The Evolution of Draft Systems Improves Service and Increases Profit
Draft system innovations provide an opportunity for us to outperform our competitors," says L. J. Burr, owner of Meg O'Malley's in Melbourne, Fla., explaining that improvements in draft systems themselves make the beer on tap all the more appealing. "You end up with more change in your pocket."
Americans' ever-growing love affair with beer is fueling innovation — not revolutionary change, to be sure, but more gradual improvements, namely in draft systems. "I think the breweries are putting more emphasis on draft beer," says Tom Geordt, technical director for Danish-owned beverage dispensing, packaging and POS equipment manufacturer Micro Matic. "The retailers who are trying to pinch every penny they can out of every dollar are realizing that there is so much more profit in draft beer than there is in cans or bottles." Here's a look at recent developments:
Colder Brew. Certain "cold" technologies are enjoying a warm reception. "One is frozen towers," Geordt says. "Those are towers that accumulate ice on the outside of them. It is basically like a magnet for people. When they walk into a bar, they just focus right on that. It really draws attention. It does not make the beer colder; it is a marketing piece. The frozen towers came from Europe, and we've been seeing a lot of European influence in draft beer here in the States over the last couple of years."
"There are, in fact, a few manufacturers out there that are introducing some sort of ice buildup to show you that it is getting cold," says Pierre Metellius, founder and president of 3PM Design, a Parker, Colo.-based foodservice consulting and equipment design firm, but whether systems actually do lower beer temperature is a subject of argument.
Jesse Rogers, chief operating officer for the Boathouse Rotisserie & Raw Bar in Chattanooga, Tenn., says such systems do, in fact, cool the beer inside. "They wrap the beer lines around it, so it does actually refrigerate the line of the beer," Rogers says. "Normally with a beer system, there is a cooler that keeps it cold, but when it gets in the line it gets warmer. You get foam when it's warm, and a lot of it is wasted because you can't serve it. Instead, it runs down the drain. This counteracts that."
Rinsing and Conditioning. An approach for improving the guest's draft beer experience that Geordt calls "really hot" is using a rinser tray. "It is a spout that is mounted in the drip tray," he explains. "You turn the glass upside down and spray water into the glass before you pour the beer. Basically what that does is condition the glass for beer. It removes impurities from the washing process. Lots of retailers are still stuck on that frozen glass, which is the worst thing you can do to beer. This really helps out."
"I think it pours a better beer," says Burr, who uses the device at Meg O'Malley's. "It rinses the glass so that the head foams up correctly. It gives you a nice smooth pour, and it keeps the head of the beer in check, making a perfect beer every time. And what's wrong with a clean glass?"
Faster Fill. "I know that there are some companies out there experimenting with this rapid-fill technology, where they are filling 10 to 20 pints a minute," reports Greg Deuhs, brewery plant manager for Craft Brewers Alliance Inc. (CBAI), headquartered in Portland, Ore. CBAI's portfolio includes Redhook Ale, Widmer Brothers, Kona and Goose Island. The system that so impressed Deuhs "actually has a glass with a hole in the bottom," he says. "It's got a magnetic flapper. You set a glass on a cylinder, and the beer fills from the bottom up. When you lift a glass up, the magnetic flapper closes it." The system is built for speed, Deuhs says, "because if you fill a glass from the bottom, you have no foam, so you can fill it a lot faster."
Following Flow. "We are looking at flow meters right now," says Matt Gamble, beverage manager for Houston-based Hospitality USA's 17 Sherlock's and 221 Baker Street pubs. "I don't know how new that is, but it's something we are exploring." The reasons for checking out the technology are obvious. "Cost-wise, you can measure down to the exact ounce how much you are pouring, so that you can then compare it to the sales off of your POS system and account for every drop of the beer," Gamble says.
FOB Heads. "Operators should insist on FOB (full on beer, a device that stops the flow of the air as soon as the liquid runs out, and must be reset after changing the keg) tavern heads," says Robert McCann, Beltram Foodservice Group, a supplier of new and used commercial restaurant equipment, kitchen supplies, small wares and furniture based in Tampa, Fla. "This will reduce waste from air being drawn into the beer line and having to pour the beer until it clears excessive foam."
Really Cold Gets Really Hot. "The other thing that's really hot," says Geordt, "and it does piggyback along with the frozen towers, is that lots of retailers are asking us for colder beer." One piece of equipment he has seen "actually takes beer from a cooler at 38 degrees and chills it down to 32 degrees. Again, the larger chains are asking us for colder beer, even though it is not the right thing to do, yet there still is a market demand for it. What we do, for lack of a better term, is run the beer through a plate, and that plate chills the beer down an additional four to six degrees so we are able to hit that 30- to 32-degree mark."
Sure, many beers shouldn't be served as cold as others are, but demand will always exist for the coldest of cold when it comes to certain brews. For instance, some major brands such as Heineken and Coors are putting emphasis on colder beer in response to consumer tastes, and the plate system is an effective tool for operators such as Burr to deliver what patrons crave.
Taps at Tables. "Our average store has about 100 beers on draft," says Bob Campbell, president and co-owner of 27-unit Taco Mac. All but one of the restaurants is in Atlanta. He and his colleagues are working with Atlanta-based Table Tap LLC, whose system permits operators to run a draft system right to each individual table.
"You basically do a long draw system and put two, four or six taps at the table," he explains. "They use a normal long-draw system with the nitrogen mix that runs it underground. Patrons pour their own. The lines are, of course, metered, and there is a card the server uses to activate the tower." "It's something unique," Campbell says of the tabletop taps. "It's as much a novelty as anything else."