How do you size a walk-in cooler for a draft beer system? Learn the bar design criteria to select the right walk in cooler for your new draft beer system.
BAR DESIGN – HOW TO SIZE A WALK-IN COOLER FOR A SMALL DRAFT BEER SYSTEM
First, a little background information is necessary in making any purchasing decision. There are two types of walk-in coolers: prefabricated and built-to-order. This story is about the prefabricated variety.
- Pre-fabricated walk-in coolers consist of urethane panels and are economical, easy to expand and relocate.
- The elements that compose the walk-in cooler are the walls, floor, door and refrigeration system.
- Wall thickness ranges from 3 ½” – 5” and consists of insulation sandwiched between thin sheets of galvanized steel or aluminum.
- Condensers are either roof-mounted or remote.
BAR DESIGN TIP:
Wall-mounted condensers are no longer available due to changes by the U.S. Department of Energy in late 2019.
WALK-IN COOLERS FOR DRAFT BEER SYSTEMS
As I mentioned in an earlier post (ref. below), walk-in coolers used for beer walls require special design and engineering. Many owners utilize rack systems to make more efficient use of the cube. In such applications a floor system isn’t practical. The door should have a self-closing mechanism in order to conserve energy. Walk-in coolers are installed indoors and outdoors and offered by numerous companies in a wide variety of quick-ship sizes. Up next, be careful how you use your walk-in cooler.
THE CRITICAL RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN WALK-IN COOLER TEMPERATURE AND DRAFT BEER
Draft beer requires that the temperature be carefully maintained at 38°F. This is impossible to maintain when case beer and draft beer are in the same walk-in cooler, because the door is constantly opened and closed. Rising temperatures in walk-in coolers – even one or two degrees – will result in excessive beer foaming and lost profits! Therefore, case beer should never be stored in the same walk-in cooler as draft beer.
The size of the walk-in cooler is driven by the amount of beer you sell and the number of brands. A small walk-in cooler can be selected if a bar sells a moderate amount of draft beer. The bar shown here is a system featuring 10 brands of draft beer. Many bars carry at least three U.S. domestic beers, such as Bud Light, Miller Lite and Coors.
THE SIZE OF DRAFT BEER BARRELS
Therefore, in this example that means we have to accommodate space for seven craft beers. The U.S. domestic beers and craft beers are commonly sold in ½ barrels (15.5 gallons). Craft beers are also sold in sixtels (1/6 barrels, which are 5.16 barrels) and less commonly in slim ¼ barrels (7.75 gallons), as shown in the chart below.
HOW TO SIZE A WALK-IN COOLER FOR A SMALL DRAFT BEER SYSTEM
Sizing walk-in coolers for draft beer systems is dependent on the following factors:
- The number of products
- Quantity of towers
Adequate cold storage is the key to operating a draft beer system. The average system features 8-10 products. For this discussion let’s assume 10. The recommended cold inventory is 2.5 kegs per product for each draft beer tower, per week (based on once per week deliveries). This means that bars with only one draft beer tower need storage for 30 kegs. The same bar with three towers needs storage for 90 kegs. Nearly any walk-in cooler will accommodate 30 kegs, especially if the majority of products are sixels and slim quarter barrels. However, sizing a walk-in cooler for 90 kegs is a bit trickier. This article is for the former because many neighborhood bars fall into this category.
BARREL-STACKING IS THE KEY FOR SMALL BARS
For walk-in coolers, the goal is to minimize the size and this can be accomplished in two ways:
- Steel storage racks
Storage racks are great and I specify them for all larger draft beer systems. However, I minimize their use for owners on a budget. The best value for small walk-in coolers is the keg stacker. The “Slim Keg Spacer,” manufactured by DeVault, enable the kegs to be stacked on top of one another. This method doesn’t work well for 1/2 barrels because of their weight. Therefore, for small draft beer systems I normally show keg stackers for the sixtels and slim quarter barrels and racks for the 1/2 barrels. This method is shown in the plan below.
BAR DESIGN TIP:
For floor-stacking, always factor a row of backup product for all sixtels and slim quarter barrels.
HOW TO STACK KEGS WITH THE DeVault SLIM KEG SPACER
The advantage of the slim keg spacer is that it allows two kegs of the same product to be connected to the glycol system, as shown in the photo below. These retail for about $25 each.
BAR DESIGN TIP:
Do not stack more than seven kegs in a row because this application will make it very easy for all the kegs to fall.
ANALYSIS OF A SMALL WALK-IN COOLER
Getting back to our example, the 6′ x 8′ cooler is the most common standard size for small bars. As shown in the sketch above, a 6′ x 8′ cooler holds at least 15 brands and 42 kegs.
There are seven sixtels double-stacked on one long wall, four slim ¼ barrels to be double-stacked on the opposite wall and three ½ barrels to be double-stacked on the short wall. Additionally, a row of backups is placed in front of each brand, designated in red in this layout, which can be downloaded at the end of this article. The capacity of this 6’ x 8’ walk-in cooler design is 21 sixtels, 12 slim ¼ barrels and six ½ barrels. Of course, depending on the popularity of certain products, the configuration can easily be changed.
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