Back to Basics: Going extra cold

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Related tags: Temperature, Cooler

Serving cold beer has become just as important for pubs as providing a warm welcome.Over the past few years extra cold and super-chilled lagers have...

Serving cold beer has become just as important for pubs as providing a warm welcome.

Over the past few years extra cold and super-chilled lagers have proliferated, undoubtedly giving customers what they want but also causing licensees additional headaches.

Attractive condensing fonts have not only improved sales but also added to the demand, while brewers continue to work on additional brand innovations for extra cold products.Innserve, the UK's largest independent cellar services company, calculates that the extra cold revolution has already increased demand on cooling equipment by about 28 per cent for the typical pub or bar. As the world gets hotter and the beer gets colder that figure can only increase.

When extra cold lager first hit in the UK in the early part of this century the solution was the installation of secondary cooling devices such as shelf coolers and 'pods' under bars, near the point of dispense.

This equipment reduces the temperature from about 6ºC to between 2ºC and 4ºC at the tap and has been successful when the number of brands involved is limited. Now Innserve believes the time has come to review this solution - and, interestingly, it won't be the first time.Shelf coolers first appeared in the late 1960s and early 1970s with the UK's orginal keg lagers. As the lager market increased, so did the number of shelf coolers until there was no space left and too much heat was being generated behind the bar. Under-bar coolers

So brewers started to install cellar or 'remote' coolers which brought the temperature of lager down from 12ºC in the cellar to 6ºC at the bar. Now it seems the same thing is happening again.

For Innserve, under-bar coolers have done an excellent job in bringing extra-cold products to market. But the time has come to return cooling to the cellar and it has been working with brewers, equipment manufacturers, and retailers to find new solutions.

There are already plenty of ideas out there, of course. Innserve is aware of at least six different solutions currently running in pubs. Systems using glycol, the anti-freeze chemical, is one, and is sometimes considered a cure-all. But it has problems of its own and Innserve is worried that equipment manufacturers are often willing to sell equipment to pubs without highlighting the maintenance and total cost implications (see box, right).

"We are not against glycol in principle but we believe it's possible to achieve extra cold temperatures using the standard remote ice bank coolers currently in use in most pubs," explains Julie Charge, commercial director at Innserve. The company has spent the past two years on the problem and is currently testing a range of cellar cooling solutions in the trade. Ice bank

The trick is to get extra cold beer while minimising the cost of buying and maintaining equipment, energy usage and disruption to trade through breakdown.

In effect, Innserve is looking for a return to the 'ice bank' technology that has been used for three decades and, it believes, has advantages over glycol.

This produces a 'bank' of cold energy which can be built up during slow periods or overnight, often using cheap electricity, that can then be used during peak trading. And you don't have to turn the cooler off to clean lines.

"Most importantly, modifications can be made to provide extra-cold beer without needing additional equipment under the bar, meaning that a new glycol cooler is not always necessary," says Julie. "We are currently nearing consensus on these solutions within the industry."

Meanwhile, bear in mind that every cellar is different, as is every pub. So if you want it extra cold, make sure you've considered all of the issues and seek expert impartial advice first, before you make any large investment.

Should you go for Glycol?

Licensees should consider the following questions when investing in an extra-cold solution.

How much will it cost?

Glycol installations can cost at least twice as much as traditional cooling systems. You will probably have to replace the python to ensure against condensation and achieve the full capacity of the glycol system. A new glycol system may require its own electrical supply which adds to the installation planning and cost. Rather than replacing the whole system, a simple rethink or redesign of the existing cellar cooling system can often be enough.

Who will maintain it and how?

Refrigeration engineers are more likely to be needed for some glycol systems and their costs per hour can often be twice as much as your normal dispense equipment engineers. Response times in getting to a job and being able to fix it quickly are often significantly longer, too. If the equipment is not provided by the brewer it is unlikely to provide maintenance cover.

Hybrid solutions in which the retailer owns some of the assets with a service arrangement and the brewer owns the rest, can cause confusion. Who is responsible when something goes wrong? It's not a situation that the licensee wants to find themselves facing at peak trading time!

What will the running costs be compared to a normal cellar cooler?

The engine in a glycol system can be three to four times the size of a traditional cellar or ice bank cooler. However, glycol coolers can have better conduction that can partially offset the engine size. Just make sure you understand the potential running costs before investing.

How will my operation change?

Glycol coolers have to be turned off while line cleaning takes place as they operate at lower temperatures. If you forget to turn the cooler off a large beer lollipop is formed in your cooler that can take hours to melt.

Responsibility and liability

Equipment supplied by the brewer is its responsibility. Buying your own system may work for you but remember the responsibilities and costs involved.

The brewers have a system for buying and selling ice-bank coolers in situ when ownership changes, which helps keep costs, wastage and disruption to a minimum.

However, this is not available for glycol systems and can leave the seller with a difficult negotiation to navigate.

Legislation on refrigerant gases - known as F-gas regulation - is due imminently. Many large glycol units will be affected by this legislation and it will place increased burdens on the operator.

Problems with secondary cooling devices

Space

Pods and shelf coolers take up space normally used for other important things such as glasses and snacks. This issue is often compounded by the complex plumbing required to take beer into, and out of, the additional cooling devices.

Heat

While cooling pods do not affect the ambient temperature, most shelf coolers kick out heat and barstaff hate this when they are getting hot enough anyway serving customers during busy sessions.

Brand changing

Shelf coolers and pods are not generally 'traded' between brewers when a pub switches brands. This means someone has to come in and remove one cooler and replace it with much the same cooler from a different brewer.

Capacity

There is a limit to how many devices can be fitted - usually between two and five per cellar cooler.

Disruption

More equipment means more things to go wrong, causing disruption to trade.

Condensation

More equipment carrying cold liquid risks more condensation and water dripping under the bar.

Related topics: Beer

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