Types of Draft Beer Systems: Your Ultimate Setup for a Perfect Draft

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In the world of draft beer, dispensing the perfect pint is an art form influenced by the choice of dispensing system. My research reveals a draft system for every setting, from intimate pubs to large stadiums, each designed to deliver beer at its best.

For those handling or serving draft beer, it’s essential to grasp the nuances of the three main types: direct draw, air-cooled, and glycol-cooled systems. Direct draw systems are ideal for smaller venues, tapping straight from a nearby keg, while long-draw systems—air-cooled or glycol-cooled—suit larger venues with distant kegs, using advanced cooling to maintain beer quality.

I aim to provide a clear overview of 3 types of draft beer systems, their workings, and their fit for various environments. This knowledge helps stakeholders enhance the beer-drinking experience and streamline their operations.

Exploring the 3 Types of Draft Beer Systems and Their Functionality

When planning to install or update a draft beer system in your establishment, understanding the types of draft beer systems is crucial for choosing the right one for your needs and your beer.

Each aims to consistently serve the perfect pint by ensuring a balanced, temperature-regulated flow from keg to faucet. However, the setup, cost, and specific components of each system differ to achieve this standard.

Operation of Glycol Cooled Beer Systems

The glycol-cooled draft beer system stands out as a highly favored choice, particularly for long-draw setups extending 25 feet or more. Its efficiency in preserving a cold temperature makes it ideal for delivering chilled beer over long distances.

Within this system, the keg beer is cooled by the walk-in cooler’s cold air, while the beer lines, tower, and faucets are chilled by a continuous glycol flow. This flow ensures that the beer’s cold temperature is consistently transferred from the cooler to the dispensing tower.

Though highly effective, the glycol-cooled system is the most costly among the three primary draft beer system options.

Essential Elements of a Glycol Cooled Draft Beer System

Glycol Power Pack:

  • Compressor for refrigeration
  • Evaporator fan to disperse cold air
  • Thermostat for temperature control
  • Glycol reservoir equipped with a coil or plate chiller for coolant circulation
  • Supply and return lines for consistent glycol flow
  • Insulated glycol trunk lines to maintain temperature


  • Insulated beer lines within the trunk

Beer Tower:

  • Tap faucet(s) for dispensing
  • Drip tray to catch spills
Glycol Cooled Draft Beer System

Functioning of a Glycol System

In a glycol draft beer system, an insulated trunk line encases both the beer and glycol cooling lines, ensuring the beer remains chilled.

These lines are assembled in a factory setting, where beer and glycol lines are bundled together with a vapor barrier, foil tape, and insulation, sometimes with an additional protective jacket. The construction allows for direct contact between the beer and coolant lines along the entire length of the trunk, which can extend up to 1,000 feet.

The glycol power pack’s main role is to cool and circulate glycol from the cooler to the tap and back again for re-cooling.

Maintained at temperatures from 28F to 34F by an adjustable thermostat, the glycol is propelled by a pump from the power pack into the supply line, traveling alongside the beer lines, ascending through the tower next to the taps, and returning via the glycol line to the power pack.

This cycle of recirculation ensures that the glycol—and consequently the beer—is consistently kept at the ideal serving temperature.

Effectiveness of Glycol Cooled Systems

The effectiveness of glycol-cooled systems lies in their ability to maintain cold temperatures in long-draw beer dispensing setups consistently. I’ve observed that these systems utilize a mixture of propylene glycol and water that works with a refrigeration unit, known as a glycol chiller or power pack. The chilled glycol solution circulates through insulated trunk lines alongside the beer lines, preventing any temperature increase that could lead to foaming or flavor alteration.

glycol be used in Beer Cooling System

Recommendations for Optimal Use

For optimal use of a glycol-cooled beer system, I recommend maintaining a mix of glycol and water at the manufacturer-specified ratio and keeping the glycol chiller at its ideal set temperature. It’s crucial to monitor the system closely for potential issues such as leaks or kinks in the lines.

Regular maintenance and inspections are imperative to ensure that the beer remains at the premium cold temperature that these systems are lauded for. Maintaining clean lines and promptly addressing any glycol level changes or temperature fluctuations are also part of the best practices for operation.

Air Cooled Beer System: The Alternative Approach

Air-cooled draft systems rely on the circulation of cold air to maintain the beer’s temperature from the walk-in cooler, through the beer lines, and all the way to the tap. This straightforward approach uses forced air to keep the draft lines cool, and it was the standard method before glycol systems were introduced. Although it’s an older technology, air-cooled systems remain a practical and more affordable alternative to glycol systems, particularly for short-draw setups.

These systems are cost-effective, making them an excellent choice for beer aficionados or small restaurant owners looking to implement draft beer options without a significant investment.

Essential Components of an Air-Cooled System

When discussing air-cooled draft beer systems, I highlight technology primarily used in shorter runs, where the keg is relatively close to the tap. The fundamental parts of this system ensure the beer remains chilled from the keg to the point of dispense.

  • Keg: The starting point where the beer is stored under pressure. It’s paramount that the keg is kept at the correct temperature to maintain the beer’s integrity.
  • CO2 Tank: Supplies carbon dioxide to pressurize the keg and push the beer through the lines.
  • Refrigerated Cabinet: Also known as a kegerator, I store my keg to keep it cold.
  • Air Cooled Lines: These are insulated to keep the beer at the right temperature on its journey from keg to tap.

A typical single-duct system, as mentioned in KegWorks’ guide, includes:

DuctTransports cold air to maintain temperature
FaucetThe dispense point for the beer
TowerHouses the tap, chill plate, and faucets

My setup ensures constant refrigeration, which a double-duct system might further bolster by having separate ducts for supply and return air. Using an efficient, well-insulated system prevents the beer from warming up, which is crucial for preserving the beer’s optimal flavor and carbonation levels.

Lastly, it’s important to regularly maintain the air-cooled system to prevent any blockage in the lines or malfunctioning components that could affect the beer’s quality.

Air Cooled Beer System

Functionality of Air Cooled Beer Systems

Air-cooled beer systems effectively manage the temperature of draft beer from keg to tap. Let’s look at specific system designs and maintenance strategies.

  • Exploring Single Duct Systems

Single duct systems use a single path of cold air that encompasses the beer lines all the way to the faucet. My experience tells me that these systems are suitable for shorter distances since the cooling capacity can diminish over long runs. They maintain the cold chain by replacing warm air in the duct with cold air from the refrigeration unit.

  • Understanding Dual Duct Systems

In contrast, dual duct systems employ two separate ducts: one for sending cold air out and another for returning the warm air to the cooler. My analysis of these setups shows they are more efficient for longer runs, as they can maintain a more consistent temperature by creating a looped airflow.

  • Evaluating the Efficiency of Forced Air Systems

When I evaluate the efficiency of forced air systems, I focus on their capacity to keep beer at a steady temperature during dispense. The use of insulated tubing and well-sealed towers is pivotal, as demonstrated by air-cooled systems emphasizing proper insulation’s effectiveness in preventing temperature fluctuations.

Air Cooled Beer System

Tips for Air Cooled System Maintenance

Maintaining air-cooled systems requires regular check-ups. I advise:

  • Checking insulation integrity periodically
  • Ensuring there are no obstructions in the airflow
  • Verifying fan functionality for optimal airflow
  • Cleaning the ducts annually to avoid build-up that can inhibit air flow

By following these steps, a long-lasting and reliable performance can be maintained.

Direct Draw Beer System: The Compact Solution

In my experience, a direct-draw beer system is ideal for venues with limited space. Its compact design makes it suitable for efficiently serving draft beer, especially in smaller bars, restaurants, and personal home bars. I’ve seen many use refrigeration units, which store one or more kegs of beer, while maintaining optimum temperatures, typically around 38° F—critical for preserving a draft beer’s quality.

When installing this system, I focus on a few essential components:

  • Kegerator: The kegerator, a combination of a keg and a refrigerator, is perhaps the most familiar form of a direct draw system. It is self-contained, easy to use, and fits snugly even in tight spaces.
  • CO2 Tank: Carbon dioxide is used to propel and maintain the beer’s carbonation level, which should align with the brewer’s specifications.
  • Faucet: I ensure that the faucet is of good quality for a consistent pour.
  • Lines and Couplers: The beer lines and couplers must be well-maintained to prevent any flavor changes or foaming issues.

Temperature, pressure, and cleanliness are the trifecta of a well-functioning direct draw system. I make sure the applied gas pressure gauge (PSIG) is set accurately to propel the beer while maintaining its carbonation. Referencing the brewer’s CO2 volume recommendations is crucial in this regard.

This system type has always proven reliable and user-friendly for establishments looking to serve their patrons the perfect pint. It reduces the complexity and maintenance associated with more extensive draft systems, making it a go-to option for many clients.

Elements of a Direct Draw Beer System

When I consider the elements of a direct draw beer system, I’m referring to the most common setup used for dispensing draft beer across short distances. I typically find this in a kegerator at a pub or bar. The key components of this system include the following:

Draft Beer System Direct Draw
  • Keg: Stores the beer and is usually made of stainless steel.
  • CO2 or Beer Gas Tank: Contains carbon dioxide or a blend of nitrogen and CO2 to push the beer out of the keg.
  • Coupler: Attaches to the keg to allow the gas in and the beer out.
  • Beer Line: Transports the beer from the keg to the faucet.
  • Refrigeration: Keeps the keg at an ideal temperature, usually around 38° F.
  • Faucet: Where the beer is dispensed.

Here’s a brief outline of these components:

KegThe beer’s storage container
CO2 or Beer Gas TankProvides pressure to dispense beer
CouplerConnects the tank to the keg
Beer LineConveys beer to the faucet
RefrigerationMaintains proper beer temperature
FaucetThe endpoint for dispensing beer

I must emphasize that each element is crucial for the system’s overall performance. The coupler’s design varies depending on the keg type, while the beer line needs regular cleaning to prevent any buildup that might alter the beer’s taste. Effective refrigeration is vital; it ensures serving the beer at the right temperature, which is essential for maintaining its flavor profile. If any of these parts fails, it can affect the entire system, leading to a potential loss in beer quality.

How Direct Draw Systems Operate

Direct draw systems are essential for establishments looking to serve beer straight from the keg with minimal distance or complexity. I’ll explain how these systems work, covering their key configurations and maintenance essentials.

  • Kegerator: Integrated Keg Storage and Dispensing

I find kegerators to be an excellent option for those with limited space or lower volume requirements. These refrigerated cabinets contain the keg and cooling system in one unit, allowing beer to be dispensed directly through a tap on the top or the side. The function of a kegerator is quite straightforward, ensuring the beer stays at the optimal temperature until it’s served.

  • Implementing a Walk-in Cooler System

For higher volume needs, I may recommend a walk-in cooler system. This involves placing kegs in a large refrigerated room and running a line to the tap. The beauty of a walk-in cooler is that it can house multiple kegs at a consistent temperature, which is ideal for bars with a wide selection of draft beers.

  • Assessing the Performance of Direct Draw Systems

When assessing the performance of these systems, I consider factors like beer freshness, temperature consistency, and foam control. For enthusiasts who want to delve into the technical specifics, discovering how each component, from the CO2 regulator to the keg coupler, affects the output can help in keeping the system operating efficiently.

  • Guidance for Direct Draw System Care

Proper care of direct draw systems is crucial for maintaining beer quality. I routinely clean the lines, taps, and other components to prevent beer spoilage and off-flavors. Furthermore, regular inspection and maintenance of the refrigeration unit are essential to avoid any interruptions in service.

pouring draft beer from tap

Selecting the Ideal Draft Beer System

When I choose a draft beer system for a bar, restaurant, or home, I consider several critical factors to ensure a perfect pour every time. The primary systems are remote glycol cooled, air-cooled, and direct draw. Each has its benefits depending on the setup and requirements of the venue.

  • Remote Glycol Cooled Systems
    Ideal for: Large venues with long beer lines Pros: Cons: Consistent temperature over long distances More complex installation High capacity Higher cost
  • Air-Cooled Systems
    Ideal for: Smaller venues with short beer lines Pros: Cons: Simpler to install and maintain Limited to shorter runs (~25 feet) Cost-effective for small setups Temperature can fluctuate more easily
  • Direct Draw Systems
    Ideal for: Very small venues or home bars right next to or on top of the cooler Pros: Cons: Simplest and most economical Limited capacity Short draw distance keeps beer fresh Not suitable for larger establishments

My considerations always include the length and complexity of the beer lines, the variety of beers being served, and the frequency of service. It’s critical to keep the draft beer system consistently temperature-controlled to avoid issues like foaming or off flavors. Maintenance demands, such as line cleaning, are also essential—a well-maintained system ensures the longevity of equipment and the quality of the beer. Thus, I always balance functionality, capacity, and cost to find the best fit.

Celebrating Knowledge on Draft Beer System Choices

As a professional with an appreciation for draft beer systems, I recognize the importance of understanding the various options available. Draft beer systems are vital for serving the freshest beer with optimal taste.

Long-draw systems, like the Glycol Cooled Remote Beer System, are perfect for settings where the tap needs to be far from the kegs. The glycol cooling maintains the beer’s chill throughout lengthy lines.

  • Direct-draw systems involve kegs stored directly below the taps, typically in a refrigerated kegerator. They’re suitable for compact spaces or lower volume settings.

My pursuit of draft beer system knowledge also involves a nuanced grasp of the components that make these systems function.

  • CO2 and nitrogen tanks
  • Regulators
  • Air and beer lines
  • Keg couplers
  • Draft beer towers

The equipment, like CO2 cylinders and regulators, ensures beer is dispensed at the perfect pressure and temperature.

When I design a draft beer system, I also consider the types of beer to be served. Different beers may require specific serving pressures or mixtures of CO2 and nitrogen gases to maintain the intended flavor and carbonation level.

In sum, my expertise in draft beer systems allows me to confidently choose and recommend the right system for any establishment, matching each unique need with a tailored solution.


In my exploration of draft beer systems, I’ve highlighted the essential aspects to consider when choosing the right system for your needs. We have looked at three primary systems: remote glycol-cooled, air-cooled, and direct draw. Each of these systems caters to different needs—whether it’s for a large-scale bar or a home setup.

The costs can vary, with a professional draft beer system setup ranging between $5,000 to $12,000. I can’t stress enough the importance of maintaining these systems. Routine maintenance ensures optimal performance and quality.

Temperature control is crucial; 38 degrees is the magic number for dispensing beer to reduce the risk of foaming and maintain flavor quality. Different dispensing methods, like air cooled systems, are suitable for shorter runs, while remote glycol systems are designed for longer beer line runs.

Read this article How to know if your glassware is beer clean? for more information about cleaning beer glassware.

My findings are clear: investing in the right draft beer system and engaging in periodic maintenance are essential for delivering that perfect pint. I aim to provide you with the information necessary to make an informed decision. Remember, a great draft system is not just about the initial setup; it’s about the fine-tuning that comes with understanding the specificities of your establishment and your beer.

Patricia Beasley, an ardent lover of beer and wine, dives deep into the world of brewing and winemaking. She shares her discoveries and insights with fellow enthusiasts. Join her as she explores the rich stories, flavors, and trends of these beloved beverages, delivering a blend of knowledge and passion in every post.

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