Most beer and wine aficionados have considered having a home bar at one time or another. A home bar can be a wonderful addition. It adds value to the house, and gives you a place to relax, and unwind, without leaving the house. But before putting a home bar in, there are many things to consider, and one of the most important is the type of beer and wine refrigeration systems you wish to use.
To have a first-class bar, which is the reason to have one in the first place, the wines and beers need to be at the proper serving temperatures. In public bars, this is seldom the case, with most believing that beer and white wine should be ice cold, and red wine at room temperature, which is what ever they decide, instead of the standard 60ºF. Many a fine beverage has been destroyed by this type of thinking. In reality, no beverage should ever be served ice cold, which is considered near 32ºF. Beverages served too cold, or too hot cannot develop their full character and flavors. And anything over 62ºF will cause many components in beverages to begin to break down, ruining the nuances.
As a rule, on beer and ale, the lighter the color, the colder it needs to be. Pale lagers and pilsners need to be between 42º to 45º. Wheat beers and heavier lagers should be 47º-48º. Stouts, lambecs, dark beers, British Ales, and IPAs need to be served at 55º-60º. Wines are a bit different. Sparkling wines and champagnes should be 48º. Rosès should be 53º. White wines need to be served at 51º, and red wines should be near 62º.
As you can see from the guidelines, a good bar will need a refrigeration system that can hold beverages at many different temperatures, or maybe several systems. There are many types of beer and wine refrigeration systems available. There are Wine Refrigerators, Draft Beer Refrigerators, Kegerators, and Beverage Centers. The type, or types you choose will depend on many factors, such as how much room is available, and what types of beverages you wish to stock. For keeping beer, wine, and soda, a single unit called a “Back Bar Refrigerator” may be all you need.
Another consideration is whether you want the coolers to be free-standing, or built-in to the bar. If you want them built-in, you need to be sure that you get the types with the compressor vents in the front, and it is rated for being built-in. Otherwise, the hot air from the compressor will have nowhere to go, and will burn out the compressor motor. When this happens, the entire unit will have to be replaced.
There is one major piece of advice you should heed. Get all the large items, like sinks, refrigeration, and coolers, before you begin building the bar. In many cases, it will be necessary to build around the equipment.
There are several models of wine refrigerators on the market, ranging from small 16 bottle ones that sit on the back bar refrigerator, to large reach-ins that hold 100 bottles or more. Select the model for your bar based on the type of wine you drink the most of, and use that temperature.
Installing a draft beer system, or kegerator, is not all that hard to do. But it is much easier to install it as the bar is being built, than afterward. Remember, beer must be kept at the right temperature, or it can become “skunky” and all foam. For this reason, you will want you draft beer system on the same side of the bar as your tap station to avoid long tubing, that will allow the beer to warm up from friction while shooting through. There is an excellent single keg system that is designed to be built into a bar, or cabinet system, with the taps right on top. There are also under the counter keg coolers that can be built into the front, or back bar. They are easy to install, and can be pulled out and used as stand-alone units when needed. Another good option is the stand-alone draft beer refrigerator. These can be set to the side of the bar. They are usually several hundred dollars cheaper than the other systems, and unless you are dead-set on having commercial-grade equipment, these are ideal for home bars. If you really want to save money, and don’t care about looks, you can find an old working kitchen refrigerator, remove all the shelves from inside, and install a tap system in it. All you have to do is plug it in, put in a keg and hook the taps system up to it, and you’re good to go. It’s a good idea to have a drip tray underneath the tap, because sometimes it can dribble a bit. These are very popular here in the South.
If you are planning on stocking canned, or bottled beer, bottled or canned ales, wines, malt beverages, sodas or juices, you will need a Beverage Center. These are just small to medium reach-in coolers built into the back bar, with glass doors so you can see what’s inside. You can also keep things like lemon and lime wedges, and garnishes in them.
Unless you plan on having mixed drinks as well, you probably won’t need an ice machine, but they can come in handy. There are those that drink wine “on the rocks”, and I have seen with my own eyes, individuals that actually drop ice cubes in perfectly good beer. It was all I could do to keep from crying openly….
Beer and wine refrigeration systems will require periodic maintenance, cleaning and upkeep, so be sure to make allowances. Wipe everything down, inside and out, with a commercial-grade sanitizer, or a solution of 10% chlorine bleach and water at least once a week. When properly maintained, home refrigerator systems can last a very long time.
One last tip: Before purchasing any refrigeration system, find out what kind of warranty, and Customer Service the company offers. Prompt service is vital should anything go wrong. Otherwise, you could loose a lot of fine brew-craft. You should also probably check with your home owners insurance, and be sure the refrigeration system is covered by your policy. Make sure you have any and all required building permits, and that the work is done by authorized individuals and contractors.