get into a system like this fairly reasonably, there are many factors to consider. If you're going to have to dispense eight brands of beer you might be in the range of several thousand dollars for an installed system. The real solution for a long-draw draft beer arrangement is with a glycol system and we will be covering that in the next video.