Best Draft Beer System: Direct-Draw vs Long-Draw

Cabaret Design Group

What is the best draft beer system? If you’re in the market for a draft beer system there’s a lot to know. There are two types of draft beer systems – direct-draw and long-draw, and two types within each category. Which type best suits your budget? Each has its advantages and disadvantages.

WHY DO BARS NEED DRAFT BEER SYSTEMS?

The goal of owning a draft beer system is to increase bar profits. After all, draft beer system ownership requires a significant capital investment. On the other hand, selling bottled beer requires a minimal investment because every bar has to have at least one beer cooler just to be in business. A while ago I wrote an article (referenced below) about the most profitable drinks. In that story, I reprised some statistical facts by my good friend and industry expert, Chuck Deibel. According to Chuck, draft beer is at least 25% more profitable than bottled beer. Since that time I’ve spoken with several other industry sources and all of them reported conflicting information.

WHY SHOULD BAR OWNERS CHARGE MORE FOR DRAFT BEER?

During a recent conversation with Chuck about the profitability of draft beer, he came to this conclusion: it depends what you charge! In other words, all my sources were correct with their information. But wait a minute! If I were to invest thousands of dollars into a draft beer system, I’d be charging more for draft beer. Back to Chuck: with 20 years of auditing restaurant, bar and nightclub clients, my money is on him – draft beer should be more profitable than bottled beer! How else could an investor ever get a return on his/her investment?! Beyond the initial investment there are ongoing costs you’ll have to recoup, as you’ll read below.

Photo of Air-Cooled Direct-Draw Draft Beer System
PHOTO OF AIR-COOLED BEER WALL

Related Blog Posts:
What Are the Most Profitable Drinks?


WHICH DRAFT BEER SYSTEM IS BETTER: DIRECT-DRAW VS LONG-DRAW?

The simple answer to this question is ‘What’s best for your operation?’ Direct-draw draft beer systems are available as beer walls (shown in the photo above) and kegerators (shown in the photo below). With each system the draft beer is in the immediate vicinity of the draft beer tower. Here are the advantages and disadvantages of direct-draw systems:

Advantages:   

  • Beer walls are very profitable and represent the lowest investment for all draft beer systems.
  • Kegerators are a reasonable investment for new start-ups.
  • The beer chemistry is less prone to complications due to short distance delivery.

Disadvantages:

  • Beer walls require the presence of a walk-in cooler directly behind the common wall of the back bar.
  • Kegerators are not conducive to high-volume operations due to greater operator involvement.
  • Keg changing, performed at the bar, can impact productivity.
  • Cabinet capacity generally limits kegerator towers to eight faucets.
Photo of 8-faucet kegerator
PHOTO OF 8-FAUCET KEGERATOR

Long-Draw Draft Beer Systems

Although air-cooled long-draw draft beer systems still exist, glycol-chilled systems are the most common long-draw beer systems today. Therefore, this discussion is about glycol systems. Epitomized by custom draft beer towers, glycol towers are connected to a walk-in cooler by an insulated trunkline which houses the refrigerated product lines. The draft beer kegs are stored in the walk-in cooler and delivered at a temperature of 38°F (3°C). Temperatures above 38°F will cause the beer’s natural carbonation to be released from suspension, thereby leading to excess foaming and reduced profits! Therefore, long-draw draft beer systems need dedicated walk-in coolers.

RELATED POST:

HOW MUCH DO DRAFT BEER SYSTEMS COST?

Photo of glycol draft beer system with custom towers

THE TEMPERATURE OF THE WALK-IN COOLER IS CRITICAL TO PROFITS

If cooler temperatures fall below 32°F, the carbonation can also be affected and the beer can become too flat. Each brand of draft beer requires its own combination of temperature and pressure to produce the ideal pour and this is affected by the distance of the faucet to the cooler. Consequently, the distance to the walk-in cooler should be minimized, so system adjustments are more easily optimized.

RELATED POST:

WHY DO DRAFT BEER SYSTEMS NEED DEDICATED WALK-IN COOLERS?

OTHER FACTORS THAT AFFECT QUALITY POURING

As I mentioned, pressure also affects the quality of the pour. Each beer produces its own natural pressure (as a result of the carbonation process). Because the pressure isn’t great enough to naturally move the beer through the entire system, auxiliary pressure is necessary. Flatness and foaming are the respective end-result of too little or too much pressure. Additionally, the local elevation above sea level also affects the quality of the poured product. There is an entire array of equipment designed to optimize the pressure, temperature and carbonation of each. Here are the advantages and disadvantages of long-draw systems:

Advantages

  • The opportunity to sell more brands.
  • Ability to maximize revenue.

Disadvantages

  • Greater startup cost: new systems range from $25,000 – $40,000, including a dedicated walk-in cooler.
  • Additional mechanical equipment and labor are necessary ongoing investments to optimize the pour quality of each beer.
  • Increased likelihood for mechanical complications.

WHICH DRAFT BEER SYSTEM IS THE BEST INVESTMENT: DIRECT-DRAW OR LONG-DRAW?

For someone new to the bar business or new to draft beer, the direct-draw dispenser is the ONLY way to go. For under $10,000, this is a cheap investment for entering the draft beer game, and you won’t have to tear your existing bar apart to implement a direct-draw system.  

Long-draw glycol beer systems are for the seasoned veterans whose needs are beyond what a direct-draw system can provide. If you need additional tips on setting-up a draft beer system, you can get the Draught Quality Manual from the Brewer’s Association, listed below.

BAR DESIGN TIP:

Irrespective of the type of draft beer system you purchase, your investment and ongoing costs need to be reflected in your pricing. Good luck!

Photo of custom inverted, dual-service glycol draft beer tower
PHOTO OF CUSTOM DUAL-SERVICE GLYCOL DRAFT BEER TOWER

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