Above: Cleanliness of glassware is a priority at Yard House locations for good reason. Glasses washed along with dishes can retain food oils that break down a beer’s head.
Draft beer is a great profit point. It delivers lower cost of materials per unit than bottled beer, requires less space for storage, generates no trash to dispose of and imparts the tangible — and invaluable — feel of freshness. But one bad night of foaming taps can smash your margins, and sub-standard line-cleaning practices can turn away customers who may never tell you why. Cutting out poor draft management practices that lead to waste can net more profit with every pint, and you won’t have to raise prices in a shaky economy. Here’s how.
“We do several things to keep it economical and get more bang for the buck,” says Kip Snider, director of beverage for Yard House, a 21-store chain headquartered in Irvine, Calif., known for its 100-plus tap offerings. “How clean is your glassware?” Snider asks. “If your glasses go through the same machines the dishes do, oils from the food might stick to the glass. If you pour beer in there, the head will break down in seconds.”
So, how is that a loss? Every beer should have at least half an inch of foam, and not just for show.
“The proper amount of head on the glass or the pitcher looks better and releases the aromas better,” Snider explains, “but it also cuts down on pour loss. You can fill the glass to the rim, but you’ll spill beer serving it. You won’t spill on the way to the table if you’ve got foam on the top.”
(L) Breaking bad pouring habits to make sure all beers have a healthy head is part of the profit plan at Standard Tap in Philadelphia. (R) Kip Snider, director of beverage at Yard House ensures all staff are trained to pour correctly.
Foam on the glass is just part of proper pouring practices. Take a moment and watch your bartenders pour a draft.
“Some of the guys who’ve been in the biz for years have terrible habits,” says William Reed, partner in Standard Tap and Johnny Brenda’s, noted draft-only beer bars in Philadelphia. “They’ll turn the tap on, and then put the glass under it. Or they’ll pour a beautiful beer and then dump the head off and put another head on it. It’s a habit; they don’t even know they’re doing it. You’ve got to master it.”
What Reed means is that you, the owner or manager, have to master the art of the perfect draft pour. Decide on best practices and train your staff. Don’t just train in off hours, either.
“There’s an opportunity to train every time they pour,” Snider says. “Are they pouring like it’s Friday night happy hour on Saturday afternoon? If they’re wasting beer when they’ve only got six or seven people at the bar, I’ll train. We have pouring training for our management staff as well.”
Pimp Your Temp
Trained staff can’t help if your beer’s warm. Mike Dickson has been the bar manager for 20 years at the Great Lost Bear, the landmark beer bar in Portland, Maine. There are lots of factors that contribute to smooth-pouring beer, he notes, but “beer temperature would have to be the most important. Our target temperature in the walk-in is 38 degrees, and no more than 39 to 40 at the faucet. Any fluctuation in temperature will distort flavor, create foamy beer and waste money.”
If beer warms anywhere between the keg and the tap, gas will break out of solution. If you’ve got long lines, you’ve got to keep them cold, or your beer will foam too much to allow smooth pouring. Cooling options include using forced air from the cold box or utilizing a separate glycol cooling line in each beer line bundle. Reed saves a lot on cooling costs with a piece of dairy equipment, a Mueller Fre-Heater. Instead of the cold box compressor venting hot air into the basement, the hot coolant runs to the Fre-Heater and pre-heats water flowing to the water heater.
“Your compressor runs more efficiently,” Reed says of the equipment, “and it takes a big load off your water heater. There’s nothing we’ve ever done that’s paid itself off as quickly. And there are no moving parts.”
Energy’s a big cost concern, but beer gas is another cost point to watch. Go to bulk gas, advises Casey Hard, who manages 79 different beers on 144 spigots at Max’s on Broadway in Baltimore.
“You get more bang for your buck, and you get better head,” he promises. “You don’t have to stop to change tanks. Hooking up new kegs, you get about half a pitcher of waste, instead of three.”
When kegs kick, they’ll fill your lines with foam, and that means more wasted beer. Stop it with foam-on-beer detectors (FOBs), neat little mechanical devices that shut off the flow as soon as the keg runs out, leaving your line filled with beer, not foam.
“They’re invaluable,” Reed says, “especially if you have long runs or multiple taps on single kegs. If you think about how much foam would fill those lines every time a keg kicked, that’s insane.”
One more gas tip: don’t run everything on “Guinness gas,” Hard says; it makes other beers taste flat and flabby.
“You need the right blend of gas. We have separate blends for our nitro beers, our regular beers and our Belgian beers. We try to give a little more head on the Belgians.”
Down the Line
Don’t neglect the inside of the lines, either. Clean them regularly. Snider’s team cleans Yard House lines every 28 days and washes faucets every week.
“We’ve got a BLM system (that directs complex sound waves through the beer lines). It puts constant motion in the line, so the beer never sits still. Beerstone [a scale of calcium oxalate (C2CaO4) that can occur in tanks, kegs and other metal components used to brew or store beer] can’t get started, and the line stays open,” Snider attests. “We also run fresh water through the line after every keg is changed and then we push the water out with fresh beer.”
Behind every great draft bar is a killer keg room, like this one at a Yard House location.
Regular cleaning, Great Lost Bear’s Dickson says, “pays off in the preventative maintenance area. During the cleaning we also inspect the lines, gaskets, clamps, etc., for wear, tear and damage and replace or repair, saving time down the road when you are busy behind the bar and do not have time to repair or replace.”
What about personnel-generated losses, such as free-pouring or “shrinkage?” Two solutions to implement are flow meters and smart policy.
“I don’t use flow meters,” says Hard of Max’s on Broadway. “It’s about people. My shortest tenure of a bartender is six years. It’s a training issue.”
Flowmeters are “a great scarecrow,” says Jaime Jurado, director of brewing operations for Gambrinus Co., the San Antonio, Texas outfit that owns several craft breweries, and an expert on draft systems. “Once the staff knows they’re there, the shrinkage drops down,” he says.
Jurado advises downloading the new comprehensive draft guide put together by the Brewers Association (www.beertown.org) for free. It represents the best thinking, he says, from craft and large brewers to help serve the best draft beer, with coverage of the basics on cleaning, gas pressures and mixes, temperatures and pouring. Sounds like a great source for making the most of your profits on delicious draft beer. Pour on. NCB
Lew Bryson is an award-winning, beer-drinking, whiskey-sipping, brewery-visiting, cask-tapping, thirst-creating drinks writer based in Philadelphia. Visit him at www.lewbryson.com.