Beer Dispensing 101

by Steve Lonsway

Beer delivery is essential! As cool as it would be to have your favorite libation brought fresh from your local brewery to your doorstep, it is currently illegal in the state of Wisconsin. So, let’s focus on how your beer is delivered to your glass from the keg or tank.  

Several contributing factors will determine how best this task can be achieved. For this article we will focus on the basics of draught (draft) beer systems, rather than the science behind it all.  

One of the most important factors will be the distance from the keg to the faucet. This important data point needs to include any elevation changes along the way. At Stone Arch Brewpub, the beer comes from a cooler which is located above the bar. Gravity aids the beer’s trip downwards to the faucet. It is the exact opposite in many local bars. In these scenarios, the beers come from a basement cooler and thus the need to counter the effect of gravity.   

Another key ingredient to tap beer success is temperature. Beer systems are designed to maintain the cold temperature of the beer from the source to the faucet. They are not designed to take a warm beer and make it cold. Although these types of systems do exist, they go against every belief a brew master has and won’t be considered a viable option.

Volumes of carbon dioxide in the beer is very important. Not only do you need to make sure the beer is fed adequate pressure to maintain the intended carbonation, but the beer system requires its own pressures. If this sounds like a balancing act, that is exactly what it is! Beer system installers require intense training and diligent attention to details.

To summarize, start off with a cold room for your beer to reside and then apply enough pressure to your keg or tank to maintain the desired carbonation level as well as propelling the beer though the lines to the faucet. Make sure that the beer lines are kept cold all the way from source to faucet. Once this is achieved, it is paramount to keep the entire system cleaned and maintained. Bam!! Cold tap beer exactly how your brewer intended!

Let’s break down the different beer systems one might encounter:

CASK CONDITIONED – The brew master transfers the beer into a cask at precise times during the fermentation process, allowing the beer to naturally carbonate. The beer is drawn from the keg with gravity to the glass or pulled through the lines by a beer engine. 

KEG DRAW – Think college parties and red solo cups.

DIRECT DRAW – The faucets and lines are mounted directly into the cooler wall or ceiling. Think tap trailer and kegerators.

SHORT DRAW – Where the beer travels under 25 feet from the cooler. Often this is a forced air system where the cold air from the cooler is forced through an insulated tube that the beer lines travel through. When that air hits the faucet tower, it has a separate return duct to travel back to the cooler. 

LONG DRAW – This sends beer through lines that are tightly wrapped around glycol lines. The “bundle” is wrapped with a moisture barrier and insulated. The glycol is chilled and pumped through the appropriate lines allowing for complete surface contact.