How much do direct-draw and long-draw draft beer systems cost? Learn how the various draft systems compare – such as the kegerator, beer walls, air-cooled and glycol systems.
WHAT ARE THE CHOICES FOR DRAFT BEER SYSTEMS?
Nowadays there are many choices for a prospective draft beer system owner. Draft beer systems are categorized “Direct-Draw” or “Long-Draw” systems and are differentiated by distance. Direct-draw systems are in the immediate vicinity of the bar whereas long-draw systems are remotely located from the bar. In terms of cost, the real issue isn’t about distance but more about the delivery method. As I’ll illustrate, there are options with either system.
DIRECT-DRAW DRAFT BEER SYSTEMS
In the U.S., for many years the traditional method of delivery for draft beer was cold air. Hence, the name “Air-Cooled” system. The air-cooled draft beer system is still in use and utilizes a mechanical blower to chill the draft beer lines over a very short distance. This is accomplished as follows:
- Kegerators – which includes traditional kegerators and the modern-day custom kegerators
- Direct-draw systems
The best example of direct-draw draft beer systems is the traditional kegerator (refer photos below). Kegerators emerged in U.S. bars in the 1940’s.
Traditional kegerators are designed to house standard U.S. 1/2-barrels of beer. The subject kegerator is designed to dispense four brands of U.S. domestic beer and has enough room for one backup barrel.
HOW MUCH DO TRADITIONAL KEGERATORS COST?
The subject kegerator is still being marketed and in 2022 costs around $5,000. With the emergence of extremely popular and profitable craft beer the 4-faucet tower is no longer applicable. Craft beer is delivered primarily in 1/6-barrel kegs (“Sixtels”). A 94″ kegerator can accommodate at least 12 sixtels. Therefore, a higher capacity draft beer tower is required.
BAR DESIGN TIP:
If a bar owner wants to feature craft beer, this cooler could accommodate 12 sixtels. The other problem with the traditional kegerator is that most are 29″ deep. Deep coolers such as this are not in compliance with the 24″ standard we use for built-in bar equipment. Traditional kegerators impact the bartender aisle by reducing it 5″.
Surely, there must be an updated idea for kegerators.
MODERN-DAY CUSTOM KEGERATORS
Modern-day custom kegerators are the result of the craft beer business. The custom kegerator addresses the two shortcomings of the traditional kegerator:
- Footprint size
- Ability to feature more beer brands
As I mentioned earlier, traditional kegerators have a larger footprint which eats into the bartender aisle. Because space is a premium in commercial bar design, we always specify built-in kegerators. However, the built-in kegerator is not generally a stock item. It is very difficult to find a 24″ deep kegerator as a stock item. The problem seems to be related to the customization, as there are many variables with built-in products, especially for bar owners whose locations are at higher altitudes. We specify custom kegerators nearly every day.
HOW MUCH DO CUSTOM KEGERATORS COST?
Because they’re 24″ deep, custom kegerators can fit anywhere along the front bar or back bar, as shown in the photo gallery below. However, the back bar is generally our recommended location. In fact, the towers are commonly installed on top of the back bar. Glastender offers a very nice air-cooled tower (shown below). An 84″, 8-faucet custom kegerator costs about $5,900, anywhere from $600 – $3,300 for the tower plus about $1,000 for installation.
BAR DESIGN TIP:
The only limitation of the custom kegerator is the size and variety of air-cooled towers, which is generally limited to about eight faucets. This is because of the limited space for the tower and the storage capacity of the kegerator itself. The Glastender model (shown below) enables the bar owner to have six backup kegs inside the cooler. This is a reasonable investment for someone who’s looking to add draft beer to their menu.
AIR-COOLED DIRECT-DRAW WALL SYSTEMS
The other type of direct-draw system is the beer wall. The beer wall is a great approach if your walk-in cooler is located directly behind the back bar. Most people visiting a bar such as the one in the photo below, would think that’s a glycol system. After all, that draft beer tower is reminiscent of a glycol system.
- This system works off the same model as the kegerator. The only difference is that the cooler is a walk-in cooler and the mechanical blower is larger.
- For bar owners with a kitchen behind their bar, there is generally a greater chance of implementing a strategically-placed walk-in cooler.
HOW MUCH DO AIR-COOLED DIRECT-DRAW WALL SYSTEMS COST?
The advantage with the beer wall is the quantity of beer products. The cost to implement this 20-faucet system is about $6,000, which includes $4,000 for the draft beer tower, $1,000 for the drip tray and $1,000 for installation.
BAR DESIGN TIP:
For an air-cooled beer wall to deliver maximum profitability it’s imperative to have a dedicated walk-in cooler. This means that food and bottled beer should not be stored with the draft beer.
LONG-DRAW DRAFT BEER SYSTEMS
As mentioned earlier, the long-draw draft beer system is one where the walk-in cooler is located away from the bar area. There are two types of long-draw draft beer systems:
AIR-COOLED LONG-DRAW SYSTEMS
The air-cooled long-draw system is the other traditional method of dispensing draft beer. Bar owners still use this method. However, the guidelines for locating the walk-in cooler are strict:
- The walk-in cooler cannot be more than 25′ from the draft beer tower
- Deduct 5′ from the above distance for each 90 degree turn
Draft beer is delivered from the walk-in cooler to the tower via a mechanical duct (“Shaft”). The shaft houses a number of PVC product lines, each of which contains a different brand of beer. the greatest separation from the tower to the walk-in cooler cannot exceed 20′. This is because every installation requires at least one 90 degree turn (for the shaft). Therefore, the optimal location for the walk-in cooler is directly above or below the bar.
HOW MUCH DO AIR-COOLED LONG-DRAW SYSTEMS COST?
In terms of cost, this system ranges from $1,500 – $2,500 for the tower, $800 for the drip tray and $1,000 – $1,500 for installation. However, unlike the wall system, the air-cooled long-draw system has the same limitation in tower designs as kegerators. Examples of air-cooled towers are shown in the gallery below.
BAR DESIGN TIP:
Because the draft beer products are stored in walk-in coolers, higher-capacity towers are available.
GLYCOL-CHILLED DRAFT BEER SYSTEMS
The glycol-chilled system is the king of all draft beer systems.
- The glycol system offers the greatest installation flexibility along with the largest tower selection.
- This system works off the principles of refrigeration. This provides the ultimate flexibility of putting a walk-in cooler practically anywhere you want.
- It can also service multiple beer towers and/or multiple bars simultaneously from a single power pack, up to 750 feet.
- The glycol system offers a tremendous amount of beer tower designs. The products are virtually limitless, such as the one shown in the photo below.
HOW MUCH DO GLYCOL-CHILLED DRAFT BEER SYSTEMS COST?
The average cost of a glycol-chilled draft beer system averages $1,200 – $1,500 per product line (installed). The majority of systems have 10 faucets. The installed cost of an average 10-faucet system with a standard tower is between $12,000 – $15,000. Custom towers are extra.
BAR DESIGN TIP:
For optimal performance, glycol-chilled draft beer systems should have a dedicated walk-in cooler. This adds about $10,000 to the cost of the investment
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BAR DESIGN TIP
- Craft beer needs to be served at 38F and frozen glassware distorts the beer’s characteristics.
- According to the CDC, ice is classified as food; therefore, glass frosters require tedious, regular cleaning; most bar owners don’t have the qualified staff to perform this complex procedure.
- Glass frosters start at $1,500 and consume at least 24″ of underbar space.
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