Glycol cooled or kegerators – which is the best draft beer system to buy?
If you’re confused over which draft beer system to purchase, here’s the costs and comparisons of each.
GLYCOL COOLED VS KEGERATOR DRAFT BEER SYSTEMS
For restaurant or hotel owners in the market for a draft beer system, what’s the best recommendation? What types of draft beer systems are available? Many claim that the glycol chilled draft beer system is the only practical choice. While this is my hands-down favorite, draft beer systems is not a “one-size-fits-all” solution. A new twist of an age-old solution happens to provide another option – kegerators. Let’s dive a bit deeper into this so everyone can understand all of the considerations.
GLYCOL COOLED DRAFT BEER SYSTEMS
Glycol draft beer systems offer many ownership advantages, such as:
- Deliver high-quality draft beer over long distances
- Service multiple bars and/or draft beer towers
- Large quantity of draft beer products
- Optimize location of the walk-in cooler
- Large quantity of tower designs
- Minimize pour costSuperior cost justification
According to Micro-Matic, the industry leader in cutting-edge draft beer systems and solutions, for a glycol draft beer system costing $10,000, the return-on-investment (ROI) can be realized in the first 19 barrels sold!
Given all the above, why would anyone would want to consider anything but a glycol system? However, not every bar, restaurant or hotel can accommodate a dedicated walk-in cooler – a most crucial component of any draft beer system. The dedicated walk-in cooler assures the delicate temperature of the draft beer is maintained, as I discussed in an earlier video. The architectural plan shown here is of a recent hotel bar we designed. This bar was included as part of a multi-million dollar facility renovation. At first glance, one would have to believe that in a facility as large as this, finding space for an extra 8’ x 10’ walk-in cooler would be easy – but this just wasn’t the case with this project. In spite of the hotel’s significant size – indoors and outdoors, the space for a dedicated walk-in
cooler was nowhere to be found. As it turns out, this is not an uncommon challenge with many existing facilities. When planning a glycol-cooled system, we also have to accommodate the installation of the trunkline, which can also be a deal-breaker. What alternatives do bar owners have for selling draft beer? Actually, kegerators can be a viable option, but I’m not referring to the oversized kegerators, such as the one shown in this photo. Here’s an overview of the traditional kegerator:
GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT KEGERATORS
- Kegerators were invented in 1936 for U.S. domestic barrels
- At 27” – 29”, traditional kegerators are too deep to fit into the middle of any front bar or back bar
- The traditional draft beer towers lack the visual appeal demanded by today’s buyers
- Since the emergence of craft beer, nobody has formally marketed a craft beer kegerator
THE EMERGENCE OF CRAFT BEER
What are people drinking nowadays? Craft beer! Over the past few years, craft beer has turned the beer industry upside down. The most popular bars are using sexy, innovative draft beer towers to sell their craft beer, which is packaged in small barrels. So, while kegerators still have merit, why would anyone want to continue using them to sell U.S. domestic beer?
But don’t despair! I have a modern kegerator design that works beautifully. Ditch the behemoth kegerators of yesteryear – it’s time for new thinking, my friends! Fortunately, there are some fine, off-the-shelf back bar coolers that can be used to make your own craft beer kegerator. The first and most critical step is choosing a back bar cooler that has an overall depth of 24”. This will assure a built-in effect with standard underbar equipment, thereby guaranteeing consistent aisle width. The photo you see here is that of a Glastender C1FB84-R, which is an 84” x 24” back bar cooler. This cooler was the building block for the kegerators I designed as part of this hotel bar design. You’ll notice two of them in this photo. Many may not be aware that virtually any 24” deep back bar cooler can be used to build a craft beer kegerator; however, only a few manufacturers offer these, such as:
WHAT’S THE SECRET TO BUILDING A CRAFT BEER KEGERATOR?
To gain a better idea of how to configure a 24” back bar cooler as a kegerator, let’s take a closer look at the plan view of the Glastender unit I just mentioned. To demonstrate how a 24” back bar cooler can be arranged for various configurations of draft beer, consider the sketches I’ve prepared. If someone were to take the “old fashion” approach by featuring U.S. domestics, only four brands could be offered in an 84” cooler, as shown here. U.S. domestic draft beer is sold in ¼- and ½-barrels, each of which utilize a large 16 1/8” footprint; this is the culprit that significantly limits the number of product offerings.
CRAFT BEER vs DOMESTIC BEER
The real problem for bar owners selling U.S. domestics is the profit model: it isn’t nearly as profitable as selling craft beer – which is what everyone is drinking nowadays, right? To illustrate this point, consider the following excerpt from the November 7, 2018 edition of the blog “Bottom Line,”
“….you might realize a profit of between $250 and $300 selling a keg of beer with national brands such as Budweiser, Coors, Miller and others, whereas serving a keg of popular craft beer brewed locally might net you between $400 and $500….it makes you wonder why every establishment in the country doesn’t take advantage of this money-making proposition.”
HOW KEGERATORS ARE PLANNED
If profit is your motive, the craft beer kegerator could be a great solution. Here’s another sketch of the same kegerator, only this time set up for craft beer. Craft beer is distributed in smaller diameter kegs (the dominant size being 9 1/8” dia.), so the same 84” x 24” back bar cooler can accommodate 12 brands of craft beer with the gas bottles inside the cooler or 14 brands with remote gas. This arrangement is robust. With nitrogen, bar owners can even offer Guinness or other stouts. For bars that lack space for a dedicated walk-in cooler, the craft beer kegerator is a home run!
DISADVANTAGES OF CRAFT BEER KEGERATORS
While craft beer kegerators offer unique advantages, some people may dislike the lack of selection of draft beer towers. Kegerators are air-cooled draft beer systems, which require a draft beer tower that differs from those of glycol-cooled systems. Part of the appeal of glycol systems is the endless array of the very stylish draft beer towers – which many feel has contributed to the craft beer boom. The selection of draft beer tower designs for air-cooled systems was never exploited and likely never will as glycol systems continue to proliferate.
The majority of beer towers for air-cooled systems are either the double-pedestal tower, as shown in this photo, or the mushroom tower, shown in this photo. Glastender offers several nice upscale options, as with their model #LGT-8 towers we selected for this project. This tower design is similar to some of the popular towers available with glycol cooled systems, and compares favorably to the Micro-Matic “Titan U” draft beer tower, shown here. However, this style tower is only available in 6-or-8 faucets, so if you’re interested in a larger product offering, you’re probably limited to the double-pedestal tower shown here, which is available with as many as 20 faucets.
Another drawback of craft beer kegerators is the nuisance factor of continuous barrel-changing, as the barrels are small (the sixth barrel – the most common size – contains little more than five gallons). However, if purchasing an 84” unit with an 8-faucet tower, one could have as much as six barrels of backup stock on-hand.
Finally, another drawback is where to place the cooler. If placed on the front bar as we did with this project (shown above), the bar must be long enough to accommodate all other necessary underbar stainless equipment. Placing kegerators on the back bar can cause inefficient movement for the bartender, so careful planning is necessary.
CRAFT BEER KEGERATORS vs GLYCOL DRAFT BEER SYSTEM COST
In terms of overall investment, a single 84” x 24” back bar cooler with an 8-faucet tower and conversion hardware will cost between $8,000 – $10,000, installed (approximately $1,000 – $1,250 per faucet). The variation in cost is primarily dependent on tower selection.
In 2019, an average 8-faucet glycol-cooled draft beer system will range in cost from $10,000 – $14,000, installed, for systems with standard beer towers (approximately $1,250 – $1,500 per faucet). The cost per faucet can decrease with larger systems, but will increase with special tower designs. However, controlling the temperature of draft beer within the walk-in cooler is of the utmost importance. Therefore, anyone committed to this investment must also factor the cost of the dedicated walk-in cooler, or your profit model will suffer. The average cost of a 6’ x 8’ x 8’ walk-in cooler is $7,500, wired and installed. In summary, an 8-faucet glycol draft beer system with walk-in cooler will cost between $17,500 – $21,500, which is $9,000 – $12,000 more than the equivalent craft beer kegerator system.
CRAFT BEER KEGERATORS vs GLYCOL SYSTEMS: WHICH IS BETTER?
Given all the above, which draft beer system is better? Both systems have far more merits than drawbacks. I still contend that glycol draft beer systems are the best for those who can afford and manage them. Although craft beer kegerators may have some limitations, but they truly offer an excellent solution for any bar owner who may not be able to afford the best or the space to accommodate.
HOW TO PURCHASE A CUSTOM KEGERATOR
The kegerator with the custom draft beer tower shown above is a custom-designed kegerator and isn’t available on any website that I know of. Kegerators such as this need to be designed and specified, which is a service we provide. While kegerators may appear simple, there’s a lot to know. If you’d like more information about this please contact us.
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About the above video:
In the above video, Rick Uzubell from Cabaret Design Group compares glycol cooled draft beer systems and kegerators for bars, how much each draft beer system costs and what is the criteria for purchasing either type. This video is helpful for anyone who wants to build a bar, whether it’s a hotel, restaurant, pub or mancave.
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