The Big Chill

Commercial-grade appliances are necessary for the survival of any bar. But can appliances, like refrigerators actually be exciting? Well, manufacturers, like Beverage Air, Continental, Turbo Air, Norlake, Perlick and Glastender hope so. Their websites’ commercial refrigeration sections highlight features like updated NSF certification and improved energy efficiency. Important, very! But exciting? Hmmm. Brands can tout new models with “separate temperature zones” and “long-lasting LED lighting” but can it really bring the sexy back to the back bar fridge? Let’s see.

Justin Frost, Category Manager at KegWorks in Buffalo, NY, points to the ever-popular stainless steel look but has some caveats. “For years, the plain-back front fridges were what most bars had installed, or for those that wanted an old-timey look, wood-paneled fronts,” he says. “However, from a design standpoint, the modern look of stainless steel is on-trend and for high-volume, black vinyl front are always easier to clean.”

On the other hand, profit is also exciting, and more likely when a patron’s favorite drink comes to them at the perfect temperature. Additionally, cutting down on losses due to poor refrigeration or dispensing a a warm product is also critical to your bottom line. Batched craft cocktails are making their way into high-volume settings (see story, page 22) Frost points out, “So bars that previously never considered a back bar dispenser are now looking into it,” Frost observes. “The trend of serving wine or pre-batched tap cocktails has still not hit its peak. For those systems, all parts need stainless steel contacts. Beer ‘kegerators’ generally have chrome-plated brass contacts, so the acidity of wines and other beverages can chew away at that material, resulting in a degraded product.” Frost, along with Prima Supply’s Josh Ruud offered up these tips for you.

1.) Shop Trusted brands

Ruud and Frost both suggest zeroing in on manufacturers you know you can trust. “Some brands focus on producing the highest quality units, while other brands aim to provide uncompromised value at the best possible price,” Ruud says.

2.) DO Sweat The Small Stuff

Frost advises buyers to look beyond the surface to learn more about items’ country of origin, capacity, potential to add taps, drain options, keg size storage, and everything that comes with the cooler itself. (Note: most units advertised as “kegerators” only come with the fridge, tower and manifold, lacking lines, couplers, CO2 tanks and regulators).

3.) Always Check The Warranty

“The commercial refrigeration segment has some of the most extensive warranties in the restaurant equipment industry, with some brands offering up to three years on parts/labor, and large networks of certified technicians to get your unit back up and running in the case of any mishaps,” Ruud said. Or, according to Frost, “You want to make sure that you can get the product serviced in your area when you go with a brand like Beverage Air, who have an excellent repair and installer network. You may pay less upfront with a discount label, but you’ll pay more in the long run if the company doesn’t have anyone in your area able to service your unit.”

4.) Choose Your Size…Wisely

This is important when finding a model that fits your space. Ruud suggests starting by measuring the space behind the
bar so you have exterior dimensions nailed down. Also, pay attention to the interior dimensions and consider how much storage your back bar will need. “Some units will have the same exterior dimensions but differ in the available interior cubic feet,” he said. “Consider your regular stock purchases, and how many customers you serve on a daily basis and choose a unit that accommodates your business’s needs.”

5.) Pinpoint Your Condenser

The condensing unit is the part of the refrigerator that does most of the heavy lifting of keeping your stock cold. “Reach-ins come in two flavors: top or bottom–mount,” Ruud says. “Bottom-mount units are often chosen for ease of cleaning and maintenance with better accessibility to stock, and lower strain on the unit in hotter conditions. On the other hand, top-mount configurations are popular because they don’t trap as much dust and debris, and don’t blow hot air into the cabinet whenever the doors are opened.”

Here are some newer, cooler offerings we found:

Beverage Air’s DD50 kegerator has a two ½-keg capacity and is forced-air cooled with continuous air flow to dispense beer at its coldest. This model can be adapted with different towers or use smaller kegs to jump in on that craft movement.Beverage Air’s Back Bar Glass Door Refrigerator, otherwise known as the “Cadillac of Refrigeration,” provides high-volume bars ample storage for cans, bottles or kegs in a large galvanized steel interior of 39 cubic feet with removable shelves for organization. A balanced refrigeration system chills drinks quickly and quietly, while foamed-in-place polyurethane insulation helps maximize operating efficiency. With the ozone-friendly R134a refrigerant, it’s also a solidly environmental system, and its glass doors make it easy for customers to see your selection and managers to keep an eye on stock.

Glastender introduced a number of models with wine drawers for self-contained back bars with upright storage throughout for access to up to 60 750ml bottles per section, for a more diversified wine selection. Any door opening can convert to a wine drawer, making implementation a breeze.

Or take Norlake’s sleek AvantEDGE line, some of which feature a self-contained forced-air R-134a capillary tube system with a temp range from 34–38°F.

Perlick’s two new next-gen contenders, the Dual Zone Back Bar DZS36 unit, allows for dual temp zones, making it a perfect unit for storing and dispensing a variety of wines or beers, and its digitally-controlled 40–65°F range allows bartenders to choose different temperatures for different product. Next is the Self-Contained Sliding-Door Pass-Thru Back Bar Refrigerator, which combines the benefits of their sliding door and pass-thru units, offering easy access for stocking and retrieving product from both sides.

So what to choose? Well, we can’t answer everything for you. Ultimately, that’s up to you and whatever fits your bar’s needs. But with all of this info, you can probably just chill.

By Elyse Glickman

Photos: Beverage Air