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Draft Beer: Are Your Profits Going Up in Foam?

Author: Roger Grimm, AccuBar CEO
Source: www.accubar.com

Draft Beer: Are Your Profits Going Up in Foam?

Draft beer is considered by many beer drinkers to be the ultimate in flavor. The process used to brew beer for kegs is different from bottled/canned beer, and the minimal preservatives used allows the true beer taste to shine through.

Bar operators love draft beer also, and not just because it tastes good. They also like the fact that they can turn a better profit margin on it. But along with the opportunity to prosper, draft beer also brings a whole new set of problems for the bar manager. A few issues that arise:

When will a keg run out? Running out of your keg beer offerings can, of course, be a turnoff to your regulars and will cost you sales. Unfortunately, there is no accurate, cost-effective way to measure how full your keg is, other than the good ol' tilt and shake method. Many operators make the mistake of assuming they will know how their keg beer inventory by subtracting what was sold (otherwise known as the dreaded "theoretical inventory.") Obviously, that approach will not factor in any theft, spillage or overpouring, so you will always have less on hand than you think. (For more on theoretical inventory and its pitfalls, click here.) A good bar manager will know his operation's usage patterns and check his kegs accordingly. It also helps to keep a record of when your kegs are changed out, so you have a feel for how long one has been online.

What is consumption versus sales? To get a pouring cost for your keg beer, you need to know how much has been dispensed. As mentioned above, the only true way to do that is by taking regular inventories, by whatever means.

Bartenders love to give draft beer away to enhance their tips. Many bartenders looking to game the system will use draft beer to do it. That's because of the issues mentioned above: Few operators track draft beer inventory effectively, if at all, and the bartenders know that and take advantage of it.

Kegs don't always get emptied. Suppliers will occasionally pull a keg before it is empty, with the unsold beer coming right off your bottom line. You should monitor your suppliers when they're restocking your kegs to make sure this isn't happening.

Foam = Waste. Transferring a carbonated, pressurized beverage from a cold keg to a tap handle creates several points where foam and waste is likely. Foam is inevitable, but it is also controllable. Some factors that cause beer to foam are:

  1. Warm beer: Beer will freeze at 28 degrees and will foam at 40 degrees or warmer, so your cooler should be set within that range. If possible, keep the traffic in and out of your coolers to a minimum by dedicating them strictly to beer, because having your staff opening the door frequently to get other items will cause temperature fluctuations. If the keg room must be entered frequently, consider installing a plastic strip door inside the cooler entrance to minimize heat transfer.
  2. Warm beer lines: When cold beer hits a warm line, some of it turns to foam. There are systems available for keeping your lines and draft tower cool, and they can pay off in the long run if you sell much draft beer.
  3. CO2 pressure: If your keg pressure is fluctuating or not set correctly, it will cause foaming. Your beer supplier should be able to help you monitor and adjust this.
  4. Clean glassware: Glassware that is not "beer clean" will also cause excessive foaming. There are sanitizing products made especially for beer glassware that should be used to rinse your beer glasses after washing.
  5. Clean equipment: The distributor should clean the lines and tap for you at least twice monthly.
  6. Proper dispensing: Bartenders should dispense the beer correctly to minimize foaming. These methods are pretty commonly known in the industry, so we won't go into them here.
  7. Running dry: Ideally, a keg should be changed while it still has a little beer in it. If you let the line run dry, there will be a lot of foaming when the new keg is attached.
Although operators are increasingly debating whether draft beer is worth the trouble, many others consider it essential to their business. If you're one of those, try some of the tips and techniques above. If you can make them habit, they will surely mean you're selling more of your beer and bleeding less red ink.
Date: December 11th, 2008
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Scott Young, President and Head Instructor Bar Smart Inc.