Advances in beer system technology are evolutionary, not revolutionary. In beer parlance, they come in more as a drip than a pour.
But there have been incremental improvements. Self-cleaning, self-contained, smaller-footprint systems are making life easier in tight bar and restaurant environments. But perhaps the most important improvement in several years has been the so-called quick-fill systems that not only deliver colder beer into glasses and pitchers but also cut waste and thus save money. Other manufacturers have developed and are marketing systems that drop draft beer’s temperature as low as 26 or 29 degrees.
At the same time, with food safety fervor at a fever pitch, cleaning products and procedures have moved solidly to the fore, with manufacturers helping out in several ways.
According to Curt Dollar, president of Berg Company in Madison, WI, the changes in draft systems have been gradual. “There have been some things out there, some small changes in the tap faucets, and some other small changes in beer pumps. But nothing significant besides this type of technology.” Berg has been a manufacturer of liquor dispensers, beer equipment and beverage dispensing systems for the hospitality industry for over 30 years.
“The latest in beer system technology is the fast-fill devices that have hit the market in the last couple of years,” says Dollar, whose company markets one. Berg’s sister company, Dispensing Systems, has a nearly two-year-old product called a Mega-Tap that controls foaming by basically filling a glass from the bottom up. “In a typical keg we can get in excess of 98 percent yield, where the industry average is around 75 to 80 percent.”
As Dollar explains, “We do two things: we deliver the beer to the bottom of the glass so that we can fill the glass very rapidly. We also use a pretty complex chamber that actually processes foam, and keeps it from not ending up in your cup.”
BOTTOM LINE GAINS
Such a system can add “quite a bit” to operators’ bottom line, adds Dollar. “You’re adding approximately 20 percent more yield on a keg. There are 1,984 ounces of beer in a typical keg. If you consider that you’re wasting, on average, 20 to 25 percent and that we can reduce that to less than 2 percent waste, that’s a substantial savings.” The system is also able to dispense into glasses at the rate of a pint within two seconds. Typically, he says, a pint would take from 12 to 14 seconds out of a standard faucet.
Derrick Gordy, business manager for Fizz Dispense Optimization Group in Adairsville, GA, says the industry is “still developing that trend of improved draft quality and diversification of draft offerings. I don’t know if you’d call it a great [improvement], but it seems like we’re doing a better job of it every day as time goes by.”
Increasingly, Gordy says, Americans look at drinking draft beer as a sampling experience. “They’re looking for something they don’t have at home, something they can’t get in the grocery or liquor store. Demand, I think, has driven this kind of variety. There are a lot of regional brewers, and the ones that don’t have the high quality have fallen by the wayside in the last few years.”
Changes Gordy has seen over the last couple of years have been on the dispensing side. “Brewers have been brewing good beer for years here in the U.S. The pursuit now to dispense it and get it to the customer at that same level of quality is still probably in its early stages. The focus is on how to do things properly. But we’re still a little bit on the uphill slope.”
According to Gordy, foamy beer wastes an average of 15 percent, or $10.50 per keg. At the rate of 25 kegs per month, that’s $263. Flat beer, he adds, wastes an average of 10 percent, or $7 per keg — to $175 per month at the same 25-keg rate.
The basic idea is to ease the movement of draft beer from the kegs stocked in the back of the restaurant (for ease in deliveries) to bars, especially those in remote locations, such as dance floors. Now, operators can push beer nearly any distance they need to. “You’re not limited by the length of run, or by having these short little boxes under-bar,” Gordy says.
“Our technology is not a full-on system, but a retrofit technology,” says Matthew Younkle, president and chief technology officer of Laminar Technologies in Chicago and the inventor of its TurboTap product. It’s a nozzle, effectively, that attaches to existing beer systems and allows the retailer to pour beer more consistently and, if they choose, more quickly.
“Our nozzle fills glasses or pitchers from the bottom up,” Younkle points out. “It doesn’t always extend to the bottom of the cup or pitcher, but we like to get down there.” Being “down there” accomplishes a couple of things, including removing a lot of trial-and-error pouring. “The way beer systems work nowadays, and the way you pour beer, there are literally a thousand different ways you can hold and tilt the cup. There are a lot of great bartenders out there, but there are also a lot of bartenders who are a little scared of draft beer.”
Laminar’s technology “really makes it as simple as ‘one, two, three’ in terms of how you position the cup, by moving the nozzle right to the center of the bottom of the cup. Opening and closing the tap is still accomplished the same way; it’s still the same draft handle. But by pouring from the bottom up and doing some other things within the nozzle from a fluid-flow standpoint, we can achieve a lot of consistency and also provide the option to pour beer a lot faster,” Younkle says.
“Most places will see a yield of 80 to 85 percent of a barrel, meaning that’s how much beer they’re selling out of a keg,” he says. “The numbers that we’ve been getting have been between 95 percent and closer to 100 percent, again because we’re pouring from the bottom up. That can translate into 10 or 20 extra servings sold per keg. If you save $4 or $5 per beer, that’s $40 to $80 in additional revenue per keg.”
Younkle says he feels that general improvement in beer systems are needed “just with respect to controls. Temperature is always one of the big headaches with respect to draft beer, and I think that the control systems for temperature probably need to be improved.”
Online Draft Training
Last August, Norwalk, CT-based InBev USA debuted its Online Beer Training Course for on-premise, an interactive web-based educational program at www.inbevtraining.com. The course is aimed at educating on-premise staff from any computer, work or home, turning them into “beer ambassadors” after completing the course and passing a test.
InBev USA is a top supplier of imported draught beer to bars and restaurants, with brands including Beck’s, Stella Artois and Bass.
Shawn Schiffer, InBev’s vice president of national accounts, on-premise, said the course was developed by the firm’s own national accounts/on-premise team. The course is “an accessible, understandable, and fun experience providing key beer knowledge and field support to our company’s national accounts team.”
The course is comprised of five modules:
How Beer Is Made. Ensures that students have a good understanding of the brewing process and of beer’s ingredients.
Tasting and Describing Beer. Gives participants the knowledge and confidence to explain food/beverage pairings and educate consumers on imported beer’s complex flavors and styles.
Draught Basics. Teaches “The Perfect Serve” for an imported beer, cleaning a glass, keeping clean beer lines, changing a keg, keeping consistent temperature and dispense pressure, keeping a correct gas blend and more.
Draught Troubleshooting. Provides proper training on how to solve common draught problems now that course participants know the basics and terminology.
Up-selling. Teaches retail on-premise account staff the reasons and methods to “sell up” to provide an increased dollar ring for servers and management while educating consumers.
Tap Into the Right Gas
Among the most recent significant advances in beer technology has been the use of nitrogen and CO2 as a push, or to dispense, gas with draft beer. “Most everyone knows that Guinness requires a blend of nitrogen and carbon dioxide to dispense properly,” says Derrick Gordy, business manager for Fizz Dispense Optimization Group. “But less well known is the fact that all other beers need the correct gas supply as well. Pure, clean carbon dioxide is the gas of choice for these normally carbonated beers, as long as the beer system is set up for it. Draught systems with temperature fluctuations or long runs will require the use of nitrogen/CO2 blends for all beers. But it is very important to understand that the amount of CO2 in the blend is not the same for all beers.”
Fizz Dispense’s compact, wall-mounted Carbo-Draught system obtains nitrogen from ambient air and stores it in a stainless steel storage vessel at 99.8 percent purity. Nitrogen from the supply vessel is then blended with CO2 to provide a specific and consistent gas mixture for dispensing brewery-quality beer. Pure nitrogen is also readily available for dispensing and preserving wine.
“Guinness gas contains much less CO2 than is needed for non-nitrogenated beers,” Gordy notes. Thus, most establishments require at least two different blends, one for Guinness and one for normally carbonated beers where the nitrogen just provides some extra pressure to keep the beer in balance. In a system with the proper gas applied to the keg, beer on tap for weeks should pour as well as it does the day it was tapped. –HR
Keeping Beer Systems Clean
Curt Dollar, president of the Berg Company, says it’s “absolutely important” for restaurant and bar operators to keep their beer systems both clean and balanced, so that the pressure set on the beer regulator gauge will be equal to the calculated pounds of resistance from the keg connector to the faucet.
“In so many establishments you walk into, you see people just pouring a lot of beer down the drain because they cannot get their beer systems to operate properly,” Dollar points out. “It really comes down to a combination of pressure and temperature, and getting those lines balanced.” Even if an operator opts to stay with the traditional faucet that is most commonly in use today, he adds, “just balancing the system and keeping it clean will get them quite a bit.”
Century Beer Systems.
Regardless of the system in use, Derrick Gordy, business manager for Fizz Dispense Optimization Group, believes operators should consider themselves accountable for maintenance. “Have the knowledge you need to at least audit your draft system. When push comes to shove, it’s really your dollars that are going out the door. I never like to point and say, ‘Well, the beer distributor or the maintenance person needs to take care of it.’ It’s not practical for bar managers to actually be doing the work themselves, and I realize that, but they need to know what’s being done well and what’s not.”
“Another requirement in the beer industry is that in some states, like Massachusetts, they make you clean the line twice a week,” says Jim Willenbecher, a retired electronic systems engineering consultant and the founder of equipment supplier KegMan, a division of Crossfire Engineering Inc., a small family-owned firm providing equipment for serving draft beer, soda and seltzer in bars, pubs, restaurants and taverns. “In New York, Connecticut and most other places, it’s once a week. It’s extremely difficult to get people to do that. That’s why an awful lot of our sales lately have been in the cleaning equipment we sell directly to the bar or tavern owner. He installs it in his system and has one of his employees do it every week.
“There is a lot of talk about stainless steel for use in draft beer systems,” says Willenbecher. “This is now the law for all establishments serving low-pH liquids to the public, like beer, wine, soda and seltzer.”
The Perlick Corporation recently introduced its Century Beer System, which features all NSF-approved components. Less than a year ago, it debuted a new sanitary sampling valve designed for applications with higher requirements for sanitation and a much higher pressure rating of 150 PSIG. The Milwaukee-based company, founded in 1917, makes and markets bar and beverage dispensing equipment to restaurant chains, hotels, stadiums, theme parks and breweries worldwide.
As Willenbecher states on his web site, brass, chrome-plated brass and nickel-plated brass have “been used for more years than the lawmakers have been alive. If you are a publican or bar manager you must comply and rid your draft system of all not stainless steel metal parts from the coupler, tailpieces, nipples, splicers, wall brackets, splicers, FOBs, “Y” fittings, shut offs, shanks and faucets.”
The FDA, he warns, will start inspections as soon as cost effective system analyzers become available. “Until then, you have a chance to get your systems into compliance,” Willenbecher continues. “All retail servers of beer, wine, soda and seltzer must comply with FDA Regulation 4.101.14, along with state and local regulations which prohibit serving beer, wine, seltzer and soda to the public with any copper or brass component in the storage or delivery system. This will be enforced first in California, Connecticut, Nevada and Wisconsin in late 2005 and later in remaining states.” –HR