Air Cooled Draft Systems – Are They Practical?

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How much do air cooled draft systems cost?

Learn the cost and design limitations of air cooled draft systems, such as system length and beer tap towers.

THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF DRAFT BEER SYSTEMS

Architectural plan of air cooled draft system in a sports bar
PLAN OF AIR COOLED DRAFT SYSTEM

There are two different types of draft beer systems:

  • Long draw systems.
  • Direct-draw systems.

Within the long draw category, we have:

  • Glycol chilled systems.
  • Air cooled systems.


Today we’re going to discuss the latter. By definition, all long draw beer systems operate remotely from the bar and the heart of the system is the walk-in cooler. Air cooled draft systems was the building block of all other draft beer systems. Glycol systems are almost exclusively what is being installed nowadays, although air cooled systems are still around and are a viable option for some bar owners.

HOW AIR COOLED SYSTEMS WORK

At the heart of the air cooled draft systems is the walk-in cooler. These systems also consist of a mechanical blower and a third component known as the “beer shaft.” The blower helps maintain the temperature of the beer within its operating range. Here’s how an air cooled beer system works (refer to the illustration above, right):

Photo of typical air cooled beer system tower
PHOTO OF TYPICAL AIR COOLED BEER TOWER
  • The beer shaft is merely a conduit (PVC or aluminum), several inches in diameter, which houses a number of small diameter PVC lines, known as product lines.
  • Each product line is connected to a different brand of beer inside the walk-in cooler.
  • The blower motor is mounted to the inside wall of the walk-in cooler.
  • Cold air is blown from the walk-in cooler all the way to the beer tower.

This is exactly what an air cooled draft system is. It is the process of chilling draft beer from the walk-in cooler to the beer tower by means of a mechanical blower. 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.

EQUIPMENT LIMITATIONS

Air-cooled systems are generally specified by the manufacturers of the equipment to operate no more than 25 feet. The particular system I’m depicting (above, right), is about 60 lineal feet, as the crow flies, which is a little bit more than 18 meters. 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 SYSTEM?

Architectural plan of air cooled draft system with nearby walk-in cooler
AIR COOLED DRAFT SYSTEM WITH NEARBY W.I.C.

Alternatively, we could move the walk-in cooler conceivably to the area where the office was originally located (refer to the plan at right), which would locate the beer tower with several feet from the walk-in cooler. This would put us within striking range. Let’s say if this is 10 feet or 12 feet, there are two constraints that really dictate the success of an air-cooled beer system:

  • Once the beer shaft leaves the walk-in cooler, every 90 degree turn reduces the functional length by five feet.
  • The longest normal length one would consider for such a system would be 25 feet, and…
  • …with a minimum of one 90 degree turn, the functional distance will be reduced to 20 feet or less.
  • For these reasons, air cooled systems ideally feature the walk-in cooler one floor above or below the bar.

BAR DESIGN TIP:

Another problem (that’s not printed), is that for every 90 degree turn the shaft takes the product will gain two degrees F of temperature. This can create huge problems. because there aren’t many ways of adjusting this temperature.

WHAT TYPE OF TOWER SELECTIONS IS AVAILABLE FOR AIR COOLED BEER SYSTEMS?

The towers for air cooled beer systems are different from the towers used for glycol systems. Glycol towers are the very cool towers seen in most modern bars, nightclubs, etc. Those most likely aren’t air cooled towers. The reason for that is because air cooled systems require 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. As a result, there is a narrow range of tower selection for air cooled systems. Air cooled systems are basically entry-level systems, but they do serve a valid place for those with limited resources.

HOW MUCH DO AIR COOLED BEER SYSTEMS COST?

An air cooled system dispensing eight brands of beer will cost $5,000 – $8,000, installed. The ultimate solution for a long-draw draft beer arrangement is a glycol system.

Photo of typical mushroom head air cooled beer tower
PHOTO OF MUSHROOM HEAD BEER TOWER

WHAT’S THE PRACTICALITY?

With air cooled draft systems you don’t have anything except 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 with the walk-in cooler in the basement. This way 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. This provides a means of recirculating the air so as to maintain a constant flow of chilled air to the tower.

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