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How many draught taps should you have?

February 4, 2010

I get asked this more than I care to admit, so I thought I’d write something down.  It’s going to be a long one, so get comfy.


#1: I do a lot of work for a macro-brewery.  My company mission is simple, “Increase draught beer sales volume through quality, education, and certification.” I know most people either sit on the “I prefer Micro” or the “I prefer Macro” side of the beer fence, but I truly don’t care what you drink, as long as it is quality beer. Increasing total draught beer volume, not share, is my mission. Your dollar sales will increase with the same share percentage IF the industry volume grows.  Want to increase profits, grow industry volume.

#2: There is NO scientific data to back my theory below, just 20 years of experience in working in the bar biz, the beer biz, with draught systems, and chatting with many owners, managers, and bartenders from coast to coast.

Glad we got that out of the way!

Almost all data, from software brand sales to favourite ice cream flavours can be basically charted using the same graph.  It looks something like this:

It’s called Zipf’s Law. I was first introduced to it in Seth Godin’s book, The Dip (must read, like all of his stuff is) but he describes it best here.  It basically says there is usually a clear number one.  The difference between number one and three, four, five…is dramatic.   That said, how many draught taps should you have?  Four, six, eight, twelve, twenty? Let’s take a look…

Two – Four taps:

Never install just one tap. It basically costs the same to install and take care of two as it does one. If you put in only 2 lines, you should probably use a direct draw unit.  You can pour four brands out of this unit if you use 20L kegs.  Most, but not all, popular brands are kegged in 20L and the cost per ounce is higher, so consider these factors before deciding. This unit fits behind the bar and is easily installed.  If you pour two lines, then you will need:

  • one craft style brand (note I said “craft-style”, it can be from a micro or macro)
  • one mainstream lager brand

If you chose to add another line, then add a light beer/lower alcohol beer (4%) or a darker craft

If you want to add a fourth line, add an import.

If your monthly beer sales are at least $3k (5 kegs/month), pour two taps.  If your monthly beer sales are at least $6k+ (10 kegs/m)  pour four taps. This brand line-up would fit nicely into a small upper-casual/fine dining establishment.

You should never have more than 1 mainstream, 1 light, 1 dark, 1 import, or 1 strong (6%+) beer on tap if you have four lines.  Pouring Coors Light, Blue Light, Bud Light and Bud is redundant and you are losing sales, guaranteed.  Yes, you do need some mainstream brands as not everyone has yet opened their minds to “full-bodied craft-style” beers. Johnny Budweiser will never just start ordering a McAuslan Oatmeal Stout; not for a few years anyhow. He may order a Big Rock Trad, a Rickard’s Red, or any one of the hundred awesome “lighter” craft style transition beers, but don’t push him too far or too quickly beyond his boundaries.  See the short footnote at the end for more explanation.

Six taps:

If you want 6 taps, you should add one more mainstream OR another craft and a rotating tap. So your line-up looks like this:

  • two craft style brands; pick any two: lighter, medium, or darker/fuller-bodied.
  • a mainstream brand; preferably a lager but could be an ale
  • a light beer or lower alcohol beer (4%)
  • an import
  • a rotating tap

Ah, the rotating tap.  Many talk about it, few do it.  Pick a style that works with the season.  This is not the time to be brewery or brand loyal.  Your number one concern is the style of the beer; brewery loyalty is priority number two.  An easy to understand list of seasonal styles will appear in this blog the next month or so, but stouts and porters in the winter, wheats in the spring, Pilsners in the summer, and Oktoberfests/Browns/IPAs in the fall is an incomplete, very short list to get you started.

It is probably best to get a long draw system for anything more than four lines, where the beer is housed in a walk-in cooler and the beer travels through a trunk line to the bar.  This line-up fits really well in a causal themed/family/low-end sports bar kind of place.  If your monthly beer sales are $15k+ (25 kegs/m), this is you.

Eight Taps:

Notice that this is the highest number of taps?  You will want to have the following:

  • A light craft style
  • a dark style craft
  • a mainstream lager
  • a mainstream ale
  • a light beer (4% or less)
  • an import lager
  • an import (anything but import lager: stout, English ale, cream ale, pale, ale, Pilsner,…)
  • a rotating tap

This eight tap line-up works best for any concept that sells a lot of beer.  If your monthly beer sales are $30k+ (50+kegs/m), this is you.  You could pull out any of the other seven and add in another rotating tap, depending on availability.

Why Is Eight The Maximum?

FRESHNESS: You need to ensure that you are selling at least a keg per month of each brand.  Large domestic kegs are good for 60 days, imports about 180.  By the time they get delivered and then tapped, you need to sell them within a month, generally speaking.  Out of all of the draught system audits we do, past-code kegs are one of the major issues.

LINE CLEANING: You will lose about 3/4 of an ounce per foot when you clean your lines.  Pouring from 20 taps with a walk-in that is 85 feet away will cost you about $2,000 per year in lost beer just from line cleaning.  An 8 tap system will only cost $730. in lost beer.  Also, an 8 tap system will be less work for your line cleaner, so they will charge you less.

BRANDED GLASSES: You need to have branded glasses for each brand.  Yes, you do.  My next post will be on branded glasses, so just trust me for now.  Unless you have a bar with unlimited storage behind it, branded glasses for 20 brands takes up a considerable amount of room.

TRAINING: You staff should know each brand’s style, description, history, and what other brand it is similar to.  It would also be nice if they knew which of your menu items pair best (and why) with each brand.  This is the easiest way to increase sales, by the power of suggestion.

WALK-IN BEER FRIDGE: When designers plan restaurants they try to get the greatest number of seats in the footprint of the space.  This means that the back-of-the-house is typically cramped and smaller than it should be.  When it comes to the beer fridge, it’s usually the first to be made smaller when space is needed elsewhere or it’s just too small to begin with.  Trying to fit 20 tapped kegs plus 20 back up kegs in a walk-in that is 10 x 10 just will not work properly.  Your staff will curse you every day as will your draught service technicians who service your lines.  Inventory will be a nightmare.  WSIB claims will go up from your 22 year old bar back who throws his back out trying to lug a 160 pound keg into a dark, damp, cold beer fridge.

EQUIPMENT: The maximum number of beer lines in a trunk line with one set of cooling lines is eight.  Put ten lines in and you need two sets of cooling lines and a larger glycol deck to chill the trunk line.  You will need a FOB and a regulator on each line.  Don’t forget to add in extra couplers, faucets, and towers.  This all costs money.  More moving parts means more maintenance and a greater chance of downtime.  We don’t clean lines at places with 16+ lines any more, but when we did, they accounted for almost all of our service calls; almost every second day.  We rarely get service calls on 8 line systems, maybe 2 a month now, with even more accounts than before.

PEOPLE ARE NOT DRINKING DRAUGHT LIKE THEY USED TO: This kills me, it really does, but since we’re being honest, check out my other posts on declining draught sales and the new 0.05 law.


IMHO: Peoples tastes are changing.  They are trying different brands all the time, they are expanding their “circle-of-brands”.  One only need to look at The Beer Store or LCBO product list to see that there are many options available to consumers.  However, I believe it is not changing as fast as some people think.  The majority still prefer mainstream macro brands, love it or hate it, it is true.  Just look at national sales.  I’m not suggesting that Johnny Budweiser will never enjoy a full-bodied craft beer, but they are not going to completely change brands overnight; it takes time.  Having a draught brand line up of all full-bodied, dark, craft-styled beer will hurt your sales.

Last Sip

Draught will always be around. It is a great way for brewers to showcase new brands and it helps get their brands into more people’s hands.  People can’t get draught at home and when it’s poured fresh and served properly, it is 100 times better than bottle.  However, the days of consumers buying trays of draught and 8 hour shifts sitting at your bar are over.  Several years ago you probably moved 20 kegs a week, now you move 12-15.  The key point to remember is: EVERY BRAND MUST SELL AT LEAST ONE KEG EVERY MONTH.

  1. February 4, 2010 3:02 pm

    Great Post, a ton of valuable and well presented data. Good to see that you have the operator in mind!


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